Friday, March 18, 2011

A touch of Balkan

A life is a prolonged period of time spent longing for memories or fantasies. Eternity is those short interruptions when desire is directed towards the moment.

At the moment I spend most of this life longing either for Bulgaria, that I left a little more than a year ago, or longing for an idealized Swedish childhood with dizzy contours.

The train will save us from the storm

I spend most of today on trains, and doing this in Sweden 2011 is something that reminds me a lot more about Bulgaria than about Sweden in the late eighties/ early ninties.

The trip from Lund to Gothenburg turned out a lot more convenient than I had feared at one moment. Due to strong winds (more about this later), trains did not run on schedule from Malmö, which affects the entire southern Sweden.

My train was merely 20 minutes late, but trains have been rescheduled we stop only once between Lund and Goteborg, which means that I know no one will come asking for my seat, and I wasn't pennywise to not buy a seat reservation. My brother did, though. His train is on time, but the seat hehad booked turned out to be one for wheel chairs.

There is nothing particularly about a delayed train, or a misunderstanding about a seat reservation. Things like that happens once in a while everywhere. What gives me the feeling of being back at the balkans is that every single time I have been travelling with train in Sweden the last year, something similar has happened.

Trains replaced with buses, criminals on the train and delays. Hours of delays. My brother could add his own experiences to this list, and so could thousands of other Swedish travellers. Not only Swedish, by the way. Last week the German travel bureau Dertours announced that they will stop selling train trips in Sweden, due to the unreliable schedule. Sad news.

It is comparably comfortable to be delayed in Sweden, though. Trains and stations are warm and cosy, and nothing like a Bulgarian train. What gives you the feeling of being in the Balkans is the certainity that some kind of surprise will await you at the station. You count on the train being delayed but go there a long time in advance to be on place when the plan changes. When the train is on time, that is so uncommon, that it also counts as a surprise...

It is a tense feeling in the stomach, a heightened attention about what is happening around you. Is that train over there yours? What is that update on the screen? What did the loudspeaker just say? There can be no relaxation until you get off the train at the right destination. Brace yourself.

Could this be otherwise? Every delay usually have a pretty good explanation. Temperatures were very low this winter, and it did blow hard winds today. But when problems occur this often, there is a systematic error. A train system must be adapted to the weather being where the trains run. And while we are struggling to cope with 20th century weather, we by now know for sure that temeperatures will be more extreme and winds blow harder in a not very distant future. The weather is already more extreme than it was back in my idealised Swedish childhood but there is more to come.

The spectre of climate change poses a formidable challenge to the Swedish train infrastructure. I hope that engineers are already counting on more weather resistant trains, and that polticians are getting ready to pay. For we do need trains, in order to keep our civilisation alive without fossil fuels.

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