Ice, Snow and Rail

MONA EBERT: “After you’ve been harassed, shoeless, kettled in like student protesters for hours and had to watch a mother drink her own breast milk, you begin to wonder why you bothered at all.”

delay Eurostar Snow travel winter

Generally fond of avoiding air travel whenever possible, I was delighted by the recent chaos as an opportunity to expose once and for all the stress, dangers and disadvantages of flying. All hail the re-emergence of international train travel. If local rail services from Cambridge to King’s Cross haven’t convinced you, now is the time to be won over by the joys of the train.

If mother nature persists this could be the coldest December since Met Office Records began 100 years ago, so be warned this won’t be trains at their best, and if you expected the government to have learnt from last year’s winter, which was also the “coldest since 1981 – 1982″, prepare for disillusionment. At least this year – so far – no train got stuck in a deep-sea tunnel, but the delays are still epic.  But you’d rather be waiting at a train station than an airport.

Apparently there is no quantity of “KEEP CALM, CARRY ON” mugs/posters/postcards/pillowcases that will assuage our national hysteria, and nowhere is this more obvious than at Heathrow. After you’ve been harassed, shoeless, kettled in like student protesters for hours and had to watch a mother drink her own breast milk, you begin to wonder why you bothered at all.

Not so at King’s Cross. The queues move quickly, there is no restriction on fluids (although you can’t take Costa past the barriers) and the security men seem relatively relaxed. Such laissez – faire feels like an injection of some common sense into the way we face the terror threat. I’m not sure whether the authorities at King’s Cross are failing us or those at Heathrow are overdoing it in reassuring the frantic traveler that every bra-wire has been thoroughly scanned, but either way the elimination of panic and paranoia makes for a much more comfortable journey: a threat is either unlikely, or so likely that we may as well get on with it and hope for the best. Compare that with the sweat and stress of re-dressing after airport security.

Assuming you wish to continue your journey past Brussels, you may be forced to spend a few hours at Buxelles Midi – a masterpiece of modern architecture.  This might be because the Talis or Deutsche Bahn has been indefinitely delayed due to severe weather (cue anger at the government – or even the EU, now that you’re in its epicenter). Again though, spending time at a European train station is infinitely preferable to waiting at Terminal Five. Firstly, there are no temptations – no duty free ‘sales’ at the Miu Miu shop or YoSushi. Instead: a Tabac, a caffe and perhaps a chocolatier, and with Euroland being so expensive all you’ll be buying is a croissant.

And then there’s the bracing experience of an outdoor platform compared to the stagnant air of the airport waiting room, and when do you ever really appreciate a sensitized big toe anyway? Air travelers always underestimate the value of competitiveness in travel experience, and after a few train journeys you’ll have mastered the art of the 20-second board. The required spell of realism is always instructive: if a night at Cindies hadn’t taught you that chivalry is dead, you’ll be swiftly disillusioned – Mr. Darcy doesn’t exist, that man is not going to help you with your bags, and that wasn’t a come on – it was a shove out of the way.

With flying completely out of the question, a forced train journey may seem daunting and even soul destroying – at first. But rather than spending Christmas Eve in a sleeping bag at Heathrow, at least attempt to board an over-crowded train to the mainland. Not only is it better than air travel, but a grueling fifteen-hour train journey may yet provide some much needed humility as it demonstrates that man is still at the mercy of nature. And who knows, it may even convince you to try it once the snow is melted and the errors of the winter – and our transport ministers – are forgotten once more.