It is ten o’clock on a Tuesday night and I am on a train after an intensive evening meeting, hoping to get home as soon as possible. Outside it is cold and dark, inside the lights are a bit too bright, the chairs a bit too hard and the temperature a bit too low for comfort. But it will take just an hour.
Suddenly, about ten minutes after the first intermediate stop, the train starts braking abruptly. There is a grinding sound of metal or stone. After the train has fully stopped, the coach is filled with speculations about what happened. Over the intercom the engineer declares that he has hit something but does not know what, so they have to investigate.
There they go, into the dark, not knowing what they will encounter. Probably fearing casualties, but professional enough not to let that get in the way of taking action.
Meanwhile, the coach remains silent. There are a few phone calls and message bleeps. There is nothing to see apart from some distant houses and a nearby electricity post. A few lights reflect in the water. My phone tells me that we are in the middle of nowhere – as far as you can be in the middle of nowhere in The Netherlands. The place trains always tend to get stuck.
The train itself is completely silent, nearly all systems are switched off. Some of the lights fall out, and at one end of the train they completely extinguish after some time. There is no heating either. You could hear people moving on their chair. With my jacket over my legs to keep warm I try to read a book. But I am too tired and put it aside. With the battery of my phone almost dead waiting becomes quite boring.
After a short hour the personnel moves from coach to coach to explain what they found. It turned out to be a bizarre accident with no casualties. The train crashed into the front of a car in which a driver and a passenger were still seated. It was a mystery how this car got on the tracks, there was no crossing nearby.
What was possibly a life changing event for the people in the car and at least bad night sleep for the train personnel was sort of a relief for the train passengers. Something really happened, without casualties, and we were not stuck between the fields for nothing.
It took another very silent hour before something started moving. The train’s engines were started up. Soon after, we left. At about the time I had planned to be in bed. I stared out of the window and saw the brand new stations, the place where I had seen pheasants running through the sand before they were built years ago.
It felt strange to leave the train when we arrived at a big interchange station, to instantly mingle with people who had not experienced what we did. I considered walking to the front of the train and observe the damage but the thought of getting home as soon as possible won.
And so I found myself running for a connecting train as if nothing happened. For me it was just two hours later than planned.