Melbored: Melbourne Trains

30 April 2013

If getting there is half the fun, then Melbourne must be a very fun city. As thrilling as it is to snare a bargain at Victoria Market, or to catch a six at the MCG, getting stuck on a train is the quintessential Melbournian experience.

For a city perpetually acknowledged as the world’s most liveable, you wouldn’t expect public transport to be an issue. But one can only presume the liveability committee was chauffeured around in limousines rather than chucked on a crowded three-car Comeng EMU.

Earlier this year, a bat single-wingedly took out three of Melbourne’s metropolitan train lines. It was an act of self-sacrifice like no other, delivering a brutal wake-up call to Lilydale locals and Taiwanese tourists alike.

Batgate took place on the one morning in which I couldn’t afford to be late. Noting the importance of my engagement, I boarded the 9:01 Nunawading to city loop, a trip Journey Planner assured me would arrive at my destination 30 minutes early.

Yet for the price of a concession fare, I was granted a complimentary 90 minutes of travel time—a bargain if I ever saw one. After all, this was no simple train trip. This was an emotional rollercoaster—one far more spectacular than any ride at Luna Park.

Much like how a train is supposed to go from one station to another, one’s emotional journey progresses through various stages.

When the train makes its first unscheduled stop, the mood is indifferent—Metro is just being Metro, everybody bemoans.

Two minutes later, concern begins to seep in—how long is this going to take? what if I’m stuck here all day? No passengers bother to consider why the train has been delayed—whether there has been an accident, or if all bats have been accounted for. Instead, everybody worries about one thing and one thing only—how am I going to get to my destination?

It is assumed the delay is the sole fault of the driver, and that he’s sadistically keeping his passengers in an air-conditioned cage as part of a scientific experiment. But when the passengers hear the driver’s voice over the loud speaker, their paranoia is momentarily relieved. He explains that something has gone wrong, and that this might take a while. The passengers move into the contingency stage. In unison, they pick up their phones to make alternate arrangements.

The next stage is the troubleshooting stage. The train arrives at Canterbury station, but still refuses to budge. Another train arrives on the opposite platform. The vehicles trade passengers, each group believing they’ve boarded the unlucky one. Other passengers stand on the platform confused, waiting for an announcement. They never get one.

You’d think passengers would talk to one another like in the movies, and find common ground in their frustrations. You’d think they’d use their collective savvy and smartphones to find a solution. But almost nobody communicates. All have reached the apathy stage. All except one.

An American tourist decides she can’t take it anymore. She does what no Melbournian has ever dared do before. She presses the red button.

The emergency phone rings a few times, before being answered by the driver. The ensuing conversation reveals what nobody wants to hear—the driver is as clueless as his hostages. The American asks whether it’s better to stick with him or to jump aboard the accompanying train. “Your guess is as good as mine,” he concedes.

The final stage is the moving stage. This is the part where the train stops being stationary. If you ever find yourself celebrating this event, you know you’ve been to Melbourne.

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