Monday, November 24, 2014

Train Travelin'

The expected departure time just kept changing. Later and later and later. It was cold, I had walked thirty minutes in the rain (without help of a map and without getting lost, I’ll have you know). I had three bags, one of which had four very dead, very frozen ducks in it. I didn’t want to haul everything back into the warmth of the station, not when the departure time was only being updated in five to ten minute increments, leaving me with a sense of hope.

Finally, with little fanfare, the train rolled into the station about 35 minutes late. I’ve come to expect delays whenever I travel, whether it’s by car or boat, plane or train. All things considered, 35 minutes wasn’t horrible. Mostly, I was just excited about getting out of the cold.

I climbed aboard, found my car, found my seat, and proceeded to say nothing for the entire train ride from Lund to Stockholm. It was amazing. I finished a book, listened to some podcasts, and wrote a bit. Train travel isn’t such a bad gig once you’re actually on the train.

Periodically, a woman would interrupt the silence over the loudspeaker. As we neared a station, she would give the passengers an update as to where we were, where we were going, and how late we would be when we arrived (about 56 minutes. Not exactly, but about.). Helpful information really. She also gave us instructions. There’s nothing new about that. The platform is to your left as we pull into Linköping. Watch your step. Make sure you don’t forget anything. You know, the usual. What caught my attention were her pleas for assistance.

She beseeched us to have our bags packed and ready to go as we arrived and that we be waiting at the door so that everyone could disembark quickly. She warned us that because we were 56 minutes behind schedule, it was imperative that everyone come together and help out so that we could make up as much time as possible. She asked passengers to not step off for a breath of fresh air or a smoke. She even told us why it was so important that everyone leave the train efficiently and effectively: there was a train behind us that was on schedule and it took priority; there was a freight train in front of us and we really needed to get in front of it or we’d be stuck traveling at its slower speed; she just really needed a drink after listening to everyone complain. Two of those three are true.

We’ve all heard these pleas for help. Think back to flying through Chicago during any holiday ever. The person at the front desk takes to a microphone and asks everyone to have their boarding tickets out and ready to go and their bags packed and ready for the overhead compartment. Then think back to the guy in the socks, sandals, Hawaiian shirt, and floppy hat in front of you who didn’t follow directions. He’s got a connecting flight in Chicago that’s taking him somewhere warm for the holiday. He got to the front of the line and then had to empty his bags (plural) just to find his boarding pass. He’s also the one who packed a one-room apartment into his carry-on and is upset when it, surprise surprise, doesn’t fit under the seat in front of him or in the overhead compartment. But still, the poor airline and airport employees continue to plead.

What’s to stop the person who has already arrived from taking their time? Why should they care whether the train takes in a few minutes after they’ve already made it home? The answers are nothing and they shouldn’t. But they did care. With five minutes to go, the woman’s soothing Stockholm accent came over the intercom. She asked everyone to get ready. She made her case. And with four minutes to go, people started pouring out of their seats, they bundled up, steeled themselves against the rain, and went to the doors and waited patiently. They piled off. The next folks piled on. And two minutes later, we were on our way again. It was a frightening, yet encouraging, display of Swedishness in action.

When I started writing this, I was going to comment that I’ve never heard of this sort of thing happening in the US. To point out that this was a manifestation of jantelagen in the form of public transportation. To say, look, how Swedish and quaint. Then I remembered that trains are nearly non-existent in the US. That’s why I’ve never heard of this happening. Well played, Sweden, well played.

Welcome to Sweden. Where trains are delayed. Because they actually have a passenger rail transportation system that is used by large numbers of people.


  1. You know 60 minutes is magical from a reimbursement perspective?

    Did you get money back or did the passengers cooperation get you to be 56 min late without new tickets?

    1. Fifty-six minutes and no money back. That rule might explain the urgency and repeated requests for cooperation by the woman on the loudspeaker...