Miklos
« Je donne mon avis non comme bon mais comme mien. » — Michel de Montaigne

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1 mars 2018

Life in Hell: Railing the French rail companies

Classé dans : Actualité, Sciences, techniques — Miklos @ 9:59

Akbar jumping from his train. Click to enlarge. (Photo source)

Akbar was recently pondering whether the current French president would achieve reforming the statutes of A typical French acronym for a long name, in this case Société nationale des chemins de fer français (National company of French railroads).SNCF, the France’s national state-owned railway company: after all, the more than generous benefits of its workers had been put in place at the time of coal-fueled steam locomotives which degraded their health much more rapidly than that of the average wine-consuming and cigarette-smoking Frenchman. With the advent of electricity and, later, of computers, driving these machines should almost be a sinecure. But after he finally managed to return home from his last trip to the Second acronym for today: Charles-de-Gaulle.CDG airport, he now wonders if Macron should not also tackle other French train operating companies. Here’s why.

oOo

The Shah of Jakarta, a good friend of Akbar, had been visiting him and was scheduled to fly back home from CDG one very recent, very early morning, too early to take the local area train (aka Another one of these acronyms: Réseau Express Regional (Regional Express Network), the commuter rail service for Paris and its suburbs.RER) from Paris to the airport, operated by the A fourth French acronym (be ready for more): Régie autonome des transports parisiens (Autonomous operator of Parisian transports), a state-owned public transport operator. RATP for its southern leg, and by See above, we already had it.SNCF for the part connecting Paris to See above, we already had that one too.CDG. As Akbar didn’t want him to spend the night at the airport, he called a cab and went along with his guest to CDG Terminal 1, leaving home at 4:30am. They had a nice last chat before parting at 5:45, The Shah to pass security check and Akbar to catch the RER back to Paris, which had since started operating.

oOo

As the RER stop was located in the airport hub near Terminal 3, Akbar had to take the free automatic (i.e., driverless) airport shuttle rail service (aka Last acronym for the day: Charles-de-Gaulle véhicule automatique léger (CDG light automatic vehicle).CDGVAL), operated by Transdev for the CDG airport. Upon reaching its platform where a few people were already waiting, he heard a public announcement to the effect that “The service is temporarily suspended for safety reasons.” So he waited. Every couple of minutes, this announcement was repeated, without any indication as to when said service would resume if ever.

After a while, Akbar decided to leave the platform and find a human who could inform him how to reach the RER stop. Years ago, there were buses connecting all the terminals, but no more: innovative technology had replaced them and their drivers by that one single means of transportation. So when it broke down, there was no way to move from terminal to terminal (no, there are no sidewalks along the roads in the airport).

Stepping back into Terminal 1 he couldn’t find a single human. He finally saw a sign indicating the direction to follow for “Information”, which he did. This led him to another floor, and finally to a CDG information desk. The desk was closed.

Looking around, he saw two uniformed ladies who looked like CDG staff. He went up to them and asked about the CDGVAL. They didn’t know the service had stopped, and very kindly started using their three phones to call around and enquire. Noone they spoke with knew, and said they would call other people. In the end, someone called the ladies back informing them that the service had stopped because of a report of someone (a human) walking on the tracks, and so it would probably resume in 15 minutes or so when the situation was cleared. And if not, buses would be made available. So Akbar inferred that they still had buses and adequate staff to run them…

Akbar went back to the CDGVAL stop, and indeed a minute or so later a driverless shuttle appeared.

oOo

At the CDG rail hub (for the said RER and the Oops, another French acronym, for Train Grande Vitesse (high speed train).TGV), there are two pairs of tracks dedicated to the RER. There was one train apparently waiting for passengers: all its lights were on, and in the wagon closest to Akbar there was already one passenger. Both indication panels showed that the next two trains going to Paris would depart from the tracks it was on, so Akbar boarded the train.

As there was nothing else to do but wait for the departure and then for the 40-minute long ride to Paris, Akbar started browsing his smartphone. A few minutes later the train started to move. Akbar continued browsing. After a while, he noticed that the train had stopped, but it was not in a station. He looked around, and saw that the RER was in a tunnel. On the opposite track, another train was standing still, so he inferred there must be a temporary problem stopping both trains. But as neither moved after a long while, he started really wondering what was happening. He looked at the two other carriages through the (locked) end doors of his: they were empty. In his wagon, there was this only other passenger, who was dozing.

As Akbar started being worried about something being really wrong, he saw that an emergency phone number was posted near each door, and so he decided to call. But their being in a tunnel there was no phone connectivity…

He ended up waking up the other man and informed him of the events. He then decided to pull the alarm handle, as there appeared to be no other recourse. They waited, but nothing happened. The other man then pulled another alarm handle. To no effect.

Akbar pushed the wagon doors buttons so as to open them. To no effect. He then decided to try opening one by sheer force, and lo and behold, it worked. So both he and the other prisoner had to jump down to the space between the two trains (a delicate operation for Akbar, whose left foot suffers from a so-called “stress fracture”). Looking around, they saw that this tunnel was a dead end, so they started walking in the opposite direction.

After a few minutes, they noticed a man approaching them. Akbar asked him if he was working there, to which the man replied, “Sure, why else would I be here?”. Akbar refrained from providing alternative hypotheses, and briefly related what had happened to them. The man told them to keep walking, as they would end up reaching the RER station of Terminal 2.

Which they did, in the end. Luckily enough, the gate that separated the maintenance area – in which they were – and the public area, which should have been locked, was widely open. So they managed to reach the platform and boarded a normal RER going to Paris.

The last hurdle. When Akbar finally alighted in Paris at 7:30am (remember, he had left – or tried leaving – at 5:45am, and the whole combined ride take usually less than one hour) and slid his magnetic train ticket in the exit door control slot: the door didn’t open and the screen displayed that the ticket, which he had bought less than a couple of hours earlier, was unreadable. Akbar had to use the emergency phone system so as to ask a human to open the gate remotely.

oOo

Having surmounted all the obstacles at long last, Akbar wondered:

- Why didn’t the CDGVAL public announcement system give any indication on the future resumption of the service?

- How come the information system of the RER at CDG displayed the fact that the train at the platform was going to Paris while it was obviously not about to do so?

- Why wasn’t there any public announcement to that effect before the doors closed and the train left?

- Why didn’t the driver of the train check all the wagons when he parked the train, so as to see if there were any humans left in?

- Why didn’t the alarms work?

So many questions, so few (or rather, no) answers.

oOo

And now for the quiz (don’t cheat!). What is the meaning of:

- CDG

- CDGVAL

- RATP

- RER

- SNCF

- TGV?

If you got less than half the right answers, you didn’t read this story carefully enough. Please do so again.

Jeff and Akbar are two characters of a series of cartoons by Matt Groening, who is also the creator of the famous – and infamous – Simpson family.

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