Trains and tribulations



Around mid-July, a train derailed in Feteşti, Romania, a major transportation hub almost halfway between the capital Bucharest, and Constanţa: one of the main ports at the Black Sea, not 200 kilometers away in a straight line. No-one was hurt, but traffic was badly disrupted.

Ten days later, two trains collided in the same train station. Luckily they were cargo trains, so no-one was hurt. Don't ask me how the drivers are in one piece, because the site looked like something out of a disaster movie.

I had return tickets on that route the very next day, booked a week in advance. We knew the risks, yet commited to the trip anyway for fear of travel getting even harder in August. Suffice to say, our train left Constanţa half an hour after it was supposed to reach Bucharest, and things went downhill from there. For one thing, AC didn't work most of the time, on a day with 37 degrees Celsius in the shadow. Luckily we had a little water and crackers, and the train had a bar able to help some of the other passengers.

Besides, we were home "only" 4h40m after we were supposed to. When we turned on the TV, they said another train that had left along the same route a night before still hadn't made it to its destination. (By morning they had, after a 29h trip.) Aside from the obvious issue with blocked tracks and downed power lines, their locomotive broke down en-route, and the one sent to rescue them also broke down.

The kicker? A whole other train on a whole other route suffered from the exact same problem that day. This second train was "only" stuck in the middle of nowhere for 12 hours (stranding hundreds of kids in the process), but seriously? On the same day? We're talking a systemic problem here.

(We also had some issues with locomotives, that thankfully took much less time to sort out. But I saw what they looked like. We're talking 65-year-old models, and looking it, as if they had never seen maintenance in that time.)

Then there's whatever happened in Feteşti. They say in the second incident one of the train drivers was drunk and poorly-rested. I hope they're satisfied with their scapegoat. Who the hell let him climb in a locomotive and start it? Who the hell was supposed to monitor traffic?

On top of that, imagine a railroad company that doesn't make sure it has a ready supply of diesel-electrics on hand. In a country that expects rolling blackouts this summer due to worsening weather and not enough juice in the lines. (In fact there was one in Bucharest last night, right on cue.) Not only they're old and broken, there often isn't one available for hundreds of kilometers. In a country that's had an extensive rail network for a century and a half.

Dear Romania: infrastructure must be maintained. Just ask your role model America.

It's probably safe to assume that any foreign tourists caught in this won't be coming back ever again. Especially our neighbor Hungarians. No amount of modern attractions or advertising can possibly compensate for the catastrophic handling of something as basic as getting people to their destinations and then back home.

And that's all I'm going to say, because I'm still reeling from yesterday. Except for one thing: my country is literally falling apart. Keep out, it's not safe. We can see each other after the dust settles, if I'm not trapped under the rubble.


Tags: Romania, technology, disaster