I hardly ever travel by train. I live in a part of Sydney where the public transport is by bus.
But I read the papers and watch the TV news and I could hardly fail to be aware of the fact that Sydney's trains have been a thorn in the side of the state Labor government. The trains are a mess -or so the tabloids and the Greens tell me.
So yesterday I had a job interview. I was working at whatever-it-is-I do-for-a-living until 3pm and had to be at the interview at 4pm. The only way to get from one place to the other in the alotted hour was by train. (Unfortunately this potential-employer is located one stop further along the line from where I attended primary school. That in itself makes me ambivalent about the job - but I digress...) I was looking forward to this long train ride as a way of clearing my head, doing a bit of interview preparation and travelling down memory lane.
I looked up the CityRail timetable and learnt that a train would come along at exactly the right time to get me there with several minutes to spare. I was on the platform five minutes early. That was my first mistake. The platform screen (which announces that a certain train will approach in one minute - the display then stays static for five minutes...) informed me that my train wouldn't be arriving for another 12 minutes. Still just enough time...
The train arrived and as we were approaching the second-next station, it stopped. After a minute the driver (I presume) told us we were waiting for a train to leave the station in front of us. A few minutes later the same voice told us that there was a fire alarm going off in the signal box, all the signals were out and we'd be delayed 15 minutes.
I was in a carriage with a middle aged Chinese couple and two (separate) old ladies with walking sticks. I don't have a mobile phone. As I sat there, stationery, I debated the merits of ringing the potential employer to let them know I'd be late. I finally leaned over to the Chinese couple and asked if they had a phone I could borrow. The man looked very affronted and said no. One of the old ladies said "I don't have one either" which made me smile as it never would have occured to me that she would.
The train began to move again. A lot more people got in at the next stop - they all had phones. I spent the rest of the journey poised between the tension-producing impulse to ask someone if I could borrow their phone and a zen acceptance of my fate. We moved along very slowly. I could tell I was going to be late - 10 minutes late, 15 minutes late ... no, with an extra stop in the middle of nowhere, I'd be 20 minutes late. Add on the 10 minutes that it took me to exit the station and get to the office and I was finally 30 minutes late.
"We're used to it", the interviewer said.
The prospect of having to rely on this excuse for a mass transit system every working day is almost unbearable. I feel furious at the idea that I'd have to drive instead (which would be quicker and more reliable but of course so polluting and wasteful.)
I caught a fast train home but even so, didn't get in till 6.40pm and discovered that my six year old had had to knock on the next-door-neighbour's door to be looked after by her, as he was dropped off from a playdate at 6.15pm. The prospect of that happening on a regular basis is not a welcome one.
The interview went well and they've asked me back.