I have a policy of taking the train whenever possible.
To explain: as a techy I can see how aircraft have trains beat when it comes to technical prowess. However, flying itself is almost too easy: aside from distance and some other factors like proximity to emergency landing sites enroute then if there’s money to be made flying from Dublin to Dubai (or any two other seemingly unrelated cities) then there is essentially nothing stopping an airline from creating a new route.
Contrast this with the effort required to implement a new train line: this involves, at a minimum, years of planning, consultation and, sometimes for really important lines, calls to the public for their opinion on proposed routes. Lastly, just when you think it’s complete, a never-ending cycle of maintenance and upgrades begins.
That’s the distinction for me; the lines are what make trains interesting, not the hardware. The line symbolises trade, energy and, most importantly, a destination. Somewhere important. To me, the train line represents civilisation and a piece of history.
Ireland’s routes are fascinating for all these reasons. Ours are among the oldest in the world and, thanks to a policy of road-building which has lasted decades, virtually all of the lines still operating have a history extending back over well over a hundred years.
Consequently, when I have to travel outside the Pale I always look for a train route but rarely expect to find one. So, when I had to play two gigs in Castlebar this weekend I was delighted to discover that it lay on the Westport line. What are the chances?
There’s only 4 services to Westport each day and they leave from Heuston, which just so happens to be awkward for me to reach. Bearing this in mind I made sure to arrive at the Luas Connolly station precisely 14 minutes before the 12.40 to Castlebar was due to leave. By an amazing coincidence the next connecting tram to Heuston was due to leave in precisely 14 minutes. Fortunately for me, a short taxi ride fixes most planning disasters.
The Westport service looks disappointing at first: it’s a fairly old bone shaker-era train from Platform 6 which is about 3 miles walk from the entrance to Hueston Station. I’d been hoping to take one of the new bullet train (for want of a better description – they do look much cooler than anything else around here but they certainly won’t travel at 300kph), mostly because I couldn’t imagine when I’d ever see myself travelling over to Castlebar again.
These trains are actually reasonably nice inside, however. The most disappointing part is the restaurant, where I rather shamefully declined to pay €4.25 for a BLT sandwich. A three hour journey needs more than that.
The scenery outside of the train is great though. Like all the Hueston lines it passes through the open countryside of Kildare. Shortly after that it branches off somewhere and ends up in Athlone (I had no idea Athlone had a train service), passes through Roscommon and some other places and eventually reaches Mayo. The gorse is in full swing at the moment so I caught a few blurry pictures.
Upon arriving in Castlebar I was very amused to note that there’s only one track. This might explain the 4 hour gap between services!
Castlebar itself is a fairly…provincial town. I stayed “downtown” in a bed and breakfast just a few moments’ walk from the concert venue and the local pubs – in other words, just a few moments’ walk from everywhere.
Saturday afternoon was exploring time; a walking tour of the entire town takes almost 30 minutes. Along the way we encountered a brilliant little shop which, although primarily a music shop where we sampled some trombones, also had a pile of metal detectors and sold guns, too. What a combination!
The nights in Castlebar were spent in a genuinely nice little pub which sold, I am reliably informed, fabulous Guinness. However, it has to be said that there was little else to do in Castlebar town but visit the pubs. Had I a car or simply more time I would have explored the region and probably enjoyed it much more.
The pub session made the chances of rising for a 7.58am train home on Sunday morning seem vanishingly small. However, it was either that or wait until 2.30pm for the next service.
Upon returning to Dublin, the taxi was enthused to hear that I was just back from Mayo. A beautiful part of the country, apparently, but once he heard I’d only been to Castlebar he offered his apologies.
It never stopped raining, either.