Most great love stories start or end with a man, a women and some arrival or departure from an old European train station. As an American I have always romanticized over the stories these old train stations hold and the secrets they keep. This romance is a bit different but has all the elements I listed, plus one extra a blue flippy board.
In 2008 – 2010 I was working in the Southeast part of the Netherlands. I would often take the train at the start of my week from Schiphol and return on Friday the same 3 hour route. I met people from all over the world on my trips to and from work, they all had interesting tales or adventures to share in those long hours sitting on the train.
Along my train route I always had to switch trains in Utrecht Central Station. This old train station has high ceilings that sound echoed off. There was always a sort of shuffling constant noise that would ebb and flow with the arrival and departures of the trains. It is where my bizarre romance started.
My time between trains was usually ten to twenty minutes. I would slowly walk through the station and look in shops prior to catching my next train. Sometimes I would even stop in the Albert Hein, buy a coffee and a butter croissant filled with chocolate then find a bench. I slowly consumed my goodies watching people pass as I waited. People would rush past me carrying their bags filled with books or papers. Some people were like me, they had plenty of time and looked unhurried by the world around them. Others you could tell were travelling for vacations as they lugged their overnight bags behind them.
It was while I was sitting on one of those benches one day at Utrecht Central Station that I started to notice the huge blue train schedule board. It had been there all along in my travels but now it mesmerized me. I realized that the ebb and flow of the station was dictated by the huge blue flippy board that loomed over the main hall of the station. People would seem to be stuck in time for a moment as they waited the flipping of the blue cards on the board to indicate the next platform, train departure or delay.
People would gather in front of and under the blue board in this sort of time warp that the board seemed to create holding these train travelers for seconds or minutes waiting, watching. Then suddenly the top of the board would start to make a whirring sound and rapidly the destination signs would change. Just as suddenly people who were standing waiting would spring into motion jig jogging their way through the now gathered crowd off to the listed rail platform. The hard tiled floors would ego with the tapping of the women in their high heels who were now running to catch their next train. The distinctive sound of those heels was heard above all the other casual noises.
Then it was my time to gather my items and vacate the bench to catch my train. Often with a sense of loss and regret that I was missing entire stories the rest of the day.
On future trips, I started planning extra time into my travel schedule just to sit for a half hour at the Utrecht Central Station. I would sit and watch the people and gaze at the board as it flipped through its routine. I fell in love with all the anticipation and then sudden ending of it all when the sign had rotated through it’s scheduled selection. I looked forward to each trip where I could spend this special time sitting watching the activity. Creating stories of the travelers in my head as I watched each one pass under the blue board look up at the schedule and then continue as they crossed the station floor.
Some days the board was moody like the weather. The gloomy sky and cold outside would filter through to the interior mood of the station and the board would reflect that the trains were delayed +5 or +10 or heaven forbid +20 minutes. The main station hall would listen and watch with almost crowd anxiety as the changes were posted. Benches crowded as people waited for another posting from the blue monster that had predicted the current chaos. Faces of the travelers showed the visible release of stress as the board would show a favorable change. They would then stand, pick up their things and walk off to a platform.
Always the hum, always the whir, always the sudden rush. It was for me fascinating to watch each time.
In 2010 my romance ended. I changed jobs and no longer went through Utrecht Central Station. Occasionally, I would go through Utrecht but train schedules had also changed so I didn’t have to plan a track change when I did go. The station started remodeling and the few times I ventured up the stairs to grab a coffee, I quickly returned to the platform to avoid the construction noise. It was a shock to me when I went through Utrecht Station last year and noticed that the huge board of my romance was gone. All that remained were new digital boards at each platform stairs entrance plus a much smaller digital board that was located along one of the halls. No one stood in front of this smaller board waiting, watching for changes.
Gone was the sound of the start and end of the constant flipping of the destinations, times, track numbers. The waiting and anticipation of the train travelers as they waited for the board to finish. Sadness filled my broken heart like that of loosing an old friend.
My hubby knew I took extra time in Utrecht in those years when I travelled through to people watch. He loved hearing about my stories when I returned. Sometime this last fall I asked him if he knew what happened to the old huge blue board that hung over the station. I feared that it was destroyed and gone forever I didn’t think he would actually find it’s true disposition.
Yet, he did!
In 2011 blue board was officially removed from the Utrecht Central Station and moved to the Utrecht Train Museum. There is an entire YouTube video of the ceremony. He also found that I was not the only person who was sad that it was no longer part of the internal atmosphere of the Utrecht Central Station, thousands of Dutch had even signed a petition to keep the historic board at the station and operational. So many people had complained that the train system even created an app that mimicked the blue board with the current actual trains running through Utrecht Central Station. I immediately downloaded the app and ran it. It made me cry with tears of joy to hear the old sound and brought up the many happy moments I had in the past of sitting on those benches watching the Utrecht train passenger world go by me.
We visited the Utrecht Train Museum over the holiday. The trips main focus was on seeing the blue flippy board. I wanted to see it again. I needed to make sure it was ok in it’s new home. I hoped that it still worked it’s magic of flipping through the destinations so that future generations would be amazed at the wonder of the train schedule, feel the rush of the people and the excitement of changes in the schedule.
We searched for the elusive large blue board. It was not in the main display area that is filled with trains, signs, and memorabilia of train history. Finally as we rounded a corner of a back room there it was, still, stuck in time at 16:45 with that train schedule frozen in time. It caught me off guard. My eyes filled with tears. I quickly wiped them away, feeling silly for my outburst of unfiltered romantic emotion.
If you would like to see more about the Blue Board from Utrecht Central Train Station or would like to visit the Utrecht Train Museum please follow the links below.
Het blauwe bord van Utrecht CS – Het afscheid v/h oude en de komst v/h nieuwe bord
You can download the app for free from the Apple app Store. Just search Blauwe Bord and it will be listed as an NS Utrecht Train Station app.