21.2.12

RIDING THE BLINDS.

A Dutchman stows away on a passenger train.
The man apparently boarded the Warsaw-Amsterdam overnight, train number EN 446, in Berlin Hauptbahnhof by climbing into the area above the train couplers / buffers between the locomotive and the first car in the train while no one was looking. The end doors on the first and last cars of these locomotive hauled trains are always locked-out by a key operated control in order to prevent anyone other than the train crew from opening them. There is a door ledge which is perhaps 40 cm or 15 inches long. At the end of this ledge is open space over the train couplers to the locomotive. On the locomotive itself are a couple of hand-holds and a small foot ledge for use by maintenance personnel when they wash the windshields, replace the headlights / taillights or windshield wipers and connect or disconnect the electric cables from the locomotive to the rest of the train when stationary. In other words – not exactly luxurious accommodations, and barely enough standing space in the end doorway to hang-on for dear life when the train is at speed.

Although the man had tried to prepare himself for his open-air ride to Amsterdam by dressing with heavy winter clothing, gloves, and boots, he quickly found out how the principal [c.q.] of wind chill works. The train at first accelerated to approximately 80 km/h (50 mph) as it wound its way through western Berlin, then after gliding through Berlin-Spandau station at about 45 minutes after midnight it smartly accelerated to its cruising speed of 200 km/h – the next scheduled stop would not come for another 90 minutes and 280 km (174 miles) later in Hannover. With an air temperature that night of about -5°C (+23°F) and the wind whipping wildly around him in the gap between the locomotive and train at hurricane-like speed, the wind chill factor soon went below -20°C. The sound levels from the unrelenting wind and the rapidly spinning traction motors and wheels just a few meters from his feet pushed well past the 130 dB range. The young man began to fill with fear and numbing cold.

The conductors began moving through the train to check the passengers tickets a few minutes after departure from track 14 in the glass-roofed Berlin Hauptbahnhof. As one of the conductors made her way to the very front of the train, she could not believe her own eyes . . . is there a person trapped outside between the end door and the locomotive??? Indeed there was, and he was hanging precariously from the hand-holds mounted on the rear end of the locomotive.
Hobo lore has riding the blinds as a relatively safe place to stow away.
'Riding the blinds' meant to ride the front platform of the baggage car on a passenger train. Because baggage was piled up inside, thus blocking the door between cars, it was a relatively secure place to sit. However, if detected, the rider was an easy target "for water hoses or showers of coal or hot ash from the more sadistic firemen."
On the Eastern Trunk Lines, during the winter, during the Steam Era, the blinds were a very dangerous place to be, sadistic firemen or not.  The eastern trunk lines expedited their trains by providing track pans in order that the tender could be refilled at speed.
Even through the windows closed against the bitter night, a scream was heard in the house alongside the track pans. The occupant, a railroad man, knew exactly what it meant, and he grabbed for the phone to have the eastbound freight flagged down at the next tower. There, the body of a tramp was found frozen against the back end of the tender. Hitching a ride “in the blind” hanging on the back of the tender, the tank filled from the trough, and overflowed down the back of the tender, soaking the man in water that rapidly turned to ice. He screamed but dared not let go, and died.
As Destination: Freedom notes, stowing away on a train is a dangerous adventure.
Riding on the outside of trains in other countries, especially in South Asia (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh), parts of South and Central America and a few other areas in the developing world may be common, but in Europe this practice can be extremely hazardous to your health and your police record, assuming you survive long enough to even see the police. And it puts the train crew into a bad mood.
Even a train crew armed with a cell phone, rather than a scoop of ashes.

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