Last week there was a fire in Saint Denis. Some trains were delayed more than two and a half hours but right up to departure ours was scheduled to leave on time. As usual the train opened 15 minutes before departure and we leapt aboard. Then we waited. After that we waited some more. The first hold up was because the train driver was held up in the snarl caused by the fire. Eventually he made it through but then trains could not get authorisation to leave the station because there were people on the tracks. Eventually the command came to leave the train and join another three platforms away.
Shortly after we’d settled in the new train the manager announced with delight that we had authorisation to leave the station. And then we waited some more. Finally we left without a chance of getting to Brussels in time for the last train home and no matter how many times I counted the cash there wasn’t enough for a taxi.
Not long after we set off the train manager came through asking everybody if they had to make a connection in Brussels. Less than graciously I muttered there was no chance we could make the last one. He replied, quite patiently, that was the reason for asking. So they could work out how to get everybody to their destination. After apologising I told him I was hoping to get to Leuven.
They asked each and every passenger on the train, collected and collated the information and telephoned or radioed it ahead to some central office that was responsible for sorting out things when stuff goes wrong. About 20 minutes out of Brussels they announced that they had agreed with the Belgian national rail network to hold three trains, the last three trains for the evening, until we got in. Anybody that needed a connection beyond the reach of these trains was given a complimentary taxi. There were also fresh drinks and sandwiches on offer at the main exit but I missed them because I knew a short cut to the train waiting to take me home.
This brought to mind a similar experience in Britain a few years back. After a rugby match in Edinburgh we set for home on the Sunday morning with plenty of time to make connections in London and arrive on the south coast in the early evening. However, after a sequence of engineering works, bad luck and mishaps we limped into London with barely any time to catch the last train anywhere. My best offer only took me half way to my destination. From there it was a very expensive taxi ride very late at night before I finally got to where I was going.