Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Train versus plane

This week's Independent News & Media Irish regional newspapers' column.

Michael Commane
Is it that I am getting old or that travelling has changed? I'm inclined to think it's a mix of both.

Maybe I should refine it a little and say, flying has become tedious.

The thought of an early morning flight out of Dublin must be close to the perfect 'bad thought'

The snake-like queue at security in Dublin Airport. Make sure you have your passport and boarding pass. How many times have I checked my pockets for both? How many times have I panicked thinking I had lost one or the other?

And then there’s the environment. One return flight to Europe uses up approximately 80 per cent of a person’s annual ‘fair share’ of the carbon budget needed to keep our planet habitable. Only 15 per cent of the world’s people can afford to fly yet it is the world’s poorest whose lives are already being claimed by climate change.

Is there not something unjust about that? But even if we are unwise enough to ignore environmental issues, flying is certainly not my idea of fun.

Compare all the hassle of flying and the damage it does to the environment to taking an early morning train from Heuston Station.

On Friday, February 17 I travelled on the 07.00 Heuston Cork train. I was going to Tralee.

It did mean an early rise, 04.30 to be exact. Well, I had to take my dog Tess for a walk before heading off and I can never leave my house without a breakfast.

It's lovely cycling through an almost carless city. I pass a bus stop where the real time  sign announces the next bus is in 19 minutes.

I arrive at Heuston with 15 minutes to spare.

The Spanish built train, hauled by a General Motors locomotive, pulls out of the station the instant the clock goes to 07.00.

It's still dark but with a hint of brightness in the sky. We're not far out of Dublin when daylight descends.

I share the coach with two other passengers. The comfort of these surroundings when you compare it to being squeezed into an aircraft seat, all the time hoping that you can get your elbow on the arm rest before the person beside you. Okay that too can be a problem on a busy train but if you are a train anorak, as I am, then you can, on occasions, miss the busy trains. Also, on a train you can wander about in search of a better spot.

Sheer bliss: I can use my iPad, read. And a socket too to charge electronic devices. It's worth noting, on the leading coach out of Dublin to Cork, which is the back coach travelling from Cork to Dublin ringing phones and people screaming down phones is forbidden. 

It's two hours seven minutes to Mallow and I almost miss my stop. I was reading, thought we would be stopping in Charleville so when it's announced we are approaching Mallow it is a matter of gathering my chattels at speed, pulling my bike off the rack.

It's a different type of train to Tralee, somewhat newer but the same exquisite comfort with loads of space to myself.

At Tralee assemble the bicycle and off I go.

Guess what? The train back to Dublin is crowded and not at all as enjoyable.

That's life. 

Maybe the moral of the story is always be ready for the unexpected. Never take life too seriously. "The best laid plans of mice and men........"  and that was a sentiment of Robert Burns in 1786.

Is God a God of surprises?  

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