My mother tells a story of an elderly aunt travelling to London by train. On the return journey, late at night, she took a train for Bournemouth. The train reached her station, but she was unable to get off the train because her carriage had not reached the platform. Instead of walking forward in the train, she sat in the compartment waiting for the train to move. It did. The coaches were shunted into a siding and the aunt just sat there, and waited hours. Eventually an uncle went to look for her and found her still patiently waiting.
Many of those who travelled on British Rail would have been familiar with warning announcements that all passengers wishing to travel to Upper Puddleford, or wherever, should travel in the front four carriages. It was the passenger’s responsibility to make sure that they listened to the announcements and that they travelled in the correct part of the train so as to arrive at a platform. The aunt had to walk along the track to reach the station.
Passenger initiative is still demanded in other countries. Spending time in Paris last year, we went to catch an RER train back to Maisons Lafitte in the evening. It was busy at the station and we watched the signs for a train to our station. Stopping stations were shown by white lights being illuminated against their names on the signs that overhung the platform. We were sure ‘Maisons Lafitte’ had a light beside it when we boarded the train. We flew out through the suburbs on a fine August evening and, as we crossed the Seine west of Sartrouville, realized that train was not stopping at our station, which went by in a blur. There were anxious moments as the next station approached and great relief as the train slowed and then stopped. It was with a great sense of embarrassment that we walked across an open platform to stand to wait for a southbound train. It had been our own fault.
Neither responsibility nor initiative is demanded on Irish railways. Standing at Pearse Station in Dublin at 4.00 this afternoon, a train from Maynooth terminated at the southbound platform. The doors opened and the passengers stepped out. An announcer said that the train had terminated. Before it moved off, a member of the station staff started checking carriage by carriage that no-one remained. The train had been clearly marked as destined for Pearse; its termination had been announced; and it had been sitting at the platform for three or four minutes, unless someone was asleep, they couldn’t have failed to realize they should have got off. Halfway down the train the railwayman found a young woman in her early 20s, she had been deep in conversation with her friend on her mobile phone. The phone seemed to have been grafted to the side of her face, for she carried on talking as she was evicted from the carriage.
Had the train moved off and had she been carried into one of the sidings at Grand Canal dock, I have no doubt that the young lady would have sought compensation. She would have been on one of the radio “phone ins” saying that she was talking to her friend Agapantha on the phone and she that there had been no warning, and that she had been so upset that she didn’t feel like going out with her boyfriend, and that she was going to a solicitor about it.
If our economy turns down, and if we are reduced to depending on our own wit and enterprise, we are in trouble, for we have become a people no longer able to think for ourselves.