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Untold Tales Of The Polar Express

, , , , , , | Working | December 23, 2022

I drive passenger trains for a living. This story took place on the last train of the day before Christmas Eve, which in Sweden is a way bigger deal than Christmas Day. For many families, Christmas celebrations start at three pm sharp on Christmas Eve.

There had been a lot of snow during the last few days, meaning that it was hard to keep up with cleaning the tracks from snow and defrosting the ice and snow build-up on the trains. The type of train I was driving had the issue that too much snow and ice could make the brakes freeze stuck to the wheels, causing friction, which in the worst-case scenario leads to derailing.

Obviously, there are lots of precautions to prevent that, and just one such precaution had detected that my train might have that problem. I carefully came to a stop at the next station and went out to check after informing the passengers of the situation.

The snow beside the track was almost at hip-depth, so there was plenty of plodding through the snow to check the brakes. After performing the standard winter test of tossing snow on the wheels, I could immediately tell by the hissing and steam that the brakes were indeed stuck. I then plodded back to the driver’s compartment and informed everyone that we’d be stuck for a bit while I tried to unstick the brakes.

After turning off the affected brakes, I plodded back with my iron bar to try to get rid of all the ice that had made them stuck. After about fifteen minutes of back-breaking work, I realised it was very unlikely to work; there was just way too much ice. I informed my company who tried to find buses; there were no trains available. A few were already standing still because of the same reason. I kept at it for quite a while longer just in case I could fix it; it would be so much more convenient for everyone involved. But in the end, I gave up. During this time, another decimeter (about four inches) of snow had fallen, and the entire time I’d been able to see naturally upset passengers inside the train, but being too tired to plod on, I called for my colleague to open the door I was closest to.

Onto the train I scrambled. My pants were frozen nearly solid from snow melting from my body heat and then refreezing. I stiffly walked to the driver’s compartment while dropping clumps of snow I hadn’t managed to get off my pants, all the while dreading the expected and justified complaints. But instead, they just took one look at me and most people looked so much less irritated. Some even smiled at me. Whether they did that because of how comically I resembled a snowman or because they were grateful for me trying my best, I don’t know. I’m not certain which I prefer. I really did look ridiculous.

But we did happily get buses quite soon considering the time of day and the date. My colleague and the passengers continued to their destination while I got the fun task of driving the train back at fifteen km/h (about nine mph) with constant plodding to check the wheels and brakes.

When I got home, I had to switch bathwater twice before I thawed.

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