Taken for a ride

    Colin Beaven vor Großbritannien-Flagge
    Von Colin Beaven

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    Transcript: Taken for a ride

    Train travel is supposed to be convenientbequemconvenient, efficient and easy — and it certainly can be. However, as our UK correspondent Colin Beaven explains, it can also quickly turn out to be the kind of adventure no traveller needs, especially when technology starts causing trouble.

    Last summer, I took a train to Exeter to spend some time with a charming group of visitors. They were on a tour of Devon and Cornwall that had been organized by Spotlight and Zeit Reisen. We had arranged to meet by the quayKai, Ufermauerquay, where, in the old days, ships were loaded with wool. It came from local farms, and it brought Exeter much of its wealth.

    My journey didn’t start very well. As I waited for my train, an Asian lady came hurrying along the platform saying, “War! War!” in a rather loud voice. Alarming news, but she was waving a ticket, which soon explained the mystery: she and her husband were looking for the train to Wool, a village in Dorset.

    They hadn’t chosen the easiest destination to pronounce. Historically, the name Wool seems to have more to do with wellQuelle, Brunnenwells than with wool. But never mind that. To quote Shakespeare, “all’s wool that ends wool”. I mean, “all’s well that ends well” — or not?

    Once they were on their train, I realized from the automated announcement that only half of it was going to Wool. The other half didn’t go beyond Bournemouth, and they were in the wrong half.

    “That’s their problem,” said the station officialBedienstete(r)official when I told him. Not a friendly response, but the train was waiting for him to say it could leave. He was clearly under pressure.

    I bit my lip, but not all rail passengerBahnkunde, -kundinrail passengers do. Recently, many have been very angry about trains that were late or cancelled as a result of strikes and mistakes in the timetable. They get upset with station staffPersonal, Mitarbeiter (Pl.)staff, who can’t do much about it, and just get stressed.

    I did knock on the window and gesticulate, however, trying to make it clear across a language and culture barrier — and through a thick paneFensterscheibepane of glass — that the visitors needed to move. I don’t imagine that trains in the Far East are often split mid-journey, so the people just sat there looking mystifiedverwirrtmystified. Luckily, a girl on the train had to graspbegreifengrasped the situation and gesticulated more gracefullyanmutiggracefully, and also effectively.

    I’m sure that automation’s the key to solving such problems. Soon we’ll no doubt be able to change electronic announcements to the language of our choice with a flickSchnipserflick of a mobile phone. Great for customer service, but will the staff still have jobs? Another reason for them to feel stressed and depressed.

    Later, when I’d caught my own train, and with lovely Wiltshire countryside rolling past the window, the electronic display kept listing all the stations on the route. It was to be supposed tosein sollensupposed to be reassuringberuhigendreassuring, but each time it repeated the list, it announced that the next station would be Clapham Junction, which is in London. It’s a station with almost 20 platforms.

    My train was travelling in the opposite direction, on a single-trackeingleisigsingle-track line in the middle of nowhere, in countryside where sheep to outnumberin der Mehrheit seinoutnumber people.

    Technology helps — except when it’s trying to to pull the wool over sb.’s eyesjmdn. hinters Licht führenpull the wool over your eyes.

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