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The wonderful world of trains


Occasionally, you’ll sit on a train knowing that the universe has smiled upon you. You think back on your journey to the station, where you arrived 15 minutes early, remembering the pleasant breeze which blew as you walked in the July sunshine. You are a picture of calmness and serenity, comforted by the knowledge that you haven’t overlooked some important detail nor left a vital piece of equipment in the house. By any measure, it has been the perfect start to your trip, as you settle down into your seat which was reserved several weeks in advance, clutching the tickets which were delivered directly to your house.

Sometimes, maybe a minute before departure, you’ll encounter a whirlwind of feverish activity as someone rushes up to the platform and jumps into the train. The passenger (let’s assume he’s a male for the purpose of this story), is hot, sweaty, disheveled, red-faced and panting, but with a faint smile of victory on his face. He looks around and finds an empty seat, collapsing in a heap of bags, suitcases, and laptop cases, and breathes a quiet sigh of relief. And then, as he looks up at the ‘This train stops at…’ sign in the carriage, you might catch the brief look of panic which crosses his face. Instead of being reminded of the comfortable and familiar names through which he will whizz on his way home, he is faced with a dizzying collection of weird and exotic places he doesn’t recognise. Coleshill, Nuneaton, Hinckley, Narborough. Leicester.

The sudden realization that he’s on the wrong train hits him like a ton of bricks. As he frantically gathers up his things, he hears the sound of the three beeps which herald the the train moving off. With one last desperate lunge, he tries to stop the door from slamming in his face, but it is to no avail.

The train starts to trundle away from the platform, leaving this poor, hapless sap stuck standing by the door and looking like a fool.

This mistake could be a costly one. It might cause him to miss the train he was scheduled to get. It might take him over an hour to get back into Birmingham. It might mean having to wait two hours to get the next train to Glasgow.

Now, if you were in this situation, you might experience a combination of feelings in watching this drama unfold in front of you. Sympathy. Amusement. Perhaps even an element of schadenfreude. But probably the most prominent feeling might be relief that you weren’t the one in that position.

The next time you do see that man, though, spare a thought for him and try your best to stifle your laughter if you can. He’s most likely incredibly embarrassed and doesn’t really know where to look, and knowing that everyone is staring at him isn’t going to make things any easier.

And for the record, that story isn’t about me. Honest. 

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  1. Phil
    July 4, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    This is where being a train geek comes in handy. The hero of your story mistook what was probably a London Midland Class 170 Turbostar for the intended Virgin Trains Class 221 Super Voyager to Glasgow. Easily done, as if I remember correctly as a former regular user of both of these trains at various points in the past, they have a tendency to depart from the same platform at New Street….

    I think that’s quite enough geekery for one night. Hope you got to Glasgow safe and sound in the end!

  2. July 4, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    Thanks for that Phil! It’s good to know that there is a wholly sensible and perfectly reasonable explanation as to why the (imagined) predicament might have arose.

    Of course, just to reiterate, this is an entirely fictional story I just made up to illustrate a point about the necessity of human compassion.

    The person who would get on the wrong train is a fool and not something I would do at all…

    (But yes, I managed to get to Glasgow eventually, only to get off at the wrong station once I got here!)

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