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I prefer the trains in Romania

Rupert Wolfe Murray noiembrie 30, 2012 Idei si solutii, Opinie, Societate/Life
30 comentarii 4,853 Vizualizari

I really miss CFR. When a train is delayed in Bucharest there is no fuss. The delay is mentioned on the big board and that’s it. People expect it and don’t complain. Romanians are used to a dysfunctional train service and seem grateful they have one at all (I know I am). I half expect CFR to be closed down or sold off to a gang of crooks. I will miss it if that happens because I like the old trains and the eccentrics that use them; I like the crazy ladies, the fat conductors, the gypsies, the scamming kids, beggars, magazine sellers. It is a bit of old fashioned character to a modern world that is becoming featureless.

I am writing this on a British train. The “Southern Railways” train from Hove, which is next to Brighton, to London Victoria. Southern Railways is a private company and it tries to be modern and politically correct and informative; it tells passengers when there has been a delay and tries to do the right thing. It makes me sick. I miss the days when “British Railways” was like CFR: run-down, late, shabby, with workers who seemed scruffy, bad tempered and lazy workers. But it had character and was endlessly fascinating for a small boy.

I’m not so bothered by the fact that my train was delayed by half an hour or that I paid an extortionate twenty seven quid — for a one hour journey. I didn’t even mind when a disembodied voice said “this train will no longer go to Victoria Station; it will only go to East Croydon”, which is deep in the south London wilderness. CFR has taught me to be accept the unpredictable and to be grateful for any kind of forward motion.

It’s the language they use that drives me to distraction and the fact that they keep repeating the same announcements every few minutes. Some bright spark in Southern Railways must have said “this is the age of multiple TV channels and social networks. People are used to an overload of information. Let’s jump on the bandwagon!” And employees were told to repeat the same message – and I swear this is true – every minute.

Do we really need reminding – every minute – that the “delayed 1704 service for Brighton” has been cancelled because of “Vandalism”. Is this a case of blaming someone else? Do they want us to form a posse and go and punish the vandals in Worthing? And why does one vandalised train result in all other trains being late?

Most announcements are made by some smooth talking actor whose voice has been recorded in a studio and who speaks to hundreds of stations at a time. They must have told him about the vandals as there is a “blame the vandals” button they can push in the control room every minute. At Hove they have a real live rail worker (if that’s what they still call them) who then repeats the same stuff that the actor has just said, but his accent isn’t so impressive.

But he did inject one piece of new information: the vandals broke a door and the train automatically stopped. I wonder if any of them realise how vulnerable all this makes them; if one vandalised train can cause so many other trains to be delayed what would happen if there was a real problem like a bomb, an accident, a fire or a war. In the old days they would have just carried on with a shrug and a quick repair, as they do in Romania, but in the UK the whole system would grind to a halt.

Like I said, the thing that drives me mad is the language they use. They keep talking about “services” when they mean trains: the 1704 “service” to Brighton has been cancelled; the 1716 “service” to London has been delayed. When did a train become a service?

And when did a passenger become a customer? I’m not a customer. I didn’t go into a shop and choose between lots of different options for getting the train to London. There is no choice; there’s only one station, one train line and one station. What’s all this nonsense about choice?

The other annoying linguistic intrusion is the word “advised”. I miss the days when some bored and gloomy male voice would come on the speaker system and tell us the bad news. This is how it still is in Romania and I love the honesty of the system: no fake pretence at being cheerful, as if their positiveness is going to make you feel better about being delayed. They don’t pretend that they appreciate your presence in their station. No fake smiles on CFR.

On Southern Railways they preface every announcement with the word “advised”, so “customers are advised that the train to London Victoria will no longer be coming into Platform 2. It will come into Platform 1.” And instead of telling us there will be a delay they say “we have been advised that there will be a delay”. I wonder if the lawyers got involved and said “there is a risk we get sued for giving out wrong information? Is this a way of not claiming any responsibility for anything you say?

People in Romania seem to assume that everything in Britain is better than it is in their country and even though I constantly tell Romanians that this is not the case people don’t believe me. But here is an example of something – the railway system – where I prefer it in Romania. Admittedly, CFR does move along at a snail’s pace but if you have a book, a laptop and plenty of work to do you can get lots of things done, and get a nice sleep. The guards are gruff but friendly and I much prefer them to the creeps they hire to smile at us on Southern Railways.

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Currently there are "30 comments" on this Article:

  1. AlinL spune:

    I have one more for you. In the UK National Health System nowadays patients are reffered to as customers and the doctors are always encouraged to brush up on their managerial skills.

    I enjoyed reading you article. Thank you very much.

  2. vlad spune:

    I’ve only travelled on British trains twice, as it happens, on the Brighton/London Victoria line. Both times the trains were late by a substantial amount of time. People did not seem to care, though, the landscape was beautiful, so I enjoyed it, and somehow I ended up chatting with fellow travellers about the actress Scarlett Johannsen (the first time) and about the difference between clubbing in the UK and in France (the second time)… it was very pleasant actually. In France, when trains are late people do tend to get quite upset, and I can’t imagine talking to strangers about… whatever!

  3. Hanna spune:

    OMG this was hilarious! Never in my life would have thought that a Brit would ever prefer CFR over the British train. I agree it’s more colourful and somehow more honest but..really?:))

    Mind you, having lived in Romania, UK and Australia I think the Melbourne train gets the 1st prize for unreliability, ugliness, voice grumpiness and lack of punctuality. There are no smiles and no colourful faces either (as in your CFR examples) to make it more pleasant. Please give me the London train any day, I absolutely loved it :)

  4. pehash spune:

    All true if you need to take the train from Hove once or twice.. make it a long ride or a daily commuting journey and everything changes. A 25 min morning ride from Woking to Waterloo with trains every 2-3 minutes or the equivalent ride from Ploiesti to Bucharest.. 1 hour.. + 30 minutes to 1 hour delays!?.. Or maybe a 2h journey to Leeds compared to 6-8h to Sibiu?
    Granted, UK thrives on fake gestures (always funny to see a tired, sad person smiling at you.. Gordon Brown style), but these are things you could easily ignore. Get your noise cancelling phones and suddenly you have only train tables and the occasional ‘live rail worker’ who looks more or less the same in Ro and UK.

    • Cristian spune:

      Sweet and funny this little report. Brought back memories of those long travels with CFR. The attitudes and postures in both English and Romanian landscapes are so very different from what I’ve seen in the very few train rides in Greater Los Angeles. Both riders and attendances are walking tall during that nearly 90 minutes ride from the suburbs to downtown. They are still an oddity in a place specially designed for automobiles. They all know it will not last – after a few months of savings, each of them sits behind a wheel, carpooling or driving alone, but saving both time and money. The environment? Leave it to others. Government bankruptcy? They need to open a train museum and open it to the public for pleasure rides.

  5. Marian spune:

    This reminds me of Sam’s funny article on Romanian trains:


  6. Stefan spune:

    It is such a nice and pleasant article! Thank you!

  7. Mircea spune:

    I spent nearly one and a half year in the UK — and I experienced travelling by train here :) … I was confused for some time because of referring to trains as “services” which “are calling at” (stations).
    The obsessively repeated safety instructions on buses seem to me like a brain-washing technique…

    And about NHS … I heard stories of people being told to call again in few days, and if they feel worse, they will get an appointment… I tried my very best to stay healthy… more than I would be normally careful in Romania.

  8. Andrei spune:

    I do prefer the Teutonic precision. It is only so many times you can revel in the ‘organic/exotic/unpredictable’ before it gets to you, more so for a native than the occasional tourist. I think we should barter and exchange at least some tokens of the Balkanic spirit for Northerness (even a wee-bit would do). I enjoyed reading your posting- in defense of public transportation as a projection of the Southern spirit, flying American Airlines was as close as I got to communist service after the fall of the Berlin Wall- it should be marketed as a niche of Soviet nostalgia. Mind you, British Airways is not that far behind. Time has come to admit that flying in these days is inching more and more towards a medeval penance experience, so when possible, travel by train should be encouraged.
    Cheers !

    • Lupul Monarhist spune:

      American Airlines is a private owned company in distress (they filed bankruptcy in late 2011). What could you possible expect, mister? Comfortable seats, free meals, coq-au-vin, champagne, caviar, and beautiful young hostesses that spank and wink at you? Do not hold your breath…in the end it’s not so bad… they kept eventually the seats and let you sit down when plane is up in the air. Luckily they have not started selling spots on the wings and fins (sub-economy) to turn finally some profit.

  9. Danucu spune:

    Having spent some 135 minutes on a 108km train jurney from Bucharest to Pitesti yesterday (with at least half an hour delay ‘bonus’ to the already preposterous duration for such a short distance!) I find little in the way of nice or amusing while reading your article. Since you seem to miss CFR so much you are kindly advised to return back here.

    • Thanks for your comment but I do live here, In Bucharest, and I use the trains all the time. But I don’t expect speed or puntuality and I do take plenty of things to do on the train, so the snail’s pace is no problem as far as I’m concerned. And where else in the world can you get a train that goes slower than they did when they were first built in the nineteenth century? This isn’t train travel, this is time travel; a journey back in time/

      • Iulia spune:

        a time travel indeed!
        I admire the calmness that this article unfolds! I enviously admit that I couldn’t develop it in the first 24 years of my life as a Romanian living in Romania.
        I have just started timidly building it up in the last 4 years while living in England and through situations not even close as infuriating as the one of being stranded in a train for hours for half an hour journey. I think that explains it…
        Although, I’m pretty sure that living in Scotland would have considerably increased the pace of this build :)
        Don’t get me wrong! I love my country! It was the living there that drove me away! It is an amazing place, or, rather, it has amazing places. Especially those where the men haven’t interfered much with yet. In any case, it is always wonderful to read or hear positive reports about my country. Even when I don’t feel the same as the reporter!

  10. Anonymous spune:

    I’m also quite nostalgic. I liked our old trains with small chambers of 6-8 passengers (called “trenrapid”). In a pleasant company, it was great. I remember reading somewhere that the medium speed of romanian trains actually declined since 89 due to bad upkeep.

    But, if you find support in UK, I’m sure CFR would agree to donate our marvelous trains when they get “old enough”…☺And romanians would be very pround to give the british the “know how” of how a public transport company should be run :)

  11. Lupul Monarhist spune:

    Well, that was funny. I am still not convinced though why in the world someone would miss CFR service? You may have had some interesting experiences when spending time or traveling in Romania, that would later transform in good stories to entertain family and friends over good coffee and wine. Yes, I get that. But as a native romanian I don’t miss at all the days I had to commute weekly or even daily by train. Especially in the winter time or early spring. I must admit, it wasn’t always like that. As a little boy, I developed a strong passion for trains. I found them so fascinating so I successfully persuaded my mother to take me weekly to the train station (North Station in Ploiesti) to watch for about 15 minutes, trains coming and going, freight wagons and passengers, all sorts of them. The cherry on top of such events consisted in watching the old locomotives, the black ones, build in the ’30s and ’40s, still operational at that time in Romania, working graveyard shifts and doing dirty jobs like swapping wagons between tracks. Back in the early ’70s, I was a nasty kid with a strong personality, ready at any moment and in any place to put up an ugly show unless my parents would agree with my reasonable requests.

    To avoid such public displays of affection, my mother eventually agreed to take me to the train station and shut me up. At least for the day. I do not remember what she was doing while her son was actively monitoring the trains and dreaming to become an engineer or a fire-fighter, another obsession that haunted my mind throughout the entire childhood. All I remember is she was very patient and she had miraculous powers to calm her rogue son down. She still does that occasionally to this present day.

    Later in life, as I decided to go to University, I had to use intensively CFR. That was the time when my relationship with once adored myCFR and its trains, started to deteriorate and, when I graduated, to end up in an ugly divorce.

    Like the vast majority of romanians, I spent long hours in winter time waiting for trains to show up and then take us to school or to work at a snail’s pace. Yes, I experienced that inner happiness when the train was finally put into motion. However, the cars were run-down, washers were in horrible conditions, and the icy cold of the winter would penetrate your body deep down to the bones. Heated compartments were a luxury. It seemed that CFR could not care less about their passengers. Most likely, that was the case. Unfortunately, things continued like that even after 1990, although there was some revival at some point, CFR commissioning high-speed trains Inter-City that would take you to destination enjoying decent conditions and travel time. Again, those improvements were short-lived, prices for many romanians on such services proved to be quite prohibitive.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, we look forward to hear other funny stories, too. I enjoyed your sense of humor.

    • Stefan spune:

      Dear Wolf, Mr. Murray is a Scottish man that work and live in Romania, consultant in communication problems (see his profile). This article is a communication exercise. How to see a good part of a shitty train. Traveling with Romanian trains can be picturesque once, but not every day. It’s normal him to be polite, it’s an educational problem.

      • Lupul Monarhist spune:

        I could not agree more…the moral of the story is: we get what we get and we don’t get upset!

  12. Costin Oproiu spune:

    I am a huge fan of railroad trips and have spent quite a bit of time with them. I completely agree with your point: after getting your ticket, delays look like not being an issue anymore. But it is the first time a question comes to my mind: why? You barely suggested an answer and I put it this way: unlike planes and cars, there is still a life in a train. If that’s what you wanted you say, you were right again.

    It happens that I like both trains and Scots, even better Scots who like trains. Figure out a Scotsman who shares my good memories about Romanian trains.

  13. Cristina spune:

    I always thought these services in Britain were made to suit the taste of the locals…
    I remember my first trip to London in 1997. People were already buying from supermarkets like Tesco. I saw credit cards for the first time. The trains were rerouted at the first trace of snow. I remember the bus was cheaper then the train.
    When I came back to Romania I was shocked by a couple of things – the polution at the airport, the expresiveness of people in the buses, and above all the complete craziness of our radio news back then. The news seemed so funny I wanted to laugh out loud. How come we were not ashamed ? We weren’t even noticing how upside down our world was.
    I met a few nice brtish people on that trip and I imagined they’d have enjoyed our news too, as they had a similar sense of humor.

  14. andrei spune:

    „CFR does move along at a snail’s pace but if you have a book, a laptop and plenty of work to do you can get lots of things done, and get a nice sleep.” But what if you need to get to work and back home everyday at snail’s speed? Not that nice anymore.

  15. Gigel spune:

    You don’t like the civilised trains in Britain? Travel by car! (from an athentic Romanian)

  16. Andy Hockley spune:

    The thing about the announcement that the train is late is only true at Bucharest Gara de Nord though. You don;t get that level of information anywhere else in the CFR network.

  17. Mr John spune:

    This is due to evolution taken to any level by all means. If Britain won’t make changes (the same like gadgets) people would believe the country is falling to pieces. How would you feel when you might find an article saying that the French or German railways are net superior than British?. Most of population will emerge into deep depression

  18. Parmalat spune:

    “Do they want us to form a posse and go and punish the vandals in Worthing?”

    I think I laughed for about 2 minutes cause in my mind I was already leading that posse =)))

  19. Adrian spune:

    You speak about the eccentrics that use the Romanian trains, but, if you appreciate sense of humour, let me call you one of them. There’s nothing more eccentric than preferring the trains in Romania over the ones in Western Europe. I don’t care about the workers’ smiles that may be fake or not… but I really DO care about the way I am treated as a passenger. I pay for the ticket, so I guess I deserve a little respect if the train is late or other problems occur. It is not funny, nor human when I kindly ask the conductor why my train is being stuck on the spot for a few hours and they literally shout at me: “YOU DIDN’T HEAR ME? THE PANTOGRAPH OF ANOTHER LOCOMOTIVE HAS BROKEN DOWN!”. Needless to speak about conductors getting drunk or other real stories from the Romanian railways. And if you say you can kill time using your computer, book etc. I kindly adivse you to always keep an eye on them, as they may become one day the property of the gypsies you love so much.

    That said, I prefer the trains in Belgium (where I am currently living). Here, if my train is delayed, I know the conductor would do their best to help with all the information I need, so I don’t miss my connection or spend my night in a train station. It is not about fake smiling. It is about being useful and respectful.

  20. Alfred Singer spune:

    What a joke (and not in the good sense)! What is this, a criticism of civilization? By the same reasoning you may find virtues in walking around dressed in rags, eating plant roots or treating diseases with herbal teas. Good luck with that but, please, don’t do their apology in future articles.

  21. Adrian spune:

    When it comes to trains in Romania one must see the jar half-full. I say jar because this article reminds me of one of my travels: a 1 and a half hour journey from Timisoara to Arad (50 Km). The train has 8 people compartments and I happen to sit in one of them. Next to me is a old man. Like many old persons from Romania he is sick. I do not know the nature of his sickness but it seems that at a certain time interval he needs to take a jar from the inside pocket of his coat, carefully open it and spit in it. The mixture of feelings is overwhelming. On one side I fell sorry for this man and on the other side I just want to get out of there. But I keept my coolnes and went into anoter state of mind.
    At the end of the journey, as one might expect, the jar was half-full.

    Another funny experience was when a man talked to another one (they did not know each other) about politics. The second man actually went to sleep while the first one was still talking. But he did not mind… he went on and on and on and on… By that time I was an expert in train traveling. One must ALWAYS have at least a set of earphones when traveling. It does not matter if you listen to anything or not. You just have to have someting on your ears and people will tend to leave you alone.

  22. Completely echo Rupert’s sentiments about Romania’s lovely, slow-moving character and that Romanians should not feel that things are better in Britain.

    I was listening to Pam Ayres on the radio this morning, and she reminded me that growing up in a small Oxfordshire village could be boring. Horrors! Is my nostalgia for that life – the fact that people had time to talk to you (and weren’t afraid to tick you off), that steam trains smothered you in smoke as you ran to watch them from the bridge above the station, the tang of fresh cow dung on the roads, fact that I never worried about the damage I caused when I crashed through other people’s fences on my pony – is it all a phantasm of lost youth? Or is youth wasted on the young? Is Wales wet? Do you have to be old to appreciate the sweetness of slow. I think not but it’s hard to persuade people who are on the other side of the hedge.

    Well, I’m off to have some more slanina on toast. You don’t know what you’re missing!

  23. Dorothea spune:

    It’s quite interesting to hear an opinion like this from someone who originally comes from one of the “capitalist” countries. I’m not saying it’s true or false, but truly interesting. :)

  24. ioana spune:

    this is the point where I agreed the most with this article:
    ” People in Romania seem to assume that everything in Britain is better than it is in their country and even though I constantly tell Romanians that this is not the case people don’t believe me.”

    You can put any idealized Western country name in the place of Britain. We still have the chance to not make the same structural and ideological mistakes that the West made before us. Capitalism and service culture is not synonymous of a functional democracy.


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Rupert Wolfe Murray

Rupert Wolfe Murray

Rupert Wolfe Murray este consultant independent pe probleme de comunicare. Scotian cu resedinta la Bucuresti Citeste mai departe

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