Wednesday, September 15, 2010

the train to trouble

Great efforts and huge investments have been made in Europe to create a web of high speed trains.
And this is close to complete accomplishment.
One now can take high speed trains, and we are talking about trains going over 300 km per hour, from Amsterdam to London to Berlin to Copenhagen to Rome and many other places in Europe.

Very well, the tracks are there, the trains too and then human beings come and fuck up the whole thing.
This is the subjective conclusion after a high speed train trip today from Amsterdam in the Netherlands to the city of Vannes in France.

Step one.
Or, first stumbling.
A courageous traveler can go to the Internet, surf to the website of the high speed trains and book the trip.
The ticket appears eventually on the screen and can be printed out.
Sophisticated and handy.
The traveler presents the home printed ticket to the conductor in the train and with a special electronic reader he will sanction the journey.
Good system.
For the traveler: no hassle and easy going.
For the high speed train company: easy business of selling tickets.

But then a strange twist is man made in this purchasing system.
Tickets for the high speed train can only be bought from the website seven days or more in advance.
If the traveler wants to train six days from now or less, the system refuses.

Now, fervent and loyal blog readers, what to do?
What have they come up with to get a train ticket anyway at shorter notice than seven days?
You must go to a major train station, stand in line, buy a ticket from a person behind a counter and pay an extra € 10 handling costs.
In the Netherlands there are only five railway stations where you can do this.
If you live too far away from one of those train stations, high speed train tickets won’t work.

It is puzzling why they have created this inadequate system of selling tickets.
Isn’t the principal of good selling that a customer should be able to come in and spend money any time?
We know the answer is yes but this fundamental marketing knowledge hasn’t reached the manager of the high speed train ticket office yet.

Step two.
Objective fact: high speed train is supposed to leave at 10.15 h from Central Station in Amsterdam.
There is no high speed train at that time but there are a lot of people waiting on the platform.
Eventually, after half an hour, the train appears.
The passengers board.
The train is full of dirt: the remains of the passengers who just traveled from Paris to Amsterdam.
The train was not cleaned.
The chief of the conductors gets on the PA.
Sorry, sorry, we are late and that the train is dirty but let’s go.

After about 45 minutes the high speed train slowly comes to a stop.
Beautiful meadows all around.
All the lights go out and the AC stops working.
The chief of the conductors gets on the PA.
Sorry, sorry, we lost power: the mechanic is trying to fix it.

Eventually the train continues but at a snail pace.
Approaching Brussels the chief of the conductors gets on the PA.
Sorry, sorry, but this train can’t continue.
It is broken.
Please leave the train in Brussels and board another train on the other side of the platform.
The cripple high speed train stumbles into Brussel’s railway station and the passengers get out of the wreck.
There is no other train on the other side of the platform.
The chief of the conductors gets on the PA.
Please go to platform six.
Many people have luggage.
Or children and their toys and equipment.
Now they have to carry everything down long stairs, through an underground corridor and up a long stairway again.
Everybody boards the new train, find the assigned seats when the chief of the conductors gets on the PA.
Soon we will leave, he promises.
The high speed train arrives in Paris with a delay of two hours.
Many passengers miss their connection.
Everyone gets a document with which one can get 25 % of the ticket price back.

The train is fast.
But the people not yet.


1 comment:

raj said...

interesting. in mumbai, in india, some 7 million people use the local trains ever day; 7 million is more than the population of many countries -- mumbai is just one small city. the journey can be tough to put it mildly considering the numbers, but the trains are on time!! that is the magic. even the german rail engineers who came to study indian railways called it a miracle.