By train to Göteborg and back today for a Mercy Ships Sweden Board meeting. The journey down was with a private rail company called Connex. The train form Umeå (in Sweden’s far north) rolled in 30 minutes late, the passengers looked like they had been up all night, the carriage was littered, the seats uncomfortable. It was an old train. I was unimpressed.

My memories of train travel in Sweden were of a much better service, always on time, spotlessly clean, new trains, with tasteful decor and comfortable dining cars where one could have coffee and a bun without a care, gazing out on beautiful Swedish countryside. Today the landscape was grey and dull, the fields brown, the trees naked and stark, the passing towns drab and empty; the train’s dirty windows were spattered with rain.

I assumed the return journey would be more up to my expectations, since it was an SJ (Swedish Rail) service. I was booked onto a family carriage – which meant it had a children’s play area. The rest of the compartment was fully booked; some passengers were even standing, apparently there were not enough seats. This seemed out of character for Swedish trains, always so well organised. Beside me sat two lads, whose accents bore testimony to their foreign origins, one of whom talked incessantly for the first hour and a half. Both got off, with half the carriage, at Skövde. Quietness at last and I read my book in peace.

This train was also old, the seats worn, the lighting dull: everything surprisingly substandard. It was also late, though not by as much as the morning train. Another disappointment, not helped by the darkness outside the window: the world had somehow disappeared, to be replaced by a dim, noisy crowd enclosed in this metal box speeding through black space. Two and a half hours from Göteborg I was emptied into the rainy night at Örebro central station.


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