My morning train ride was going smoothly. The train had arrived on time, it was heading in the correct direction and I’d even managed to get a seat. As we arrived at our final destination the intercom crackled to life and the conductor started his routine announcement, first in his native language of Dutch and then in his not so native language of English.
These announcements are often a source of amusement because the English part does not always go as the announcer planned or would have liked. The meaning of a sentence can be so easily changed by misplacing a few words (I know because I do it all the time in Dutch). This morning’s announcement ended up being a little suggestive.
“Ladies and Gentlemen. The next station is Amsterdam. Please remember to take off your personal belongings as you leave the train.”
It took me a second to realize what I had just heard. Take off our personal belongings? I know the Dutch are a very open minded people but had the train announcer really just suggested that we all take off our clothes as we leave the train? I’m not sure I want to know my fellow train passengers so intimately. It would be quite a shock for the people on the platform too if the doors opened and a steady stream of naked people suddenly exited the train.
I decided to keep my clothes on. Luckily so did everyone else.
It was early in the morning and I was still half asleep. The train I was sitting in was already running late because of either a engine malfunction, leaves on the track or a space time anomaly. I was not sure which because, after all, I was still half asleep. The important thing to know was that it meant we were arriving in Amsterdam ten minutes later than normal.
Being on a delayed train can sometimes be quite funny. You’ll often hear quite a few people chuckling to themselves. Not because the train is delayed (as that would suggest they have lost their minds) but because of the unintentionally funny apologies often made by the train conductors. On trains to Amsterdam especially they will often try to make their announcements in both English and Dutch, with varying degrees of success. In fact, they will sometimes be half way through a sentence when they suddenly realise that it has all got a little too complicated. That will be the moment when they just randomly grab at any English word that comes to mind in a panic. However, this morning the train conductor decided to deal with it a little differently.
“Ladies and gentlemen. Unfortunately we have arrived in Amsterdam…”
He suddenly paused. We waited. It went on for a while… And then, he simply decided to abandon the sentence.
“Have a nice day.”
It had almost been possible to hear him thinking over the intercom. I think the words he had been looking for were, “with a delay of 10 minutes,” but we will never know for sure. It is entirely possible that he just really does not like Amsterdam.
“Cabin crew to landing positions please. Cabin crew to landing positions.”
I sit up suddenly, snapped out of my day dreaming by the unexpected announcement. What? Landing? How can we be landing now?
“Ladies and gentlemen this is your captain speaking. We will shortly be arriving at Rotterdam central.”
Rotterdam? I don’t even know if Rotterdam has an airport? How can we be landing there? What is going on?
“The local time is 11:16pm. Weather conditions are good with a temperature of -2.”
I am deeply confused, not because we are making a sudden and un-expected landing but because we are making any kind of landing at all, because I am sitting on a train, a normal, regular train that does not have wings and is not capable of flight (as far as I know it).
“We hope you have enjoyed your flight with the Dutch railway service and we hope to see you again soon.”
Maybe the train driver is having a nervous breakdown…
“Dames en heren. Excuuses voor mijn alter-ego, de Engelse Kapitein. De volgende stop is Rotterdam Centraal.”
…or has a split personality.– – – – –
Translation = “Ladies and gentlemen. I apologise for my alter ego the English captain. Next stop is Rotterdam central.”
As I stare out into the cold night air of Rotterdam from the station platform where I await the arrival of my train I realize that I am a man who has been lied to. I am a man who has been wronged… I am a man suffering injustice.
The train time table clearly stated that the next train to Dordrecht would be arriving at platform 7 at 23:01 but it is 23:02 and there is no train in sight. I am annoyed. It is not the first time a train time table has lied to me.
The platform’s electronic information board provides me with no assistance either. Instead it simply sits there, blank, suggesting that the train has been cancelled all together.
“This really takes the biscuit.” I mutter under my breath bitterly, evoking snack food to punctuate my anger at the sheer injustice of it all.
Sure it is only a minute but that is not the point. I’m not just annoyed about this delay but all the delays we have all had to suffer in our lives. All the unexpected technical difficulties, broken signals and leaves on the line we have all had to endure.
It becomes clear to me what must be done. We the passengers must unite. They cannot ignore us all if we unify. We must rise up as one and in a united voice tell them, “One minute is not an expectable delay.” Oh yes! As the spirit of rebellion rises inside me I decide that I will be that first voice. I will be heard. If they think I’m going to let them get away with this any longer they have another thing coming. If they think I’m simply going to stand here on platform 6 and…
My internal rant suddenly comes a halt as I realize my horrible mistake. I am standing at platform 6. I should be standing at platform 7. Platform 7 is directly behind me… and so is my train.
I spin around just in time to see the doors of the 23:01 to Dordrecht closing. It’s so close I can almost touch it. How could I have failed to notice an entire train arriving directly behind me?
All I can do is simply watch as my train slowly pulls out of the station and begins its journey towards Dordrecht. I Sigh and check the train time table. The next train is at 23:31.
To fully understand this story and the length of the train delay it chronicles it is important to know that the Fyra train travels between Rotterdam and Amsterdam via Schiphol every day, twice an hour. It is vitally important to know that it does this journey just in forty minutes which is twenty minutes faster than regular trains which cover the same distance in just over an hour. It is because of this that the Fyra train cost extra compared to regular, slower trains. It is also important to know that about the only fact that they got right was that it costs extra.
We’d already stopped moving shortly after leaving Schiphol and had been sitting in the middle of nowhere for the past ten minutes before there had been an announcement informing us that we were experiencing a small delay (which most of us had worked out by then).
A short while later there was another announcement, upgrading our short delay to an unknown delay (completely skipping medium and long delay). There was a slightly eery synchronised groan from all of the passengers upon hearing this announcement. I did not blame them. I preferred the short delay too. A short delay sounds nice. It’s kind of like, “There is a delay but don’t worry. It’s only a short one.” It’s the kind of delay you laugh jovially about afterwards over cocktails.
But an unknown delay is unknown. It’s more like, “We do not know how long this delay will last. It may last forever or it might not. We do not even know how many of you will survive it.”
I phoned my wife to let her know that I would not be home for dinner and continued my attempts to distract myself with my laptop.
An hour passed and tensions were already starting to raise. The offer of free tea and coffee had done nothing to calm the nerves of my fellow passengers. Perhaps they feared, as I did, what would happen once the supplies of hot beverages run out after the panic buying started. I hoped that there were not many other English people on the train because an English person without tea is not a pretty sight. I tried to put it out of my mind and tell myself that we would start moving again soon.
But a second hour passed and there was still no rescue in sight. Small arguments had started to break out between passengers and staff. The smokers had it the worst. They were starting to go through withdrawal. Eventually the train conductor was forced to give into pressure and opened one of the doors for them before he had a nicotine patch fuelled riot on his hands. He pleaded that they stay on board, huddled around the open door and under no circumstances step out on to the tracks in case they got hit by a passing train. I imagine that some of them tried to make a break for it anyway.
A third hour passed and disaster struck. My laptop battery died. I considered making a break for it with the smokers. With my only form of entertainment gone I was forced to face the full reality of our situation. It was getting dark outside and I had not eaten. I was starting to consider searching for gum under the train seats. I wondered if I would ever see home again.
A fourth hour passed and playing eye-spy with myself was starting to get really boring. It was night time. Other trains continued to pass but we remained unmoving. I was starting to forget what my wife looked like. All hope seemed lost. What if the train never moved again? What if we were forced to stay on the train forever? What if we died on the train? What if…
I jumped up and was about to scream when the whole train suddenly shook and lurched. I froze, unsure of what was happening. A second later there was a huge cheer. People started to clap and high five each other. Could it be? We were saved! Yes we were!
The engine that was going to get us moving again had finally arrived and was being fitted onto the train. A short while later (the good kind of short) and we were being towed… back the way we came. I did not complain. I was happy to be moving again. I sat back down in my seat.
When we stepped off the train at Schiphol it was with a feeling of triumph. We had survived the ordeal. We had faced disaster and come out of it as survivors. I felt closer to my fellow passengers. I wanted to hug one of them and shout, “We’re alive,” while bursting into happy tears of joy but the train conductor I had approached with my arms wide open looked very stern so I decided against this course of action.
Instead I boarded another train home and prayed it did not break down.
My original train journey started at 6:26pm. I finally stepped through the front door of my home at 12:15am the next day. Forty minutes my arse.