Remembering how to write about something other than computer

Delayed Trains of the Continent

Last week I travelled to Berlin for a two-day technical event. Following my company's travel policy I travelled by train: Eurostar from London to Brussels, then Deutsche Bahn ICE to Köln and thence to Berlin; and the same in reverse to come home. This was the furthest I've travelled by train outside the UK since taking a sleeper train to the south of France as a child.

It's safe to say it could have gone better! The outbound Eurostar was 10 minutes late, which made the planned 20-minute connection in Brussels feel a bit tight. But I needn't have worried, because at some point while I was under the Channel, both the Köln and the Berlin trains were cancelled. The staff at the station sent me sprinting to a series of Belgian regional trains to Köln, and then onwards on a later ICE, which would have got me in 3 hours later than scheduled, after midnight. Happily I got talking to another traveller who found a better route via Düsseldorf, which got us into Berlin a mere 2 hours late.

The return journey was not much better: the train to Köln slid an hour behind schedule, meaning I missed my connection despite a 25-minute connection. The next Brussels train got me there 25 minutes before the Eurostar left; check-in closes 30 minutes before, so they didn't let me through. Eventually I got the last train home, again 3 hours later than scheduled.

It was still more comfortable in some ways than flying would have been. The seats are better (particularly on the ICE), there are power sockets, internet connectivity is mostly usable, so I got a decent chunk of work done in both directions. When I had to wait around in Köln, I just … walked out of the station and wandered around a bit. Good luck doing that in an airport!

I don't think it would have helped to allow longer for the connections. On the happy path, that would have just meant me sitting around in stations for just as long as I eventually did; and if the later connections had been cancelled I would have been really stuck. If travelling with my kids, I would probably break the journey overnight somewhere. (It didn't make sense, for me or my family, for me to spend more than 2 days travelling to a 2-day event this time.)

I had some good chats with strangers—one of my favourite hobbies. On the way out, it was great to have an impromptu travelling companion all the way from Brussels, who tolerated me trying and failing to explain an in-joke from a fake agricultural news podcast. On the way back, I talked to someone about computing and London theatres for about 2 minutes before another passenger turned up and claimed the seat I was in. Alas!

Speaking of fake agricultural news, the excellent recent Beef & Dairy Network Podcast live show had a running joke of the following form:

…and sexually, he goes like a train, by which I mean that halfway through he brings in a trolley groaning with snacks and refreshments.

…and sexually, he goes like a train, by which I mean it should be nationalised so that it's available for everyone for a reasonable fare.

…and sexually, she went like a train, by which I mean it was pretty good but not as good as some experiences I've had in Germany.

I found myself reëvaluating that last one. I can't find anything on the DB website (at least in English) that gives any hint about systemic problems with the network, but the patient Eurostar employee who put up with my melodramatic performance of the five stages of grief told me that they've been hearing the same story daily, for weeks.