WHAT TRAINS CAN TEACH YOU ABOUT COMMUNICATION.

Last weekend I visited friends in Frankfurt, Germany. I travelled by train which takes only about 4 hours.

On Saturday noon I arrived in Frankfurt where I had a great time with sunny weather, good food and great company. Frankfurt may not be the most beautiful city in Germany but certainly one that offers a high quality of life. Along the bank of the river Main there is a street that allows bikers and walkers to enjoy a beautiful view on the river, on the barges which seem to glide on it and at the skyline. Besides all the advantages a city offers.

On Sunday evening around 5 pm I boarded the train home and expected to be at home by around 9 pm. Big mistake.

About an hour and a half later we were arrived – as planned – in Karlsruhe but were informed that a storm had destroyed the contact line in city called Offenburg which was the next stop. Moreover, we were told that we would go to Offenburg in any case and there would be busses to take us further.

The way between Offenburg and Basel where I was supposed to change trains for Zurich was apparently blocked and they were working on the problem. Not fun but these things happen and it is nobody’s fault.

And the Odyssey begins

  • 6.20 pm:
    Arrival in Karlsruhe – First information about the problem and the promise that we would go to Offenburg
  • 7 pm:
    Still in Karlsruhe – Second information to please leave the train as we could not go further. Busses should be available but not to places I ever heard of. Apparently I was not the only one, since the queue in front of the information desk was nearly endless. To make matters worse my mobile connection was exceptionally bad and I could not access the internet. I texted my friend back in Frankfurt to check the possibilities. They looked not too bad and my friend’s moral support was really helpful.
  • 8 pm:
    The loudspeaker at the station in Karlsruhe informed us that there was a train (the types that stop in every second village) that would take us to Offenburg and later pass the black forest (a name well deserved in my opinion) to Constance which is close to the Swiss border.
  • 8:45 pm:
    Still in that train, progressing slowly. No further information from the Deutsche Bahn (the German train company) but many messages back and forth between my friend an me.
  • 9 pm:
    Information by DB that they could organize a train from Offenburg to Basel as my journey had fore seen it. Cool. Boarded that train some minutes later.
  • 10 pm:
    Still in that train at the very same place. According to the information they were waiting for clearance to start. The announcements are still as if everything was normal; the arrival and departure on trains are being displayed as if nothing happens. Well, nothing happened; the announced trains of course never showed up.
  • 10 pm to midnight:
    Still in that train. No official information by the DB. The chaos is enormous. Rumour had it that there were busses, that the Red Cross opened “hotels” in train cars. Others said that the DB was giving away vouchers for taxis. I could as well sleep in my seat and the taxi drivers were as sold out as the take-away. And a trip to Zurich would have taken them too long anyway. Still in touch with my friend who informs me about the Twitter stream and other online media. Moreover, the gentleman who sat opposite me had a great and very sarcastic sense of humour and I had a good laugh.
  • 12.15 am:
    Eureka! The train moves again. We are going at normal speed towards Basel. Only one stop in Freiburg, Germany.
  • 01.30 am:
    Basel; well, still on the German side but not too bad. My “entertainer” (I don’t even know his name) has arrived since he lives near Basel. I need to get home.Another official announcement: Travellers to Switzerland and some German places get taxi vouchers. Correct. They are organising groups of people with the same destination so they can share a taxi. I was lucky to share mine with a father of two children, living not far from me.
  • 02.45 am
    Home, Sweet Home.

It is all about communication

A storm is nobody’s fault. Neither is the damage resulting of it. Everybody understands that some problems cannot be solved in a heartbeat.

The crucial point is how you deal with it. From what I observed it seems to me that the crisis management was totally missing. When I looked through the window of my train waiting for clearance I observed scenes we normally see in the news about derailed trains, earthquakes and this sort of things.

I lived in Western Africa for a while and concerning the organisation of the “event” I could not detect a difference between Germany and Africa.

Some philosophers say that languages as sophisticated as ours makes us human. Use it!

The whole mess was a result of almost complete absence of information and even some misinformation. For most of the time we were not sure where and  when we go. Well, at least I know now how Odysseus must have felt during his journey. While mine took half a night his took an entire decade.

@Hillu, if you read this: Thanks again. Your support made this almost enjoyable.

2 Comments

  1. Dear Brigitte, thanks for sharing your experience. On the one hand I think that such missing communication is really embarrassing. On the other hand I learnt to appreciate good communication because it is really extraordinary, although you might think that it should be normal. I also wonder why that is. Lately I’m thinking a lot about „agile communication“: Agile promotes self-organizing teams. That makes decisions faster and more flexible: Instead of waiting for the bosses boss to give the ok to say something through the loudspeaker they perhaps could give through the facts more constantly. DB (http://www.deutschebahn.com/file/de/11883440/D7gd4_cE-uTBHYBWAreMcpII10I/13149362/data/TD_Transformation.pdf?hl=agile) says they are in transformation to become more agile. Let’s hope that this makes their communication in exceptional situations more agile too.

    • Dear Sascha, thanks a lot for your visit. I seriously think you should offer your help. They really need it. Have a good day. Brigitte

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please check if you want a link to your latest blog post.