L'affaire des toilettes

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Friday, January 6, 2012

Have you noticed that we seem to have a lot of potty problems lately? Amtrak is about to replace a concrete slab that has served as its station in Beaumont, Texas, with a 1,800-square foot structure that contains neither a bathroom nor air-conditioning, reports the Beaumont Enterprise. (Advises the newspaper: If you gotta go, go out back.)

From Amsterdam, my Dutch correspondents send word that train riders have rebelled against new short-distance trains whose coaches contain no toilets. The Dutch national rail operator NS apparently judged toilets to be a 90,000-Euro luxury its customers could do without when it placed the order with Bombardier.

Only too late did the train operator realize that the time people absolutely have to use the facilities is always when there is no facility. So guess what NS decided to do? It announced a few days ago that conductors will hand out plastic biodegradable bags to passengers who’ve gotta go. They can fill the bag by ducking into what Dutch News calls the “empty driver’s cabin,” whatever that is.

But what happens next? Do you take the bag home? Throw it out the door at the next stop? Deposit it in a designated location on the train? Hand it back to the conductor? News stories leave us clueless.

Those of us on this side of the pond could give the Dutch some advice. After all, when pressed by its train-service employees, the other NS, Norfolk Southern, which distained working toilets on locomotives, tried to solve its problem by issuing each crew member a toilet bag when they reported for work. Each crew member had to account for that bag at the end of the tour of duty — no throwing them along the right of way. Ultimately the railroad did the right thing and installed toilets. I suspect that Norfolk Southern chairman Wick Moorman would suggest to the Dutch passenger train company that the bag solution will only end in grief.

Funny how bad news like this travels in threes. On Christmas Eve our sewer line became hopelessly stopped up. Some $2,500 in plumber bills later (try not to call a plumber on a Christmas Eve Saturday) it was still nip and tuck. So I reached back into Norfolk Southern history and suggested we use bags to conduct our personal business. My family was not amused.

I hope I have not offended you. I kept this discussion on an adult level. But holding a straight face wasn't easy. — Fred W. Frailey

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