A Moment

It was a holiday. The traffic on the U3 plaform at Stephansplatz was lighter than usual. I was heading home from the office around noon so that my family could attend a toddler birthday party at a garden in the 14th district. It was shaping up to be a great day.

As I arrived on the platform, I scoped out the announcement sign and saw that the train was but 1 minute from the station. I started my usual march to the area on the platform where the front of the train will come to a stop, because when I arrive at my station, the exit stairs are but a few large commuter bounds away.

I found my spot and heard the train, felt its wind, coming through the tunnel toward the platform. I glanced away from the InfoScreen I was reading just in time to see what I thought was a person move onto the tracks in its path.

Before I could even process that thought, before I even understood what I thought was going on, the station was filled by a gut-wrenching, shockingly-loud, percussive thud. The train lurched upward slightly, and then several sickening grinding noises echoed through the platform. The train stopped more suddenly than normal. I saw one tall man duck, as if avoiding some falling debris, and take a couple steps away from the train, but then stop and turn back toward the train.

“What happened?” I thought to myself. I was intently looking at the people who were near the source of the sound, but they seemed unaware of anything out of sorts.

An older man in a suit, who was obviously in a hurry, yanked the handle to board the train, but it would not release. He tried another door. Then yelled “to the next car” and quickly ran toward the back of the train. Just then, the train operator spoke over the speakers:

“Dear guests, please leave the station immediately”.

Several people tried the doors to get both on and off the train, but they were sealed shut. People started getting out their phones, lingering. Even the guy who ducked just seconds ago was now edging toward the train’s door to get in.

“That couldn’t have just happened,” I thought. “How could it have? Did it? Nobody seems concerned; they’re trying to get on the damned train. It must have been nothing.”

A Wiener Linien employee ran from the top of the stairs to the front of the train, placed his hands on the front corner of the lead car, and leaned down to look into the tracks. He turned around quickly.

“Please leave the station,” he began to yell. “Police!”

People stood still and looked annoyed. I began to move toward the stairs.

“Police!” he yelled again. “Everyone leave the station immediately, please!”

All of the passengers were still on the train. The doors remained locked. I could see their worried expressions as if something terrible was about to happen.

Little did they know that the terror was already over.

Finally, a few people turned away from the train and stomped huffily toward the stairs. I couldn’t believe if people had seen what I thought I saw, they’d act this way. I thought that maybe I was wrong. Maybe it was just a mechanical failure and the train is just broken, I told myself.

Then I saw a woman who was obviously upset. Her face was scrunched as if anguish and terror were tearing it apart. “I saw it–” she said as she waved a hand toward the Wiener Linien employee, but the last syllable of her speech turned into a guttural heave and was quickly followed by her collapsing to her knees and breaking down in hysterics.

I stepped on the escalator and saw other employees putting barricades up in front of the “down” escalators and stairways — closing the platform. A woman waved her ticket in the barricade erector’s face and said something assertively that I didn’t catch.

“It will be just a moment,” he explained.

Meanwhile, from what I could tell, we’d all just witnesses — or at least thought we had witnessed — a person’s last moment — the moment he decided to heave himself into the end of moments.

I still don’t know what exactly happened, but it sure was terrifying.

8 Comments so far

  1. scott partee (unregistered) on May 26th, 2006 @ 3:01 pm

    When I told this story to a guy I had just met at a party, he nodded knowingly.

    “I’m sure that is what it was,” he said with a slight smile.

    “Well, try to keep an eye out on the news and see if you see anything.”

    “That’s what it was,” he said with authority. “Any time you hear of a ‘technical delay’ in the UBahn, that’s what it is. It happens about every other week here.”

  2. Michael (unregistered) on May 26th, 2006 @ 6:20 pm

    That sounds pretty much like “typical” suicide at the U-Bahn… I heard the rumours that every technical delay is something like that, but on the other hand, the Wiener Linien are much more creative in finding a sentence that explains what happened without frightening all the people and it goes: “Wegen der Erkrankung eines Fahrgasts…”

    Whatever. I witnessed one, too.

  3. melancolia (unregistered) on May 26th, 2006 @ 9:59 pm

    ugh… that’s terrible. i wonder what’s running in the mind of the will-be suicidee when the train comes.
    i often hear that this kind of thing happens. but never witness it myself nor assume that it happens “every other week.” perhaps i am not paying attention?
    when my husband did his civil service he had friends who were assigned to do such work, to “clean up” the mess.
    suicide or not it is still sad and scary that this gruesome incident/accident transpires.

  4. scott partee (unregistered) on May 26th, 2006 @ 11:56 pm

    Wow, Michael! It’s amazing that you’ve witnessed it, too. One would be hard-pressed to find 2 new yorkers who have seen the same thing, but then again, i don’t know what the statistics look like. Quite frankly, I don’t want to research it.

    Melancolia: I’m not sure what is going through the mind of the soon-to-be-tot(dead), but i can assure you that it doesn’t go through his or her mind long. The startlingly violence-less end is remarkably quick. Despite the fact that the jumper is ripped to shreds, death is immediate.

  5. richard (unregistered) on May 27th, 2006 @ 9:03 am

    I was once inside a train that was delayed due to “Wegen der Erkrankung eines Fahrgasts…”, and it actually was a sick passenger. The strange thing is, I didn’t even notice that the guy was inside the very same car I was in, simply because the people from the Wiener Linien did an excellent job at handling it really quietly.

  6. propspony (unregistered) on May 28th, 2006 @ 2:30 am

    This actually happened to me while on the city/airport train last August. It was a bit disturbing to say the least, and yet at the same time was handled so efficiently that it wasn’t disturbing at all. Sad…. an hour of delay and *our* lives were back to normal.

  7. nex (unregistered) on May 28th, 2006 @ 1:13 pm

    hahahaha … this is so typically viennese. there’s a severe emergency, but people are wearing blinders like fiaker horses and just ignore reality … you see it every time when a special train comes through — even though it’s announced on the display, people walk towards the tracks and are surprised that it doesn’t stop. or if it does stop, but all or some cars are locked, there always are some passengers that ignore the announcement by the operator and insist on trying to open the doors. if you ever wondered if it’s just people who are lost in their thoughts, expecting eventless routine after an exhausting work day … well now you know. even if the alarm is triggered, even if the station’s emergency stop system is activated and the train is half derailed, only half in the station … there’s no space for ignorance any longer, but now they get argumentative! but this is MY train! is PAID for my TICKET! get out of my way, you useless policeman!

    apparently something really sad happened there, but the reaction of the people is so incomprehensible, so baffling … i can’t help but to find it amusing — it’s the only way to stay sane, it seems.

  8. Lux (unregistered) on May 29th, 2006 @ 3:11 am

    People don’t notice shit. I was waiting for the U6 at Westbahnhof once and when the train moved into the station there was *obviously* smoke coming out from under one car. I started running towards the front of the train to tell the driver, but when I arrived he had already seen the smoke and was telling the people on the train to get off. By now the whole station was pretty foggy and it started to smell. What did nearly all of the people waiting do? Yes, THEY BOARDED THE TRAIN, probably thinking ‘Oh well, U6 is using special fx today’. How can so many people be so painfully dumb? If ignorance really is bliss, Austrians are f-ing blessed till Judgment Day.

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