Train Drama between Rome and Naples
The train slowly pulled to a halt in the middle of nowhere ie. the Naples countryside. There was no panic, yet. We waited patiently for the train to restart. Five minutes. Fifteen minutes. Forty minutes. Whispers, phone calls and general restlessness. I was second-guessing my train-booking skills. If only I’d taken the train half an hour earlier or later. The voices inside my head were only drowned out by the Italians overanalyzing the situation. Then, dead silence as the voice came over the loudspeaker advising us that the train was “broken” and that the authorities were working out how to send a rescue vehicle. Even after twelve years in Italy, this was reaching a new level of drama. Luckily I understood the announcement in Italian, because the passengers weren’t quiet for the next one in English. Bad luck – as usual – for the foreigners who can’t understand Italian. Panic now ensued. Mothers with babies were demanding attention, and food! People were praying. Sons were phoning their mothers. If I heard it once, I heard it twenty times, “Mamma, don’t worry. We’ll be there soon.”
After two false starts, it became apparent that the train really was broken. And then the eerie silence. I was worried about how our friend Brigitte who had just arrived from London was coping. I’d organized a driver to pick her up first from the airport and then swing by the station to collect us on the way to Positano. I wasn’t sure how much English the driver spoke and Brigitte spoke no Italian. To make matters worse my bloody iPhone battery was dying and it was nearly lunchtime. Did I mention that the air-conditioning wasn’t working? No power and all. I messaged Brigitte that I could see the highway from the train so the driver kindly offered to come and get us. The thought of being saved from this drama was very appealing until Livia rightly pointed out that we were suspended twenty meters above the field and jumping down with our luggage wasn’t really an option.
An announcement. “A rescue vehicle has been sent”. They still weren’t sure whether we would be towed from Naples or pushed from Rome but after two hours and counting there was plenty of cheering and clapping at the news. Of course there was still drama. People were arguing with the poor, bewildered Italo staff trudging up and down every five minutes kindly offering us water. The restrooms were getting uglier by the minute. And then there was the stylish Northern-Italian woman who just couldn’t take it anymore. I’m not sure where the staff took her because we were already in first class!
Finally the ‘rescue vehicle’ pulled up on the line next to us and we were all told to calmly collect our belongings and make our way across the track onto the other train. Remember the steep drop…? The drivers aligned the trains and Italo staff went about what seemed like their maiden attempt to rig a bridge between them. It was a passenger who pointed out that the side railings were inserted upside down. It didn’t inspire confidence! We were instructed to cross the rickety metal bridge one person at a time. The brave man who volunteered to traverse the seven meter span first even cracked a joke. I wasn’t far behind him, glad for once to only have carry-on as I flew across, almost throwing myself into the other train. Ahhh blissful air-conditioning! And power for my rotten dying phone. Thirty minutes later and we were all across.
The rescue train took off slowly, travelling the wrong way down the track for a about a mile until we were back on course. At this point we stopped again. Italians. Moaning. Swearing. Behaving badly. We were moving again, thank God! An announcement that we were close to reaching normal speed and would be in Naples in twenty minutes. Joyful uproar!
When we finally alighted in Naples more than three hours late, I noted from the long list of delayed and cancelled trains that we’d been lucky to arrive at all. Amongst the sea of people sprawled throughout the station, I could pick out two women waving madly at us – smiling and carrying two of the best pizzas on earth – margheritas of course. Our driver was a woman (!) and Brigitte knows her priorities in Naples. Good things do come to those who wait.
* A huge thanks to our gorgeous driver Pina who took Brigitte for coffee (twice) while we were held up on the train tracks, picked up pizzas for us AND let us eat them in the car; AND stopped here to take a photo of us overlooking the Bay of Sorrento. Southern Italians are beautiful people!