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A Train Wreck – by Justyna

9 Dec

My naive love affair with Polish trains blossomed when I was an exchange student in Szczecin back in the day. I totally fell for a transport system that appeared to me to be full of romantic wonder and unlimited pleasures. The vis-a-vis carriages in which you sat with your fellow passengers face to face, chatting endlessly, establishing true connections albeit for fleeting moments. The train tracks that carried you through the whole country conveniently to every nook and cranny and for a very low price indeed. The brusque and unfriendly ticket seller ladies made me smile with the knowledge I was dealing with a true remnant of the yester-year commie past. The no-nonsense train conductors with their starched shirts, leather sachets and floppy mustaches added to the real mccoy charm. I loved the hard to reach luggage racks that stored even the most cumbersome backpacks (feeling my upper arm satisfaction every time I lugged up a hefty 20kg pack with ease). The sleepers that provided you with the joy of being refreshed after catching an all nighter. And I even loved the smelly toilets seldom having enough toilet paper to accommodate the traveling. To me these toilets seemed so quaint and rustic in their metallic simplicity.

Yes, I was in love. Or so I thought. Like a first boyfriend, this love was nothing but mindless romanticism, a minimum demand met when not really knowing what one wants out of a train, or a boyfriend. I was a naive fool. Today I think, a bloody idiot.

After doing some growing up and living here as a full-fledged local, I have decided to be mature and thus have severed all my ties with Polish Rail. I now despise the institution. I actually hate everything about it. It drives me bonkers with madness. It refuses to undergo any form of modernisation. There are fifteen million subsidiaries instead of the one company dealing with the whole rail system. There is a separate company for the train carriages, a separate company for the railway tracks, a separate company for the stations, a separate company for the cargo, a separate company for the catering on board, and a separate company for the annoyingly unfriendly staff who refuse to bend to commuter demands. You cannot buy train tickets online if you have connecting trains, because chances are that the connection is provided for by a different company and not available in the online system that is owned by the first train connection company . With so many subsidiaries and really only the one product on offer (and no real privatisation), one does not have to be an economist to know that the system simply does not work.

You cannot pay to take your bike with you on the train, stick it in cargo and sit comfortably in a reserved seat with the rest of the passengers. Oh no. You have to sit with your bike on a ten hour journey praying that there are no other idiots traveling with you and their bikes, because there will be a large possibility that you will not have a seat for the entire trip. Just like in the 50s, you sit with your bike like you once sat with your cow. The train tracks have not undergone any modifications or restorations, so the average trip is that of a speed of a snail. To catch a train from Krakow to Szczecin (some 700km), you’re looking at a twelve hour train ride! The trains are constantly late, especially in winter, when the whole system pretty much shuts down because it cannot handle the cold and the snow. Last year there were delays of up to five hours for inter city train connections. The transport minister was thrown out for his incompetence in the matter, only to be restored days later because no other fool was able to take on the job. The average age of a PKP employee is about 53. Non profitable lines are becoming extinct, whilst the popular and mostly frequented ones are so expensive that it is becoming cheaper to fly domestically. And if you happen to be blind, in a wheelchair, with a pram or with an amputated leg, well suck a massive fart – you are not going anywhere.

Deutsche Bahn, come and save us. Buy it all!

Rant over.

Trains – by Karen

8 Dec

I grew up without much access to a car. We had a car, but my mum couldn’t drive it, and my dad wouldn’t drive it. Unless he wanted to go somewhere. Which was rare.

I spent a lot of time on trains, and I can’t say I’m quite as rosy on them as the rest of you. Here are my top three train moments:

3. Board a train, on the way to craft club. There is a completely empty three-seater chair, except that the man opposite has his feet on it. I walk towards the chair. The man moves his legs down, grunting and gasping. Then he stands up, calls me a stupid ugly fucking lesbian (!) and proceeds to pace around the carriage muttering and swearing.

2. Board a train at Parramatta station (foreboding sound effect). There is a man sitting opposite me but one seat back. I can feel him looking at me. I turn around to give one of my well-worn don’t stare at me stares. Something makes me turn my head back without making eye contact. I process my peripheral vision. What had I seen? He was wearing those tracksuit pants which for some reason you can unbutton at the sides. He was reaching into a sports bag. He was pumping lotion from the sports bag into his hand. What? I glanced again. He was JERKING OFF. ON THE TRAIN. 

I wasn’t equipped to deal with the situation and I just changed carriages or something to allow the requisite mental processing to take place. Afterwards, I vowed that next time I would get up and call a guard. 

3. Sitting on the train. I have that creepy feeling again. ANOTHER man is jerking off on the public train. I get up, determined to go to the guard and call the asshole out. The carriage is one of those old ones that doesn’t connect to anything. I sit in the entranceway chairs, fuming.

Blue light carriages are an excellent service, and I’m sure that none of the masturbation exposures would have occurred in one of those. But my point (if I have one) is that the very publicness of public transport means you are subject to all the fucktards of the world, which I don’t welcome. Hell, I can hardly even stand going to the movies, because of people talking and OPENING FUCKING LAPTOPS and answering their phones and discussing the movie stupidly afterwards. I’m just not that tolerant a person. 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not trains I dislike, it’s passengers.

Trains – by Tabitha

6 Dec

One of the things I miss here in Hanoi, where we get around by bicycle, is public transport. Nathan and I often reminisce about our daily commute over the Harbour Bridge, which not only served as luxurious non-negotiable reading time, but has since come to encapsulate for us our long-gone Sydney lives. Most people in Vietnam would never have experienced something so mindlessly comfortable and efficient as that train ride.

What’s more, we know those trains so well. We know which carriage to get on at Newtown if you want to be closest to the best exit for the North Sydney train when you change at Central. We know that Central is the best place to change because you just have to switch platform sides. We know which seats are the best for maximum comfort, personal space and view. We know exactly how to stand to maintain balance when the train jolts to a stop.

It makes you feel like you’re really part of the city, like you belong there. It’s the kind of familiarity which is easy to get nostalgic about. I still think often about riding the Metro in Paris, the springy resistance of the old-fashioned manual door handles, and those pull-down seats that snap up at your bottom when you stand (which courtesy dictates you have to do when a certain number of people around you are without a seat).

When I went back to Sydney after a year in Hanoi, I couldn’t believe how much walking was involved in catching the train – long walks to stations, long walks through underground tunnels – and how much planning and checking timetables and how much waiting. The trains ran late so often, and there was track-work, and half the trains seemed too air-conditioned and the other half too stuffy. Rowdy youths made it hard for me to concentrate on my book.

It seems a selective memory for the comforts of home is a universal part of the migrant experience.

Trains, trains, trains by Beth

6 Dec

We’re all about trains in this house.

Jeff and I both catch trains to work and most weekday mornings all three of us walk down to the station (either Marrickville or Tempe) to see the worker bee off.

Then a walk to the nearest park for oodles of “up sky”

Today Leo and I went into town for no particular reason (it involved me wanting to go to DJ’s Food Hall because it’s been a bit of hard slog lately and it’s my pick-me-up)

Here’s Leo playing adoringly with his new train set he got for his birthday on the weekend.

And a ride-on Thomas we rented for the party. He’s REALLY into Thomas the Train.