Pricewatch reader queries: Irish Rail’s inflexible online booking system

Plus: say a novena for Passport Express

William O'Connor contacted us to complain about Irish Rail and their online tickets.

“I purchased a return Athenry to Dublin ticket on the Irish Rail website on Sunday evening. I immediately realised I had booked the wrong date. I had booked a day early for the trip. So instead of it being a Tuesday departure I had booked Monday. My confirmation email said to ring if I wanted to change dates, but as it was Sunday night at 10pm the email stated that the office was closed. So I left it to ring the next day. My train was at 6.45am,” he writes.

When he rang he was told there was no possibility of changing dates on the day of travel. “I said there was no one to ring the previous day as the office was closed. I was told I could have left a voicemail and that it states this in the terms and conditions. Nowhere does it state clearly when booking or upon receipt of the confirmation email that I could have left a voicemail.”

He spoke to a manager about this and said there was no facility for him to change his ticket, “yet she insisted I could have left a voicemail. Never have I heard of an online booking system that requires you to leave a voicemail to change a booking,” he writes.


He wrote the mail on the train to Dublin. He goes on to say that he had to buy a new return ticket at the station. Then he points out that return tickets are open tickets. “So the ticket I bought online, assuming it was the same as one I would buy from the station, can only be used for one train specific to time and date, yet the same ticket bought in the station is open to all trains for a week.”

We think he has a point. Had he left a voicemail on the Sunday night – a voicemail that no one would have heard before the train departed – it would have been okay, but because he did not leave that voicemail he had to buy a new ticket. And if tickets bought in a station are open-ended why aren’t online tickets?

Irish Rail spokesman Barry Kenny says: “Firstly, on a wider point, we are investing in systems which will allow people to manage their bookings online, so the more manual approach currently required will be replaced.”

Regarding the voicemail, he states: “If we have a record before a train departs – either by speaking to our customer services team, by email or by voicemail – we can verify that the customer did cancel in advance and change dates (our terms and conditions do include a charge for this). After the time of the departure (or in the case of ticket-office tickets, the date), we cannot facilitate cancellations of tickets as this could lead to revenue loss.”

Kenny acknowledges that “the customer raises a good point about ensuring it is clear in the email confirmation that you can leave a voicemail. This will be changed as a result of this feedback, and as a gesture of goodwill, we will refund the customer the cost of the second ticket. Our customer information centre will arrange this directly.”

Pray for your passport

A reader called Aoife expresses her concern about waiting times for passports. “I am due to travel this weekend and applied through the An Post express service on January 29th. As this service supposedly takes 10 working days, I had applied in ample time. However, as my passport has not arrived, I tried ringing the passport office only to find they are no longer answering the phone due to the volume of calls,” she writes.

She phoned the Department of Foreign Affairs to inquire and was told that the Passport Express service “no longer functions efficiently due to the volume of applications. I was told to ‘say a novena and hope that it arrives. And if it doesn’t arrive by Wednesday, go into the passport office in Dublin and ask where it is.’ ”

Aoife lives a long way from Dublin and has two small children, so taking a trip to the city “to sit in the passport office for a few hours is not much of an option for me. Besides that it goes against the grain when I have paid €90 to the passport office to deliver my passport within a specific time frame.”

She asks us to follow it up “as I am very anxious about my travel plans. I have also written to my local TD in desperation, and I have phoned my local post office to let them know of the delays so they can inform people before they hand over their money for a non-existent service.”

Hours later we got another mail from Aoife with an update. She had just got a call from the Passport Office saying that they would approve her passport that day and she could expect it last Thursday. “I think a call from my local TD may have had something to do with it.”

We contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs and a spokeswoman confirmed delays that have seen delivery times lengthened from 10 to 15 days since the beginning of the month. She said the service has slowed significantly in recent weeks as a result of a glut of passport applications after 3,000 people were granted Irish citizenship.

“The Department has been taking steps to speed up the process since the beginning of the month and measures include the recruitment of temporary staff. We anticipate a reduction in turnaround times in the coming weeks.”