For the past few months, I’ve been helping a friend who will soon be staging a play for a local arts festival.
Most weekends, the group of us doing the play have been meeting within and without Sydney to rehearse and work things out.
Last Sunday, my friend had booked a couple of hours at a community centre just outside of Sydney.
Getting there and back meant an hour each way by train, but that didn’t bother me at all. I’ve always loved train travel; I’d be journeying through a favourite part of Sydney; and travelling time is eating and reading time.
So when Sunday arrived with a clear blue sky, I grabbed my medium wheeled suitcase and packed goodies like two big bottles of Coke Zero in a chiller-bag, corn chips and chocolate.
I also had my iPad and my Kindle in my backpack.
I got to Central Station half an hour before departure to treat myself to two meat pies, and grab a good seat.
Thus, when the train left Central shortly before noon I was settled in very cosily and looking forward to the hour ahead.
The first stop came ten minutes later at one of Sydney’s major suburban interchanges…
…but five minutes after that, we were still standing at the platform.
Soon, an apology for the short delay was announced, but we were assured that the train would be underway again shortly.
Ah, well. Shit happens – but I was making good progress through one of my Coke Zeros and Gordon Ferris’s grim yet engrossing crime novel The Hanging Shed, so I wasn’t bothered.
Another five minutes later, though, a CityRail employee came through and told us that because of a problem with the rear carriages, we had to get out and move ahead to the leading carriages.
Well, that sucked – but still, it wasn’t the end of the world.
I packed up my stuff, got out and headed up the platform.
As I passed the forward carriages I looked inside for a new spot to replicate my old one, didn’t find any yet and continued moving along.
I passed an irate passenger screaming at another CityRail employee about how we’d been waiting here for 10 minutes without being told the reason why…
Another carriage later, I finally spotted a new spot like my old one and went in.
Soon, I was cosily settled in again.
Shortly after that, the train resumed its journey.
About half an hour or so later, we approached another major suburban interchange that was only two stops before my destination…
…but as we came in, there was an announcement that due to further technical difficulties, we’d have to change trains and CityRail apologises again for the inconvenience.
Once again I gathered up my stuff and got off of the train.
Fortunately, it was still a great day and our new train would be arriving at the neighbouring platform.
About ten minutes later, that train arrived.
I was standing several metres from one of the first few carriages, which like the rest of the train was of the aging ‘silver rattler’ double-decker type. I watched as a couple of passengers at the nearest pair of manual doors that are still a feature of some silver rattlers struggled to pull and keep the doors open (sometimes, they’ll suddenly slide back shut).
I smiled in sympathy with their plight, as many times during the past twenty years I’d similarly struggled with doors like that.
Finally, though, they made it and everyone got out.
A moment later, I was seated inside the nearest vestibule of that carriage. I didn’t settle in cosily like before because in 10-15 minutes I’d be getting off anyway.
Shortly after, the new train left the station.
About ten minutes later, my stop was announced.
I got up and prepared to disembark…
…but then it was also announced that passengers getting off at my station would have to move to the four rear carriages to do so.
Moving between silver-rattler carriages can be very cumbersome, even without luggage. The carriage-end doors are narrow, and like their vestibule brethren they can unexpectedly snap shut again if you’re not careful.
But, there was nothing else to do.
I picked up my suitcase and went to the carriage-end door.
Fortunately, it co-operated and stayed open, and so did the door to the next carriage.
As quickly as possible, I made my way along the bottom deck of the next carriage to the large vestibule at the other end. There was only one other person sitting there.
Was this carriage one of the rear four? I had a nagging feeling that it wasn’t, but I decided to wait and see and find out…
A moment later, my station went past.
And a moment after that, the end of the platform also went past.
I grabbed my suitcase, rushed to the carriage-end door, grabbed its handle, turned and pulled –
The door wouldn’t open.
I tried again.
The door stayed very shut.
It wasn’t locked from the handle I was holding, though, but the handle-less panel above it.
OH, FOR FUCK’S SAKE!
The train was coming to a halt.
I had only about 10 seconds to get off.
But I couldn’t get to the four rear carriages to exit onto the platform.
And the next stop was about 15-20 minutes away far out in the countryside.
And only one train an hour was running either way.
I would miss the rehearsal and the day would be completely wasted – especially as this trip had been such a fucking mess!
And then suddenly I had a crazy idea.
I could still get off the train.
Not onto the platform, of course – but onto the ground outside.
Was that even legal?!?
Most likely not.
But anyway, I moved like lightning.
I rushed to the pair of doors that faced the station.
I put down my suitcase, took a door handle in each hand and wrenched the doors open as hard as I could.
Not surprisingly, they moved with stiff reluctance – but I got them open enough, and they stayed open.
I looked out, and down.
The ground outside was about two-three metres below, and covered with a bed of large sharp-looking rocks that can commonly be found as stone ballast under and alongside CityRail tracks.
I paused, and suddenly my mind flooded with so many scenes from books and movies and TV shows where characters had to suddenly leap from trains.
This is nuts! This isn’t a movie – THIS IS REAL LIFE!
But nonetheless, I grabbed my suitcase and tossed it out.
As my suitcase landed below, I crouched slightly to turn my legs into shock-absorbers for a smooth landing (I hoped).
I paused for the last time.
And then I jumped.
TO BE CONTINUED…