I was working in Switzerland over the last two days. Everything went predictably smoothly until it came time to get the train back to Geneva Airport.
Switzerland has overcome Harry Lime‘s jibe that “In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and what did that produce — the cuckoo clock!” To his list you can also add an extremely efficient train network that always runs on time.
Or so I thought. In the taxi to the station in Vevey, I thought I’d missed the direct train at 15.46 and would have to settle for the 16.07 with a change at Lausanne. I arrived at the station at 15.55, looked at the departure board and thought, “What luck! The 15.46 hasn’t left.”
Running to the platform, the indicator board had a notice saying the train was running 10 minutes late. Phew. I was slightly surprised, I have to say, that they had an existing message to that effect.
Ten minutes later, the board still insisted the train would be 10 minutes late, even though it was now more than 20 minutes late. Finally, an announcement informed passengers that the train would be 30 minutes late. No apology, no explanation. I heard a few grumbles on the platform, but nothing more.
The half hour marked passed. Still no train (and no others trains — I never found out what became of the 16.07). And no further announcement. A bit later, the board switched to saying the train would be 45 minutes late, but no announcement was made. Finally, 56 minutes late, the train arrived. No apologetic announcement was made on the platform or in the train.
Worse was to come. Shortly before the train arrived in Lausanne, an announcement was made that the train would terminate there and passengers for Geneva and the airport would need to change. Again no apology or explanation.
Fortunately, I arrived in plenty of time for my flight. Some other passengers were not so lucky. What was interesting to me wasn’t only the surprise of a completely messed up train journey in Switzerland. It was the railway’s utter incomprehension of how to deal with it. The much-criticised British railways have gained vastly more experience in dealing with late-running and cancelled trains. Station announcers and train drivers know that nothing infuriates people more than a lack of information. So, even when the information is what you don’t want to hear (“The 17.40 train for Beckenham Junction has been cancelled because the driver didn’t show up”), they let you know.
The Swiss railways are the only ones in the world that sell watches and clocks in their characteristic design. They should look to their laurels.