Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rail rage

I love to travel by train. This old world way of traveling, safely in contact with mother earth. It is a gentler more natural way of getting from point A to point B. The back side of traveling on the earth's crust is that you may have to face very material hurdles on your way. If the train personnel does not handle this well, they may have to face irritation – even rage from the travelers. I experienced one case of rail rage a week ago on my way to Hamar.

NSB, the Norwegian Railways, are getting an increasingly bad reputation. Overfilled trains, technical problems, delays, and notoriously bad customer service have forced many, including myself, to change to express buses when travelling short or medium range distances.

That is a pity, as Norway has a large train network, covering some of the most breathtaking sceneries in Europe. If well run and maintained it would provide a good and reliable service to domestic and foreign travelers.

For once I changed to train while traveling up to Løten last weekend. I booked a so called comfort class, where you get free coffee, newspapers, and a plug for your PC to do some honest work on your way. There were nothing to complain of for the first hour and fifteen minutes, until we had stopped at Stange, just 15 minutes before Hamar. At that point everything went wrong.

Why are we waiting?

The train stood there for 5-10-15 minutes without any good information, before the staff announced that there may be something wrong with the railway line, and this was followed by another long period of silence. At this point I considered to call my friends, as they could easily get me at Stange, and when doing so they were more than willing to fetch me there. I left the train, but as I left the conductor cried to me that we were leaving, and I jumped on again. I stood in the exit area, close to the conductors compartment.

Safely on board again I did something very foolish. I remarked that I did find the customer service and communication rather deficient. This as I have always learned that one, to such a remark would recognize the fact that the customer is always right, and the customary response to such a remark would be “we are sorry”.

No such luck. In a very rude manor they declined any responsibility for their actions. They found it completely acceptable that no information was good information. Without any recognition that I might be right, I continued to discuss with them for another five minutes, until the following remark ended with this (my) remark:
“ Sorry, I now feel rather, that it is my fault that the train is delayed”

They left me, even more grumpy/aggressive, went into their tiny compartment and discussed very loudly among themselves (and easy for me to hear) how hopeless travelers (I) were nowadays.

We drove for 100 metres and the train stopped again. This time the explanation was that we had to wait for a passing train. Normal procedure, due to the fact that most of the railway lines in Norway are single rails and trains have to cross at stations or designated double tracks. One train passed, but we went on waiting for another 5-10 minutes for another explanation. It came ! There would be another train passing soon, and we were asked to keep all doors closed.

Time passed, and no train passed. No information for another 5-10-minutes. Now it felt like forever. Then another explanation came. There were no second train coming, but the (first) passing train had detected a strange noise on the rail and personnel were on their way to check the rail. No information whether we were to move, when, or even how we were coming to Hamar was given.

That was the last straw. I went into a compartment, sat down, everyone were shrugging their shoulders telling how stupid people found the situation. Some called and explained that we were standing in the middle of nowhere, without any knowledge when we were going to continue. The conductors went in, and found that I was not the only person impatiently waiting for good or any news. At last they said that they were sorry, but it was not their fault (ofcourse) as the technical information they had was deficient.

At last we started to move very slowly and we arrived at Hamar over 1 hour delayed, one experience richer. This rail rage story is regrettably one out of many. I recently read an article written by the Norwegian comedian Christine Koht, that had missed her own show travelling on the same distance. She did not mention when, but she might have been on the same train.

She would have been a much worse opponent to the train staff than I. I really hope she gave them a hard time.

Other train stories on Enjoy Food & Travel

- More comfort and proper restaurant on new Scandinavian train service (August 3rd 2008)
- The story of lost glamour (August 13th 2007)

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