Trains are a comfortable and economical way to travel throughout Ireland, most of the time. This blog discusses some of the ins and outs of using Irish rail that will make your experience much smoother. The primary focus is on Heuston Station in Dublin, and the Dublin to Galway rail route. This is the route taken most often by our visitors and ourselves.
The Irish Rail website is very useful and is a great place for additional exploration and ideas. Most tourist are using the rail lines to/from Dublin where there are two major train stations, Connolly and Heuston. (There is a third called Pearse that is mostly used for commuter trains). Heuston Station has trains to Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway, Mayo, and Kerry. Connolly Station has trains to Belfast, Sligo, and Rossiare(Wexford County). Novice riders can sometimes be surprised that they have to change stations in Dublin. This can add up to an extra hour of hectic travel to your journey.
The trains in Ireland are relatively comfortable and relatively modern. They are not as modern, fast or comfortable as some of the trains I have taken in Germany, Italy, and France, but to be fair, the journey is usually 1/4 the distance or less. For many of the trains, beverages and snacks are available, but I have not seen a full dining car. (The train ride from Dublin to Galway is a tad over 2 hours and probably doesn’t warrant a full dining car). Some of the trains (Dublin to Galway) offer reserved seating, but don’t be surprised if your seat is taken. I have never had a problem asking people to move if alternate seats were not easily available.
There are horror stories about over crowded Irish Rail trains, just like any railway, but I have only experienced this once during almost five years of ridership. This was on a Galway to Limerick train on a Friday afternoon before a bank holiday (3-day) weekend and the train was full of University Students going home. If you stay away from Friday afternoons and rush hour trains, then you shouldn’t have a problem.
Buying tickets is very easy. There are kiosks at every station, and the larger stations have ticket counters. The kiosks take cash, debit and credit cards. Tickets bought at the last minute do not assign you a reserved seat. The savings are significant when buying in advance, either through the kiosk or on-line.
Buying Tickets On-line
If you are arriving at Dublin airport and taking my suggestion of first visiting the West of Ireland or a variation, I would suggest buying your 1st ticket in advance. Buying in advance will save you $’s/€’s and it will let you see in advance the exchange rate and Foreign Transaction fees for your Credit Card.
If your flight is late, not a problem, go to the ticket counter where they will charge you an additional €10 or wave the change fee. BTW, you can do this in reverse if you happen to arrive at the rail station in time for an earlier train. I would not suggest purchasing a ticket for a train less than 2 hours from your landing time at Dublin airport (30 minutes for a late flight, 45 minutes in Irish customs & immigration, and 1 hour bus ride to the train station (30 minutes with a taxi)). It’s OK to buy all your tickets in advance, but it’s not necessary. The prices depend on the demand for the train. Local trains (Athenry to Galway) do not seem to offer discounts for advance purchase tickets. Once you start pricing tickets just a few days out, then less expensive fares become available (20-25% less). Remember to check the family fares and the Tourist Tickets (Trekker or Explorer tickets) at the ticket info portion of Irish Rail’s website.
The steps for buying a ticket on-line can also be found at the Irish rail website.
Here’s a reprint of the steps with my added comments:
Step 1 - Enter your origin and destination in the 'From' and 'To' fields, select a 'Single' or 'Return' ticket, select your date(s) and click 'Go'. Single is one-way. Return is round trip.
Step 2A - Choose the service(s) you wish to travel on - This is the train route you want (if you are looking for further information like intermediate stations and catering offering, select the 'i' button)
Step 2B - Select the number of each ticket type you require and click 'Buy Ticket'. (Please remember that all tickets come with reserved seating where available, you don't have to specify that you want a reserved seat. If you already have a ticket and you want to just reserve seats, then all you have to do is change the 'Adult' ticket type to '0' on the dropdown menu and choose the number of 'Reserve Seats' you require. The same applies for other ticket types available).
Step 3 - Passenger Details - Enter names. Then you can 'Select Your Own Seat' or choose 'Automatic Seat Selection'. We recommend that if you are booking more than 1 ticket to choose 'Select Your Own Seat' so you can select seats beside one another. If you choose 'Automatic Seat Selection' then skip to step 5A.
Step 4 - Select Seats - Select the seat(s) you would like to sit in for your journey and click 'Next Step: Login'. See the notes at the end for things to consider when selecting a rail car and seats.
Step 5A - Log In - If you have an Irish rail account, then you just need to enter your email address and password and select 'Login Now' to be brought to the payments page.
Step 5B - Register - If you don't have an account, don't worry, you can 'Register for an online account' there and then. You just need to enter in the details requested and click 'Register Now' and you will then be brought onto the payments page. The phone number includes your country code (1 for US), your area code, and phone number and only the numbers, no parens and no dashes
Step 6 - Place Order - Enter in your card details - Enter your Credit Card information and select the station for collecting your tickets, then read and agree to the terms and conditions and click on 'Place Order Now'.
Step 7 - 3D Secure - You will then be brought to the 3D Secure section, the transaction now becomes between you and your bank, they will ask you for your secure password or some information in order to set-up your secure password. Once you have completed this successfully you must click 'Continue'. I'm not sure this is used by every CC company.
Step 8 - Confirmation - You have now reached the confirmation page, make sure to write down your 'Booking Number' and keep it safe in order to collect your tickets, you will also receive an email confirmation of your booking.
Collecting the tickets is easy. Tickets can be collected at a ticket window at the station you designated in Step 6. Tickets can also be collected at a kiosk at a designated station.
Heuston Station Orientation
Many US travelers encounter their first train station when visiting Ireland. I though a general orientation of Heuston Station would be helpful.
Facing towards the tracks:
12:00 - Train Tracks/Platforms 1-5
1:00 - Pathway to Tracks/Platforms 6-9
3:00 - Entry from taxi and 747 bus(Dublin Bus Airlink) drop off
5:00 - Carvery (Cafeteria) for breakfast and lunch through door
5:00-8:00 - Various shops and kiosks for food, magazines, etc.
6:00 - Front Entrance/Exit
9:00 - Display Board with Track/Platform Assignments and Status
10:00 - Bathrooms
11:00 - Ticket Office and Exit to Taxi Stand
Facing 12 o'clock - Turn Styles and Tracks
Facing 1 o'clock - Pathway to Platform 6-9 and Taxi/747 Bus Entrance
Facing 5 o'clock - Carvery
5-8 o'clock - Various Shops
5-8 o'clock - Various Shops
9 o'clock - Display Board
10-11 o'clock - Bathrooms & Ticket Office (behind the people and the partition)
It is best to pick a rail car towards the middle of the train, and to pick seats near the luggage racks, if you have luggage. The car designators are displayed on the outside of the rail cars (A, B, C, … etc.). Car A can be the nearest car to the rail head or the farthest. The end of the car with a luggage rack is indicated by a blank windowless section. If you just have a backpack or a carry-on sized suitcase, the overhead rack will work. Your reserved seats will be displayed on a small digital display … if it’s working. If you are going to work or eat on the train, then you probably want a seat at a table.
Bringing food onboard is definitely OK. Our favorite snack for a late afternoon train is a bottle of Prosecco along with cheese and crackers, but note that you have to plan in advance -- these are not available at any of the train stations. You can also pick up coffee and pastries in the train station for an early morning train. The Carvery in the corner of Heuston station is a good place to kill time and eat if you have a wait for a train. Coffee and drinks (soft and alcoholic) are available on many of the train lines along with light snack food.
All the trains have free WiFi. You will need to register and provide an email address. The WiFi generally works well. I find it helpful to not connect to the WiFi until you are out of range of the train station; so as not to confuse my cell or laptop with the other train WiFi signals.
In the large train stations, there will be a Display Board in a prominent location that indicates the assigned track for each train line. The track will probably not be displayed until about 20 minutes prior to departure, so don't worry. If you have a problem finding the track, just ask the Irish rail workers at the turnstiles (only in Dublin, no turnstiles at most other stations). You will need to insert your ticket to pass through the turnstiles to your train. You will also need your ticket when exiting a train in Dublin. When exiting a train along the way, you will need to move smartly once the train has stopped. Of course, I’m assuming everyone is taking care of their own luggage, and your seats are relatively near the luggage racks 😉
I personally prefer to take the train to my little town, since we have a train station and I can walk home from the train station. We regularly take the train to Dublin with visitors, and when we travel to or from Dublin airport. Train service can take longer than express bus rides from the main Irish airports to the bigger cities of Ireland as the trains are not scheduled near as often. (For instance the trains from Dublin to Galway can be spaced out by as much as four hours on weekends and express busses leave every 30 minutes form the Dublin airport). The train ride is a little roomier and allows you to get up and walk around, at least at the stops. The train is slightly more expensive. Your preference for a train or bus will depend on your personal preferences and your exact schedule.
See You In The Pub!
Jet Lag Jack