Tuesday, May 08, 2012

French trains and delays in general

As I like buses in cities, I love taking trains. Taking a flight might be faster and easier for some destinations, but within Europe, I love trains.

For instance, whenever I go to UK (as often as I can), I love taking Eurostar® for a very simple reason : arrival at Saint Pancras International Station. First of all the station is gorgeous, then, it is central London and the Euston station (to reach Liverpool) is almost around the corner !

I love trains but with a certain comfort too : first class, solo seat and a Zen atmosphere (to read, write and listen to music quietly)… But travelling by train might be hectic and boring.

A few years ago, I had to go across France from East to West (it is albeit pretty stupid to do so by train) and took a “Intercité” train (Between cities train) from Lyon to Bordeaux. It was supposed to take about 8 hours. It took more than 8 hours to join half the way… “Due to circumstances” as the French National Railway company pointed out a few days later. The circumstances ? Fire engine ! The delay ? Due to a non-understanding between two main stations which didn’t want to take responsibilities.

Just figure that out, about 100 persons (we weren’t that many on board), stopped in the desert land (basically in the center of France), away from any civilization point (no house at a mile around), without no information (well, indeed disinformation), no water, no food and quite a destabilized agents ! We went on and off about a dozen of times thanks to the disinformation. Our train was supposed to start again any 5 times, but didn’t.

It was badly damaged and the conductor asked for another locomotive. About 2 hours later, an order to get another locomotive arrived to the depot and a new one (well, one not in use at that time) was driven to our “meeting point”. Just visualize that :  it took about 2 more hours to drive this locomotive to our point and 1 hour to change the materials.

Then, the conductor said that buses were on our ways to drive us to the nearest stations where trains were available to get us to our stopping point. No kidding ! Buses ! 2 hours driving at least. Some chose to take buses ; Some didn’t. I did not. I stayed with a few and we formed a band. We started playing cards, listening music, changing anecdotes and even sharing food and water. We sat on the platform and waited the train to start again.

It was rather funny indeed, especially when we had the signal to jump on the train and waited for about 20 minutes for a start. Then, after 20 minutes of inertia, we got off the train and put our suitcases on the platform again and sat.

Finally the train started again to go and reach the nearest station, slowly. Slower would have been inaction !
We had food on board but it was disgusting, looking like animal food.

While we were reaching the “final” destination, we had a real blast on board. We were laughing and were hilarious thinking about a night out we missed. It could have been funny to sleep in this desert land, apart that it was mid-winter and rather cold outside.

I reached my “real final destination” around 11:30 pm (I started the journey around 9 am) and I was quite alone in the train station apart from a military man whom insisted to escort me to my friend’s house.
I missed a couple of appointments that day and was quite irritated with the lack of competence of the French National Train Company.

Indeed, French trains are used to be late.

But souvenirs stay and whenever I think about that journey, I am pretty happy…