Service with a smile, but badly planned and led
As a weekly (and sometimes twice-weekly) commuter on the Belfast-to-Dublin Enterprise rail service let's start with the positives: the staff who work on it.
Whether it is the inspectors collecting the tickets, the always-smiling, friendly chap who has a small bottle of cabernet sauvignon on the table even before I ask at the bar on Sunday evenings, or the ladies that pick up the rubbish left behind by the passengers, the workers on the Enterprise are kind, courteous and helpful.
In fact, whenever there are unexpected (and sometimes unannounced) delays on the line, the shuttling of passengers on buses when there are security alerts (no one's fault but the idiots behind them), or when a sub-standard train turns up in either Central Station or Connolly Station, I think of the staff on board. I feel sorry for them having to make excuses for a service that is, quite frankly, badly planned and led at management level.
In recent times, as the Enterprise was refurbished with new trains (I have yet to travel on one of them), regional ones were being used frequently on the north-south rail-link. This meant, especially in the summer, that commuters and tourists who had booked their seats online got on board to discover that seating was now a Ryanair-style free-for-all, where the first on got the best positions.
And it is the staff who are left in the unenviable position to explain this hassle to those who thought they had seats booked and confirmed.
As a lover of train travel, some of whose fondest memories include riding the rails of Europe on Inter-rail in the 1980s, I want to see the most important rail connection on this island thriving.
However, the latest bizarre and illogical decision by Irish Rail to rewrite the working week timetable fills me with dread for the railway's future on the east coast line.
Irish Rail is considering pushing back the early bird train from Belfast Central from 6.50am to 6.15am.
Fair enough, you might say, as an even earlier start would facilitate the business passenger in particular who has to be in Dublin for that important meeting before work starts at 9am. The catch is that the estimated time of arrival at Connolly for this even earlier morning departure is at 8.41am.
Presumably, this is due to the increase in commuter trains, including the DART system, shuttling passengers to work and college in the greater Dublin area at the same time.
This decision will only underpin the views of sceptical regular users of the service that, in terms of a connection between two major cities, the rail line has to be one of the worst in Europe.
Back in the 1980s and into the 1990s, people stood in solidarity with the railway companies and their workers when the IRA was (for inexplicably moronic reason) leaving bombs on the line. Choosing to travel by train was, for many, an act of defiance against that madness.
Those that love riding the rails will continue to opt for the train rather than the bus and coach, whose services have radically improved themselves between north and south in recent years.
What Irish Rail needs to do is revise the absurd idea of an earlier start and think more imaginatively about this inter-city service.
They and Translink could start with a single connection each morning that runs non-stop between Belfast and Dublin, which would dramatically cut down the journey time.
Oh, and improve the wi-fi for those of us who like to use the time to get on with some work.