Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Choo Choo Pain: Struggles of the Melbourne Train Traveller

Trains.  The important thing to remember is that nothing good ever happens aboard them.  Trains have been the setting for some of the most horrendous events in human history; transporting people to concentration camps during WW2, the deaths of countless Agatha Christie characters, and the Steven Seagal film ‘Under Siege 2’.  Secondly, you need to keep in mind that being a regular train commuter is like being in an addictive relationship with an unprofessional high-end prostitute; you know they’re constantly going to be late, that they’re servicing more people than just you, and yet you’ll keep paying too much just to let them screw you.  This is a look at the struggles of the daily train travellers rather than the train tourists taking scenic rides through the Swiss Alps and the Aussie outback.  So come on this train journey with me because despite what Metro and Myki would have you believe (and like a songwriter with bad grammar once wrote), “you don’t need no ticket, just get on board.”

Not even Steven Seagal can get a seat on the City Loop.

The experience of catching the train is a difficult one to capture in a single sentence without using expletives.  Like explaining the taste of Vegemite to a tourist or describing the feeling of copping a really solid hit to the nuts.  Nevertheless, I’ll give it a go; catching the train combines all the aggravation of expensive and slow travel to an urgent destination, with the joy of spending extended periods of time in uncomfortably close proximity to strangers.  Then there’s peak hour train travel, which manages to capture the experience of being caught in traffic on a busy highway, whilst still keeping the rail factor of the journey in order to eliminate any possibility of overtaking should a vehicle breakdown in front of you.  What a brilliant flaw for such a powerful piece of machinery.  In layman’s terms, this would be like if the Hulk had his unbelievable strength but his ‘Achilles Heel’ was that he could be stopped by a low fence or a midget with a stop sign.  You’re probably already wondering why I’m not getting stuck into trams as much as trains.  Well it’s because trams are essentially the “slow” children of trains that never lived-up to their full potential of becoming buses, and I don’t pick on kids.

It’s quite a remarkable achievement that in a generation where scientists have produced information that can travel at the ‘speed of light’, the people behind V-Line and Metro trains have developed transportation that travels at the ‘pace of darkness’.  These are trains that move so slowly, their position on the ‘speed of sound’ scale is ‘mute’.  In reality, they’re closer to travelling at the ‘speed of Sound of Music’; because there’s a good chance the trip can have a duration of almost 3 hours.  Most of you might not be aware of this unless you’ve had the “joy” of catching a V-Line regional service to Geelong to catch a game of football and inspect the museum dedicated to wool, or even headed over to Ballarat to pan for gold and see what a pie shop-based local economy looks like.  Without getting into complicated physics jargon, this is essentially the situation; the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, the longest distance between two points is a V-Line.

"One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn't belong."

One thing you’ll often hear regular commuters refer to trains as is “cattle carriages.”  Now I’d respond to this by saying I’ve seen cattle transport trucks and I’ve ridden the train and the only thing the two have in common is that we both usually have to stand during transit.  Other than that, I’d go so far as to say that cattle have it better; they travel on the road, have more ventilation, fewer stops, arrive earlier and they don’t have to pay for a ticket.  I’d also be willing to wager that they have a less pungent aroma of urine on the average trip.  Also, if you’re one of the many that are catching the train in a crowded, smelly carriage to the races this cup carnival, keep this in mind; even the horses got to at least travel there in private trailers.

A peak-hour train is also the answer to the question; “Except for being inside a ‘Krispy Kreme’ store during their ‘closing down’ sale, when would you otherwise get a chance to be squashed against a window next to a sweaty and morbidly obese man?”  You don’t know my struggle until you’ve been aboard a V-Line train so overcrowded that you can actually see that morbidly obese gentleman’s “P-Line” and indeed his lady companion’s own “V-Line”.  By the way, the only reason they’re even called “trains” is because “windowless over-priced fart lockers” was too wordy.

Horse racing doesn't take the title of 'cruelest option' for a change.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about trains though is that they’ve never lived up to the brilliant adventure we built them up to be as children.  They don’t have names, they can’t talk, and job cuts in the transport sector combined with strict OH&S uniform policies mean we don’t even have fat controllers in formal wear and top hats.  If ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ was adapted to fit a modern tale, Thomas would have illegible graffiti down his side, his friends would’ve all turned into ‘metros’ and he’d be arriving so late to the station he’d only just make it in time for a short appearance during the closing credits of each episode.  Basically our multi-billion dollar rail network is a wide range of “Little Engines that Couldn’t.”  I really feel sorry for all of the people who are having these bad train rides on the way to jobs they hate, because that’s the equivalent of having to sit through a series of crappy film previews at the cinema ahead of a movie you don’t want to see.

The epitome of the term "youth going off the rails."

What I’m getting at is that essentially the only reason you should be catching a train to school or work is if you’re starting your new school year at Hogwarts or you’re late for a crucial business meeting and Doctor Emmett Brown pulls up out the front of your house with the time travelling locomotive from ‘Back to the Future 3’.  Other than that, the only trains people should make time for are conga trains, trains of thought, sushi trains and (in moderation) music by the band ‘Train’.  In the meantime, invest in a bike or a car that runs on gas, stop the train-waiting and spend that time weight-training, then engage in some resistance training and resist taking the train.

How to keep kids in school and reduce the number of workers taking sick days.