Ballybrophy train station
Management at Irish Rail visited the Laois County Council's April meeting to announce radical staff changes, but was warned it could turn off customers.
Irish Rail intends to remove staff from smaller stations, instead putting them on trains with handheld devices to process tickets and help passengers.
It is in talks with staff, and expects the changes to be phased in over two years.
“There is a greater need for a person on board trains, some trains are driver only. Customers are using more technology, 82 percent are buying tickets online and only 18 percent in the station ticket office,” said Noreen Clohessy, District Manager.
Jim Gallavan, IR business development manager said new ‘Customer Services Operators’ are being recruited.
“They will get high class training, and will have a can-do attitude,” he said.
Laois councillors warned them that not all customers can use technology.
“Why would you even consider introducing machines to replace what is working for you? An awful lot of people do not use smartphones. You should be slow in implementing this, you’ll lose customers if you move swiftly,” Cllr Jerry Lodge told them.
Cllr Caroline Dwane Stanley said she herself was unable to buy a ticket online.
“I hope I never see a stage where nobody is working at a station, like it is in banks, where you’re dealing with a machine” she said.
Portlaoise Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald complained about ticket prices.
“We’ve been ignored by Irish Rail. We’re a commuter town, but we’re not getting the same rates as others. All the offers are never available before 11am. The average fare to Dublin is €32, it’s very expensive, and people are left standing beside reserved empty seats,” she said.
“Look at your affordability. It is €50 to Galway. What person in their right mind would pay it, you’d take your car,” said Cllr Dwane Stanley.
Councillors got no reply on their queries of potential job losses in Irish Rail.
Cllr Noel Tuohy, a former trade union official, said the words “deployment” and “re-assessment” worried him.
“I hope no jobs are lost,” he said.
“It sounds like a lot more jobs, yet my colleagues are concerned there’s a reduction. Is there a nett gain in jobs?” asked Cllr John Joe Fennelly, to no specific reply.
“At the moment there is no talk of anyone moving out of Portlaoise. In some stations you might have two trains a day, and ask why a person is paid for eight hours for that, they are better on a train helping customers. We’re not going to close any branches,” Mr Gallavan said.
Cllr James Kelly asked for overgrown ditches beside railway bridges to be trimmed, for safety of walkers, but the reply from Mr Gallavan was that whatever budget was left after maintaining rail lines, was spent on smaller stations. “It’s the same pot for roads,” the Irish Rail manager said.