By popular demand here’s the story on my return from Billund (getting to Billund is here).

It all started fine. I waited for the bus to Kolding at a freezing cold bus stop outside Lego HQ but the bus arrived, departed, and got me to Kolding with enough time for a pizza before the train. All day Friday there was no more snow, but nothing melted either, and an impressive firework display of sparks from the pantograph lit up the sky as the locomotive arrived in Kolding and left on time.

At the border station (Padborg) nothing happened. For a long time. Except the lights going out. And then we waited. And waited some more. After about 75 minutes of waiting, and no announcements, a locomotive was connected and we started to move. By this time the beer drunk with the pizza had kicked in and I was dozing in the couchette… Aside from a temporary disturbance when a passenger boarding at Hamburg turned the full, bright light on in the compartment, that was it. Until the guard bangs on the door and tells us we have to get out shortly – in Dortmund!

I hadn’t realised, but the train had accrued more delay (90 minutes in total), and the decision was taken to run it direct from Dortmund (through Essen, Duisburg) to Amsterdam, and not via Köln (my destination to change for Brussels). So all passengers for Wuppertal and Köln disembarked, and were supposed to wait 45 minutes for a connecting train.

I wonder whether this was the right decision, not least because Duisburg is a lot closer to Köln than Dortmund is, and there may well have been more services from there to Köln, allowing more people to catch their connecting trains. Was an unscheduled stop in Duisburg even considered? Plus with so many CityNightLine tickets being booked electronically a system to automatically work out where passengers could change according to their final destinations should not be a hard thing to program.

Anyway in Dortmund a French biologist, Jean Philippe, overheard me asking DB staff about the best way to get to Brussels. The DB staff had no clue, so we decided to board a RE train direct from Dortmund to Aachen Hbf (via Wuppertal – Düsseldorf – Mönchengladbach), with that train due to arrive there 20 minutes after the ICE to Brussels would have passed. That was less of a time difference than if we had waiting the 45 minutes in Dortmund and taken the train to Köln.

Problem was it didn’t work… The RE train ran on time, but the Brussels bound ICE left Aachen with only 10 minutes of delay (about the lowest delay I can recall for an ICE3 from Aachen!) so we were stuck there. The solution was a IR train to Liège (an ancient railcar), then a Belgian IC from there to Brussels. We arrived at 1301, almost two and a half hours late, and long after the Eurostar I was due to take had departed.

Rather than negotiate for a new ticket, I decided at this point to cut my losses and stay in Brussels – I have to be here on Monday for work anyway, and heavy new snow in Brussels made me fear whether Eurostar would work properly anyway…

So – in short – the journey to Billund was eventful and ultimately successful, the return was beset by bad communications and no luck at all. Still, lessons learned, and I’ll drink a Chimay this weekend in Brussels.

Photo: mattingham “DSB ME loco, Høje Taastrup” June 10, 2010 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution

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