And once things are ‘good’, we start to expect ‘excellent’. Hence the complaints. But in practice, I hardly ever plan in extra travel time to allow for delays. So if anything, I was excited rather than worried that my train trip to Bratislava had two tight connections in it: thirteen minutes in Frankfurt Airport, seven in Vienna. I decided to take one local train earlier so as not to miss my first international ICE at Utrecht. Just to be safe (and grab a nice breakfast at the train station).
Leaving Cologne, the delay is still 16 minutes. The lady keeps telling me to wait for the announcement once we get close to Frankfurt. But I want to know now! I’m worried that while they’ll announce connections at Frankfurt Airport, they won’t give me the advice needed for my trip, including alternative connections. I feel I’m bothering the kind lady because I’m asking questions she doesn’t have the answer to. I’m not sitting comfortably anymore, cannot focus on my work, and am even considering phoning friends back home to look up information for me.
This train has no WiFi in 2nd class, meaning I cannot look up information myself either. The digital info screens on board only show offers for discount cards, ride sharing and bike rental services at many German railway stations. Excellent, low carbon, intermodal travel options. But of absolutely no use to me as I have no access to more information, payment options, etc.
A few minutes before we pull in to Frankfurt, the announcement comes that my connecting train is also delayed, so the connection is safe. I notice my face is a bit tense and my arms are shaky as I gather my luggage and step onto the platform. Where am I? Where do I need to go? Where do I find the right information? I'm on the right platform, but there’s nothing on the signs yet. Nervously, I ask a businessman on the platform, who looks it up for me on his phone and is surprised to learn that the train we’ll both be getting on to goes all the way to Vienna.
The next leg of my trip is another rollercoaster of growing and shrinking delays. The most nerve-wrecking one is when my train stands still for five minutes, just before pulling into Vienna where my connection to Bratislava is only 7 minutes. Luckily, signage at Vienna is good so with another run I make my connection again and I arrive in Bratislava as scheduled.
Nonetheless, I'm chagrined and exhausted from worrying about connections. Why? Ultimately, the worst thing that can happen is that I arrive late at a meeting, perhaps lose part of a nights' sleep. It's not the end of the world. However, proper access to travel information and better services could have made me much more comfortable. The lack of information is frustrating, especially since it could so easily be fixed, benefiting both passengers and train staff. Essentially, while I was on board the travel system, I was still excluded from information services. I had to depend on the people making announcements on the train. But these people don’t know me, nor my destination. If anything, they only know where I got on and where I’ll get off.
I realise that part of the problem is my mobile phone subscription: roaming is expensive once I leave the Netherlands. Railway companies may be providing excellent information services to anyone who can reach them. But I couldn't. And since passengers are at the mercy of their information, railway companies could step up their efforts provide better access to them.
This is part 4 of a series:
On board, but still excluded (Bratislava, part 3)
Even environmentalists compromise (Bratislava, part 2)
Save the world, take a train (Bratislava, part 1)