Last Saturday I took the train of the Dutch Railways (NS) from a small town north of Leiden to Aardenhout south of Haarlem. It is only a 13 minute ride, including a stop in Hillegom, centre of the Dutch flowerbulb industry. The flowers are currently in full bloom and the waft of Hyacints is all over, outside of the small towns.
Bikes on trains
You have a great view on the fields from the slightly elevated train tracks and I was moving a bit between the left and the right side of the train to get the best views. I was also keeping an eye on the bicycles in the front of the train car, called a ‘bak’ (box) in railway terms slang. There was also an American couple with two kids in the train with three bikes and a German couple who was a wee concerned when I was putting my bike against their bikes: they had to get off the train in Hillegom. In my best German I mentioned not to worry and that I was sitting right behind them.
I got off the train in Heemstede-Aardenhout and complimented the conductor with allowing five bikes in the four space compartment; he mentioned that they turn a blind eye during the busy flower season, when so many people go cycling in the region.
One hundred meters on my way, I realised I didn’t bring my backpack. Initially I though I didn’t bring it at all, but then realised I did bring it into the train. My heart stopped: I left it in the train. And the train was off to Haarlem already. The train of of 11:29 am had left already. O no!
Panic set in: how do I ever get it back? Then I realised there were at least no valuables in it, just a LLBean fleece, a book and a can of maple syrup. We called the railways, a friendly woman asked for some info and she simply called the conducteur on the train. The backpack was found and he would hand it over from the train of 1.59 pm, an hour and a half later.
Back to the railways station
My sister and I went back to wait for the 1:59 pm train from Haarlem. The train rolled in on the dot, but it was another conductor and he had no idea what we were talking about. Odd. We called again, waited for 10 minutes and finally talked to a person at the Dutch railways again. She called the conductor again. It turns out, we had assumed that the train would come back from Haarlem, but it had already gone back to Leiden and again back to Haarlem: we had waited on the wrong platform, never realising the train would have covered that distance already twice again after we had called. It so happens that the trains going north and south at Aardenhout arrive exactly at the same time.
The lady on the phone mentioned that the train would come again in four minutes, direction Leiden again. Another conductor would be in the back of the train. And wouldn’t you know, there he was, in the back off the train, holding up my back pack behind the window. When the train came to a full stop, the door opened and he handed over the backpack.
The Dutch often complain about the railways, but they are really first world complaints. The nice thing is that this was all organised between four Duch railways people, outside of the offical system, outside the database, just by phone from a central call centre somewhere in the Netherlands and a hand over between two conductors on the train when changing shifts.
Kudos to the Dutch Railways for this; I was so impressed. You may want to read more about the Dutch railways here.
Dutch railway people were very nice to me a few years ago after I’d missed the last train from Groningen to Amsterdam by 2 minutes (damn their policy and practice of running their trains on time!) and had to sleep rough in a schoolground. The next morning, with no valid ticket and unable to buy a new ticket from a machine or the station, I explained my situation to the train conductor (who of course could speak English very well) who kindly allowed one very relieved Australian to travel back to Amsterdam using my expired day ticket from the day before. Thank you NS Rail.
I have found them generally fairly easy going if you can’t figure something out or if the automation in the stations leaves you puzzled sometimes.