With my change of role from being primarily based in Limerick, to now being based out of Dublin (while continuing to live in Limerick), I’ve become more acquainted than I ever expected I would with Irish Rail’s offering on the route between Limerick and Dublin.
Recently, having discovered what actually seems to be a well-documented workaround to ‘upgrading’ at a fixed, very reasonable price, I’ve taken a few trips in ‘Citygold’ – Irish Rail’s ‘first class’ product offering between Dublin and Cork. So I thought I’d answer the question; how is it as of 2022, and how does it compare to the standard class?
To start with, pricing for first class fares is pricey when purchased from the website – but from what I’ve seen, to every handful of first class fare ticket holders, there are about another 15 who have either used the above workaround or simply just upgraded on the train itself. The catch is that you remain restricted to the original fare class you booked when using the upgrade in advance or on-board strategy – whereas first class tickets are almost entirely unrestricted.
On that note, all tickets seem to become ‘restricted’ regardless of how unrestricted the fare class is, once printed out – which can be troublesome in the case of a return, where the two journeys are printed at your outbound point and the return inbound is thus considered no longer editable.
Actually, the notion that we even need to print tickets out at the machine (and you must) in this day and age seems mad to me – to not just use a QR code either printed or on your phone like nearly every other transport method and operator. What’s that all about? I was printing e-tickets in Germany over 10 years ago.
Similarly, buying an upgrade through the website will also provide you another booking reference number – so you’ll need to enter and print two tickets when upgrading online to Citygold. Complete madness.
Departing from Dublin, the first real benefit is simply that the first-class carriage is the first you come across. The carriage is absolutely quieter, and the seats are wider and a little more plush – for example, for people who don’t enjoy staring at two others across the table and feeling like you’re at an interview, the seats are one to one, on one side of the aisle. Sure, you may still end up facing someone but it feels much more awkward, intimate dinner than interview. On the other side, seats are two on two like usual.
Speaking of the seats, they have a great recline or ‘focus’ angle where you can get work done angled into the table (I’m doing it now in fact). There are armrests, a plastic table lamp and plenty of space. Plus two sockets under the table. So you can definitely get work done, or have a snooze.
I’ll be honest – I like the concept, but please, would someone reupholster the seats? While still usable I’ve seen one or two with armrests becoming exposed to bare metal innards, and the fabric ripped and hanging off the bottom of the seats on two other journeys. I’ll help out with scope here – change nothing about the seat, just reupholster it in some fancy looking charcoal leather and a consistently included headrest pillow (currently sometimes there is, sometimes there isn’t). Job done, you can thank me later.
And…that’s about it. That’s all there is to first class. The bathroom is more consistently empty, and kept reasonably clean.
For me, what would make it immediately a few steps up without much added cost would be either a free bottle of water or orange juice on boarding, maybe a small snack basket offered through the carriage after departure, and a newspaper. Right now there’s no catering on trains in Ireland, and first class is otherwise just like a larger seat version of standard class.
At the stations meanwhile, there’s no clear investment in pushing a first class experience. There’s no special ticket window or priority access to anything, no fancy waiting area or dare I be so obnoxious as to suggest; a lounge.
I imagine the economics of this spread over two city centre stations in Dublin (plus however many more nationwide with limited first class service) simply don’t work – but one can dream surely? As a start, it’d be great to see even just a separate Citygold set of ticket machines, roaming station host, and ticket gates. I really think it would also go some way to encouraging folks to upgrade in advance rather than on-board, and potentially push first class-specific fare sales higher.
But until then – you know what, while it might not be a world-leader or anything close, but for just the peace and comfort, I’ll gladly continue to chip in the small upgrade fee (provided it doesn’t increase much more without significant experience enhancement) whenever I can.