Friday, April 18, 2008

Mystery Trains

Two cities, both alike in dignity, on either side of the Atlantic where we set our scene. But it seems the public transport authorities of Chicago and Ireland have differing views of how to handle breakdowns.

On Wednesday of this week, both the Chicago Transport Authority and Irish Rail suffered a mishap. In Chicago, a train coming in from the airport got stuck in a tunnel downtown. In Dublin, the Sligo train got stuck at Clonsilla, a north-western suburb, blocking the Maynooth commuter route.

In Chicago, the mishap happened at ten past eight, and normal service was restored by noon. In Dublin, the mishap happened at noon, and normal service was cancelled for the entire day.

The Chicago Transit Authority says their fault was mechanical, while Irish Rail says theirs was a signalling error. An Spailpín Fánach has no reason to doubt either. But the reaction to the outage on either side of the Atlantic is instructive.

In Chicago, not only did the CTA make the Blue Line trains free for the evening, to make it up to their customers, it didn’t even make a big deal of the gesture – it’s the final sentence in the press release on their site.

In Dublin, what did Irish Rail do? A big fat nothing, as far as I can see. Like they always do. Public transport authorities in this country like to say, when confronted by the latest commuting horror in the city, that this is the price of progress. No, it’s not. This is the price of being lazy and complacent. They have a recorded announcement at the stations where “Iarnród Éireann would like to apologize to all their passengers for any inconvenience caused.” The Chicago Transit Authority was sorry enough to reimburse commuters. That level of remorse has yet to manifest at Irish Rail.

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