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Seat Reservations

Seat reservations are meant to make life easier, no more showing up an hour before departure just to have a fighting chance to get a seat. Of course it works fine elsewhere, but of course Irish Rail can't get it to work. Why because neither staff nor management make any effort to ensure that it will work.

You can listen to a podcast of a discussion of the seat reservation system, Irish Rail doing their best to deny problems despite the huge body of evidence that the system just isn't working.

Ticket Collection Problems

While the automated ticket collection system normal works fine, Irish Rail has now withdrawn the ability to collect by credit/debit card. You must have the full reservation number to collect. Other European railways let you print the ticket yourself or to collect with a credit card. If all else fails you have to queue up at the booking office which in many respects eliminates one of the advantages of seat reservations, avoiding queues.

The ticket you actually receive is far from perfect, as the image on the right shows. The print quality and small typeface used make the ticket difficult to read. It's also not clear where you have to change en route.

Reserved Seats Not Marked As Reserved


On the new Dublin Cork train and on the new Intercity Railcar fleet there is an electronic display above the seats which names the passenger who has reserved the seat. The great advantage of the electronic system is the can be booked by different people for different parts of the journey. Of course it's impossible to remove the display quite unlike the old fashioned paper system.

Severe technical problems have been encountered and despite there being two independent ways to load the information into the train computer it doesn't work with a decent level of reliability. The displays frequently go blank for no reason, resulting in a nightmare for passengers who join trains beyond the terminus.

Passengers frequently complain that the displays are switched on late, so after several hundred have already boarded.

On older trains such as Dublin Belfast old fashioned card with your name and the train details printed on it is meant to be placed above your seat. Of course the gadget which prints the cards goes on the blink.


Irish Rail make matters even worse by not removing out of date reservation cards, so you will frequently find yourself looking for your seat only to find it appears to be reserved by someone else! Let us not forget every intercity train is meant to be cleaned before the start of each journey.

Sometimes some reserved seats get the reservation cards but others in the same coach are not marked as reserved again leaving the passenger quite confused. And then there used to be the 'Yellow T-shirts' yes Irish Rail's final line of defense unlikely to be able to assist you since they don't' exist anymore - cutbacks. You will be lucky to find any staff to help you and if you do it will be the poor catering staff who don't even work for Irish Rail who honestly can't do anything to help you.

Seats that don't exist

The wonderfully efficient Irish Rail can't even get the the seating layout on their website correct. It has frequently occurred in the past that passengers have boarded to find the seat they booked didn't exist in the coach. On other occasions passengers with standard class tickets find that their seat is in a first class coach and first class passengers end up allocated seats in the standard class section, leaving everyone quite confused.

Dublin - Belfast =/= Belfast - Dublin

It is somewhat curious, on Irish Rail's website there is no problem booking a return ticket Dublin - Belfast - Dublin, however try just Belfast Dublin or Belfast - Dublin - Belfast and it will tell you reservations are not possible.

In fact seat reservations in standard class Belfast Dublin are impossible since Translink, the Northern Irish half of the Enterprise operation doesn't support them. Irish Rail well know this but mislead the passenger by giving the illusion that a seat reservation is possible.

You booked but end up standing!

Irish Rail aren't eager to let it be publicly known but if you reserve a seat and you end up standing or end up in standard class despite booking first class you are entitled to a full refund.

Visit our refund page here, download the appropriate refund form based on the journey you made. When completing the form, give the reason as:

Reservation not honoured -

  • Seat did not exist, no other seat available
  • Train cancelled, broke down, replaced by bus (except where prior notice given at time of booking)
  • Missed connection due Irish Rail delay etc., travelled on other train as a result and had to stand
  • Occupant of seat refused to vacate, no other seat available
  • Booked first class - no first class on train

Rail Users Ireland Top Tips

When selecting seats, pick the lowest seat number you can, preferably 36 or less, failing that below 54. This avoids ending up without a seat if Irish Rail send the wrong train type out. Only in coaches B or E are you 100% safe in choosing any seat without fear. Its generally a good idea to avoid seats 1-4 and 68-72 as these are marked as priority seats.

First class is currently subject to non availability particularly on the Dublin Westport and Dublin Waterford due to a shortage of trains with first class carriages following an accident in 2010. Given the seat spacing, size and tables are exactly in the same in first class as in standard beyond the Dublin Cork/Belfast routes the only benefit is possibly a lack of screaming children running amok.

Last Updated: August 22 2011 09:05:06
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