It’s after midnight on a Sunday night and I’m standing on a freezing station platform wishing the last train would hurry up and come in. I’ve been rostered on to help with the Occupation, but the thrill of earning overtime has well and truly worn off.
This Occupation has nothing to do with the German Army or the Occupy Wall Street movement. Instead the tracks are being “occupied” by construction workers, beginning the long slow process of lowering the train track under a road ahead so that the level crossings can be removed. I suspect in this instance the term “occupation” may spring from the tribalism of the railway workers of yesteryear who regarded construction workers as “outsiders” in their territory.
My part in this great task is to make sure everyone gets off the train and onto the buses that service the stations further up the line. I even get to make announcements through a microphone. As the evening chills and the trains get further and further apart my work mate and I take to walking 7 minutes round to the station house to get warm and eat too many biscuits and 7 minutes back before the train comes in. This trek really helps pass the time. A suburban railway station on a Sunday night is NOT an exciting place.
We are abused by a South American lady who has missed her train by several minutes because there are no signs up. (There are signs everywhere but somehow it’s never enough) But I am also given a little KitKat by a young woman in a veil after I help her locate the husband she’s mislaid on the train. Swings and Roundabouts.
Between customers we chat to the train/drivers, the casual customer service staff and the flagman whose job it is to stand by the tracks holding a red lantern to prevent the trains accidentally going further and hitting the workers. I had a friend who was a flagman and used to wax lyrical about how romantic and magical the still early morning hours were.
The clear starry night sky with its half lemon of a moon is indeed magical but even the romance of the midnight hour cannot disguise the ugliness of this suburban station with its asphalt platforms, its rubbish strewn gravel car park, and the barbed wire fence hung with shreds of plastic. Twice we see rats scurrying around on the tracks.
At long last, its 12.45. The last train has gone and it’s time to pack up the buses and signs. But the flag man is still there standing by the tracks with his lantern. This is because of “ghost trains” – unscheduled empty trains that are moved about the system in order to be in place for Monday morning’s rush hour. He will be there standing by there until the workers finish at 3 am.