Any casual reader of our messageboard would have noticed that there is a new train in town. You may also have heard Irish Rail mentioning it, perhaps in passing. They are very exicted by it because, well, they have to be. The posters in the messageboard are equally excited because they have to be as well.
A wonderful syngergy of passengers and rail company, you'd agree. The question is why, and it is a question that has troubled me since I took my first journey on one this past week. For the company, anything new is good. New trains, by definition, are, well, new and modern. They confirm to modern safety standards and accessability regulations. They would, wouldn't they? Everything has to. It's the law, so all that crooning about how accessible they are is rather like a recovering alcoholic patting himself on the back for not drinking during his summer holiday in Terhan. They are railcars, which means no messing around at stations and greater reliability, which is nice, but you'd expect something brand new to be reliable, wouldn't you? They have air conditioning, but the company has had that since the 70's... so what is go good about them?
From the passenger's viewpoint? Well, its no surprise that the Sligo line gets them first. Like a lost man in the desert they are glad of any water. After decades of rubbish trains and the constant threat of closure of their decrepit railway line the new trains which are warm, dry, reliable and new, must seem like a revelation.
But having been in one, I have to say I was unimpressed. It was bland with a capital B. Sure, it was nice, clean, very white, but my god it was boring. The seats were nice, a bit stiff, but they were boring. The tables were plastic, grey and boring. It was well insulated. Quiet. and boring. Even the toilet was underwhelming. There was no lan, no splash of colour, it was white, a touch of grey and a bit of blue from the seats. Some quibble, you might say, and perhaps you're right. But these are intercity trains. For a commuter train, yes, I'd say this sort of functional, no frills design is ok. For an intercity service, which is the pinnacle of the rail service, it isn't. If I was offered this train as a car it would be a Fiesta. Sorry, Fiesta drivers, but this train should be a Mondeo. It isn't, by a long shot. In an era when car manufacturers have embraced the concept of ergonomics, and have abandoned the boxy, plastic-laden design sterility of the 1980's here comes Irish Rail with a train that looks like its ambiance was dreamt up on the same design board as a Mini Metro.
The problem is that this is coming on top of uniformity and a triumph of blandness which is overwhelming the service, albeit at a snails pace. Instead of the old restaurant cars we're getting bistros. All the stations now are starting to look the same - same railings, lamps, signs, seats, shelters, waiting rooms, now all the trains will look the same. All the character of a lift, all the charm of an operating theatre. Rail travel is becoming boring. Yes, commuting is a chore, and it's depressing. But why do we have to have depressing characterless sterile units to commute and travel in? Simple colour contrasts, a kind mind in design, a touch of affection for their work... is it too much to ask?