BAGENALSTOWN train station is now unmanned because Iarnród Éireann made it fully automated yesterday (Monday) for the first time ever.
Last Wednesday, a group of protesters, including three people in wheelchairs, delayed the train for about ten minutes because the driver had to assist them in getting on board.
Iarnród Éireann is rolling out a policy of pulling staff out of rural train stations and instead letting customers buy their tickets online or from vending machines. Commuters in Bagenalstown, one of the first stations to lose its station master, were frustrated and angry last week. They’re concerned that people with mobility issues will face problems embarking the train because there’s no-one to help people in wheelchairs.
They are deeply concerned about what will happen to the beautiful, award-winning building, too, amid fears of anti-social behaviour. Shane Leddin, the depot manager who’s been working for the train service for 33 years, locked the ticket office, the waiting room and the toilets at 3.30pm on Friday afternoon for the last time. He has been transferred to the Carlow station, leaving his beloved Bagenalstown with no staff.
Locals fear the repercussions will be vast.
“I’m worried about accessibility as well as losing my independence. I use the train all the time,” said Grace Doyle, who’s in a wheelchair.
Fifteen-year-old Aaron Doyle (no relation), who has muscular dystrophy, uses the Waterford train service for appointments in both directions from Bagenalstown. Aaron’s mother Kathleen told The Nationalist: “I don’t drive; I need the train. This is our only way of getting Aaron to his appointments in both Temple Street, Dublin and the Central Remedial Clinic in Waterford.”
Under Iarnród Éireann’s new system, smaller stations will be automated, but customer service operators (CSOs) will be on board to help commuters with mobility and other issues. However, on Wednesday during the protest, there was no such CSO on board and the driver himself had to get a ramp to help the wheelchair-bound customers.
When contacted about the situation by The Nationalist, Iarnród Éireann conceded that no customer service agent was on board but said that this was “unusual”. When it was put to the company that it didn’t have enough people trained to take on that role, it conceded that it had only about 30 people recruited nationally, but that it was on a recruitment drive to train more people.
The spokesperson also said that the train was delayed by ten minutes because of the protestors and not because the driver had to help the wheelchair-bound customers on board.
Wheelchair users will have to phone Iarnród Éireann ahead of their journeys to ensure that the train service has the personnel to help them.
“What are they trying to achieve?” asked cllr Andy Gladney, who organised the protest. “They’re not gaining anything by doing this; they’re just upsetting people. They also said that they’d provide help and they clearly haven’t. What’s going to happen to the people who need help?”
Frank Doyle, Grace’s father and owner of the nearby Railway House pub, is furious that the train station is without staff.
“This is just scandalous,” he said. “We actually don’t know what’s going to happen now.”