Irish Rail trains are generally reliable, reasonably priced, and comfortable. You can easily reach all the principal towns from Dublin, though service between provincial cities can be roundabout. To get to Cork City from Wexford, for example, you have to go via Limerick Junction. It's often quicker, though perhaps less comfortable, to take a bus. Most mainline trains have one standard class. Round-trip tickets are usually cheapest. The best deals are available online, booking at least one week in advance.
Northern Ireland Railways has three main rail routes, all operating out of Belfast's Central Station: north to Derry via Ballymena and Coleraine, east to Bangor along the shores of Belfast Lough, and south to Dublin and the Irish Republic. Note that Eurail Passes aren't valid in Northern Ireland.
There's only one class of train travel in Ireland (with the exception of the express trains between Dublin and Belfast, which have first-class and standard-class tickets). Seat reservations are part of the package if you book online on Dublin–Cork and Dublin–Belfast routes, but otherwise it's first come, first served. Get to the station at least 30 minutes ahead to ensure a seat. It's not uncommon on busier routes to find all the seats are occupied.
Fares and Passes
Tickets can be purchased online or at the train station. Cash, traveler's checks, and credit-card payments are accepted. You must pay in the local currency. Dublin, Connolly, and Heuston stations have automated ticket machines that accept cash or credit-card payments, offering a convenient way to avoid long lines at ticket windows.
Sample fares? A round-trip ticket from Dublin to Cork will cost around €60; Dublin to Belfast is approximately €55. Considerable savings can be made by booking ahead online where off-peak tickets cost as little as €10 each way.
Ireland is one of 24 countries where people can use the Interrail Pass (normally for residents of Europe) or the Eurail pass (normally for nonresidents), which provide unlimited rail travel. If you plan to rack up the miles, get a Global Pass. These are available from Rail Europe for 15 days (€528), 21 days (€682), and one month (€838). In addition to standard Eurail Passes, ask about special plans, including the Eurail Youth Pass (for those under age 26) and the Eurail Saver Pass (which gives a discount for two or more people traveling together). Whichever pass you choose, you must purchase your pass before you leave for Europe. For these passes, order through your travel agent or contact www.raileurope.com.
The Irish Explorer Rail & Bus Pass covers all the state-run and national railways and bus lines throughout the republic. It does not apply to the North or to transportation within cities. An eight-day ticket for use on buses and trains during a 16-day period is €245. In Northern Ireland, the iLink Card, entitling you to up to seven days' unlimited travel on scheduled bus and rail services throughout Northern Ireland, is available from main Northern Ireland Railways stations. It costs about £55.
Information and Passes
Fáilte Ireland. 01/884–7101; www.discoverireland.com.
Irish Rail. 01/836–6222; www.irishrail.ie.
Northern Ireland Railways. 028/9066–6630; www.translink.co.uk/services/ni-railways.
Train Station Information
Belfast Central Station. East Bridge St., Belfast, Co. Down. 028/9089–9400; www.translink.co.uk.
Connolly Station. Amiens St., Dublin, Co. Dublin. 01/703–2358; www.irishrail.ie.
Galway Station. Station Rd., Galway City, Co. Galway. 091/564–222; www.irishrail.ie.
Heuston Station. St. John's Rd. W (N4), Dublin, Co. Dublin, 8. 01/836–6222; www.irishrail.ie.
Kent Station. Lower Glanmire Rd., City Center North, Cork City, Co. Cork. 021/450–4777; www.irishrail.ie.