September 2005


Signal Failure

So the theme of my first two traveling days revolves around trains and transportation.

The first day of the journey was a headache-the first, and really only thing, to go as scheduled and designed was the train at 07:30 from Weimar Berkaer Bahnhof to Weimar Hauptbahnhof, arriving on-time at 07:35.

Unfortunately that was it-and had I been more observant, I would have sprinted to catch the twenty minute late ICE train that I normally never notice. Instead I bought a bottle of water and then headed to my platform where I started figuring out that something was wrong-trains were on the wrong platform and running late. I noticed that the night train to Dresden passed through Weimar over two hours late.

My train arrived 30 minutes late and left an hour late-and then proceeded to take an hour to go 20 kilometers (12 miles). From there the train picked up speed-it seems that there was a signal failure somewhere near Weimar thus slowing everything down. Additionally, my train was terminated 45 minutes outside of Frankfurt, meaning that everybody on the train had to transfer to another train that was now overcrowded.

Ultimately this delay meant that my flight from Cologne to Birmingham was busted-I had to buy a last minute ticket from Frankfurt to Birmingham on Lufthansa-meaning that for a second time I will not be flying Germanwings?the first was in March when my trip with MT was derailed due to illness.

I got into Birmingham an hour later than planned-fortunately my ticket was an open ticket, so I paused to ask for the next available connection and got a printout of directions. I got to the station 4 minutes before the next train. I was lucky.

Unfortunately I met my first “yob” on the train: a disaffected British youth. He was taking up six seats and playing music with his mobile-loud enough for a number of people to listen and glare. This being Britain nobody confronted the kid: me because I’m an outsider, and the locals because they are too inhibited to confront.

My British rail experiences have reinforced my feeling that trains shouldn’t be privatized, and if they are, they shouldn’t be splintered. The trains are dirty, the people don’t care, and the stations are dilapidated. German trains are a whole lot better: clean, well cared for, and with luggage racks that hold luggage.

Additionally, German trains provide useful information, like which platform to expect your train on. I was left to guess which platform I needed to make my connection on at the Birmingham New Street Train station. On Deutsch Bahn the information is given to you on the printouts, and unless there are major disruptions, the advertised platform is the one that the train actually arrives at. 99% of the time the most exciting thing that might happen to you is that the train shows up reversed-first class at the back instead of the front, or vice versa.

Right now I’m sitting on a First Great Western Train. I connected onto the train from a Virgin Trains service from Cheltenham Spa to Bristol Parkway. I am scheduled to arrive in Swansea in about 20 minutes, but we had a delay due to some kind of signal outage a few minutes ago-and since the British are more experienced with signal failure, it was only about a 5 or 10 minute delay.

Random Thoughts: Last night’s meeting was excellent-although I arrived a few minutes late. My hosts are absolutely positive fantastic, and I spent the night sleeping with an adorable kitty cat who licked my forehead and purred up a storm. Tonight I am hanging out with Jay visiting gay bars in Swansea. Tomorrow I catch the overnight ferry to Cork-10 hours, and I paid £4 extra to get an outside deluxe berth.

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