Anton Savage : I'd choo- choose to take the train, if only they made the experience a little more enjoyable

Part of the reason some of us may want shorter journey times may well be to lessen our exposure to this travel adventure

29th Feb 2024
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Originally published in the Business Post.

Irish rail have been putting a lot of money into speeding up their services. They’ve updated track, upgraded signalling and bought new rolling stock.

All seeking to provide a service to attract people away from their cars and onto the train. Their achievements are to be lauded. Their priorities though? They might need to be tweaked a little.

Journey time is a lovely metric for an organisation. It’s definite, measurable and easy to put in a PowerPoint for the board. Any time you hear the inimitable Barry Kenny ably representing Iarnród Éireann’s commuter service on the wireless, he’s likely to bring it up as evidence of the progress his organisation is delivering.

Unfortunately it’s not necessarily the criterion most valued by customers. What makes customers want to use your service or buy your product is not always an easy thing to describe on a PowerPoint.

Take Crocs as a case in point – when that shoe was first released, it was discovered by a costume designer working on the Mike Judge/Ethan Cohen movie Idiocracy.

The comedy flick was rooted in the idea that in the near future humanity will have become so stupid they feed crops Gatorade, live in a near-wasteland of garbage dumps and talk nothing but hyper-commercialised slang while visiting Starbucks-branded brothels.

To dress these idiots, the costume designer chose the then-unknown Croc plastic shoe. Her thinking was that no-one but a complete moron would wear such a thing. By the time the move hit cinemas 18 months later, the footwear had exploded in popularity and everyone in the audience was wearing Crocs.

Consumers do not behave in entirely logical ways.

So Irish Rail’s drive for shorter journey times may be at the expense of lower-hanging fruit.

If you drive from Dublin to Cork it will probably take you two-and-a-half hours door-to-door. If you take the train, between parking, waiting, boarding and taxiing at the other end, it will take closer to four.

Unless they invest in Shinkansen bullet trains, Irish Rail are never going to shorten the journey times enough to make it quicker – in total – than driving. So instead of making it quicker, they should make it nicer.

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