A Tale of Two Railroads.

Some years ago, my wife and I were traveling in Europe for three weeks, with most of the time spent in Hungary and France. On one particular day, I was reviewing our itinerary for the coming week and noticed we had to change trains in Dijon on the way back to Paris. The connection time allowed for affecting the actual change was just seven minutes. Would there be time to make the switch from one train to another, bag and baggage?

On the actual travel day, our train came to a stop in Dijon right on time on track 2.  The connecting Paris train was sitting just across the platform on track 3. Furthermore, the specific rail car to which we had been assigned was directly across the platform from the car in which we were sitting. Bag and baggage, we made the Paris train with three minutes to spare. And, of course, both trains departed on time.

Fast forward three or four years.  It’s a beautiful, sunny morning and I’m sitting on a bench in the train station serving the Italian town of Lucca. I’m waiting for a train, due here at 9:08, that will take me to Florence.

When I get to the platform, only one other person is there: an elderly gentleman who was apparently waiting for the same train. When 9:08 came and went, he looked over at me and, gesturing at one of the clocks on the platform, shook his head sadly.

“You speak English,” he said. It was a statement, not a question.

I nodded, yes, and he began to apologize for the sorry state of the Italian railroads which had for years, he said, taken pride in being an efficient, on time operation. The fast trains are OK,” he said, “but these local trains often run late.” 

I assured him that no apology was necessary. I fact, I said, I was going back to America in a week and had a four-hour connection between trains in Chicago and I said I was concerned I wouldn’t make it.

He stared at me for a moment in disbelief, then burst out laughing. “You make a joke,” he said.

A week later, the Lake Shore Limited was almost six hours late into Chicago and I missed my connection to the California Zephyr. And that’s no joke.