A visit to Carrick-on-Suir
Inspired by Geoff Marshall's series 'All The Stations', I began to wonder what the least-used station in Ireland was.
The answer was Carrick-on-Suir in Co. Tipperary, on the Limerick to Waterford line. I was expecting my interest to end there, but I couldn't ignore the figures.
In Ireland, they perform a survey of railway usage on one day of the year, and then publish what they've learned. I managed to find the raw table of how many people used each station, and began looking down the list.
I managed to find lower and lower figures, until I spotted Carrick-on-Suir which received precisely one customer on survey day. Tipperary wasn't far behind, followed by Cahir and Clonmel: all on the same line.
Now I wanted to add to those figures.
With only four departures a day, a trip to Co. Tipperary would be a day trip. Starting at Carrick-on-Suir, which my guard said was "not a popular destination", I found a station which looked like it was crying out for a higher frequency.
With two platforms, a footbridge and a waiting room, it was much more substantial than a British least-used station like Coombe Junction Halt. This is slightly misleading, as it may have a second platform but it is not being maintained, and is used only by staff to access the signal cabin.
Because I'm lazy, the idea of railway station footbridges has always bugged me. If I worked in a signal cabin and knew there were only four trains a day, I would be even more annoyed that I couldn't be trusted to cross the single line and had to use the footbridge.
The station has evidence of industrial workings around it. Predictably, it looks like a station and a line which is in managed decline, with timetables printed on A4 paper and an empty car park.
As the signal cabin has an employee who leaves it to open the manually-controlled level crossing, the station can regard itself as staffed.
It was also busier than I expected. I deliberately chose a nice day, and saw about five people, and an additional person who managed to miss the morning's only Waterford train.
Carrick-on-Suir is nice enough but can't sustain my interest for 6 hours, so I set off on what I knew was going to be a long, scenic and slightly dangerous walk. Only later did I realise there was a perfectly safe but slightly longer footpath along the River Suir.
I do like a good rural level crossing, and this line has many, as it severs farmland. I took a look at the Kilsheelan crossing knowing I was going to find another signal cabin and an overgrown, abandoned platform from a former railway station.
Curiously, Kilsheelan station, closed in the 1960s, is marked as open on Google Maps. While the line is clearly rural, Kilsheelan is a charming village which has clearly grown and surely can now carry a station.
Clonmel has an even bigger station building, and two active platforms, although I'm told the second is rarely needed.
Clonmel is a former junction station, with a former branch towards Dublin running around the back of the Tesco store. Despite using the Tesco to see how close I could get to the stabled goods train, I forgot about the branch line trivia while I was there.
The station is more strange because it is locked during the day, and only opened by the signal cabin attendant when a train is due. This is sensible in so much as it prevents trouble, but at the same time you do wonder what type of trouble they're expecting.
In another clue that this line should be busier, the road crosses the tracks on a reinforced bridge, of a style you'd expect from a mainline, not a recently-singled local line.
Some other stations
I wish there were more time to stop at these two. Cahir had a second platform with its bridge fenced off, and a derelict shelter with a small picture of a train on it. I like that sort of combination of character and disparity.
Despite being the most important-sounding station on the line, Tipperary station is technically only a halt. It only has the one platform, although a large goods area.
Limerick Junction was suffering from long-term works while I passed through. It seemed like a very slick affair, one island platform offering an easy transfer between local and long-distance trains.
'Slick' doesn't apply to the arrangements to get in from Waterford, which involves a flat crossing of the Dublin mainline and then a three-point turn. Only on one of Ireland's busiest lines could this work.
Having travelled with almost every UK train operating company and been let down by a few continental ones, I have to say honestly that Iarnród Éireann operate a very good service. To me the Waterford line sums up every transport problem Ireland suffers from: small settlements, a long distance apart, inevitably making public transport difficult to access and expensive to run.
As a result, you look at their fleet, their network and their timetable and think it would only take a little investment to provide an excellent service. Sadly, that investment probably wouldn't be recouped.
One old-fashioned thing I really did like was the electronic map of the InterCity network, with the forthcoming destination flashing. This on a train which was only ten years old!
Post-script: inevitably, when you make a video, plenty of trolls come out of the woodwork. I expected it, but I didn't expect train-trolls to be so vicious!