Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 8, 2013

Life in Italy: Blood on the Tracks

frecciabiancaWe were on the night train from Venice to Milan. We were on the “fast train” – the sleek 125 Frecciabianca – and making good time, despite a pouring rain.

We made our last stop at Brescia, about 55 minutes from Milano Centrale station. But the train didn’t pull out of the station like it immediately should have; instead, it was shut down. There was “a blockage” on the line up ahead, we were told.

We sat and waited for 40 minutes or so, and then pulled away. Blockage gone?

No, we then made an unscheduled stop a few miles up the track at Rovato. There, hundreds of cold, weary people waited in the rain on the platform. They jammed in and filled every seat on our partially full train; a few people had to stand in the aisles. Two university students sat down next to us.

Then the train pulled slowly away from the station. The train crew gave us almost no information about what was going on. Something vague was said about another detour.

“Someone has committed suicide by going in front of a train,” said one of the students, a pretty young art major from Sicily.

Their train.

“It happened just outside the station.”

She and her companion were headed back to university in Milano from a weekend with family in Desenzano. They did this trip, she said, every week.

“Last week it was the same thing,” she said quietly.

The same thing?

“There was another suicide at this station.”

It seemed an incredible coincidence: two separate suicides, at the same station, on the same day, a week apart.”

“Suicide is not uncommon in Italy,” she said sadly. “A lot of businessmen. Maybe they are upset because they lose their jobs, or their companies fail, or they can’t feed their families. It is especially bad in this economy now.”

Was stepping in front of trains really that common?

“Yes,” she said, her companion nodding in agreement. “The trains are used for this quite often.”

Leaving the station, we actually went past the accident scene. Blue police car strobe lights were still lighting up the dark, wet night. There was also an ambulance. But it wasn’t needed; Twitter was buzzing with messages from people who had seen it. A television news crew was on the scene, confirming the victim was dead.

Our train’s crew was visibly upset; they mostly kept out of sight. The engineer kept our train going very slowly. We were on some kind of detour that took us to Bergamo, then through the suburbs. We were using tram tracks, at time, creeping along at tram speeds.

The student said they were thankful to be on our train. “We’ve never been on the fast train before,” she said. “We can’t afford it.”

Instead, they hop from station to station on the regional trains, hoping not to be asked for a check of their tickets. She said most of those passengers were also students, doing the same thing. “I would stay in Milan during the weekend if I could,” she said, “but I can stay with my family at my home for cheaper. Plus, I have a boyfriend there.”

If you are a university student, studying hard and paying lots of money to get a degree, you must wonder what awaits you, after graduation, in the business world.

It was a glum ride back to Milano Centrale. It didn’t end until well after midnight. People scrambled to their destinations, to waiting loved ones, to school dorms, or to connect to other trains they hoped were as delayed as the one they had just gotten off of.

Milano Centrale is a huge, grand, noisy place. On this night, it was eerily quiet.

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