The Sunday night train: ‘This is far from relaxing.’

The train track from Amsterdam to Groningen is longer than the one from Groningen to Amsterdam, goes an old Groningen saying. For students who catch the train to on a Sunday evening, it certainly feels true. And it’s crammed too.

‘Good evening, ladies and gentlemen’, the conductor’s voice sounds crackly through the intercom. ‘You are now in the intercity to Groningen.’ Inside the train, it’s warm and stuffy. Every available seat is taken, and people are standing in the aisles. Laptops are open on the little tray tables, with students exhaustedly staring at their screen or a book. Some of them have given up altogether and are napping. 

Welcome to the Sunday night train from Utrecht to Groningen.

A few minutes earlier platform nine at Utrecht Central station was filled with people waiting for the last train to Groningen. Mostly students with headphones, backpacks, and weekend bags or wheeled suitcases. Some of them were holding coffee or a late-night pasta snack.

Narrow doors

As soon as the train rolls into the station, the entire group springs into action, following the slowing train and jostling in front of the access doors. Train passengers barely manage to exit the train; these students absolutely refuse to spend the two-hour journey standing, especially not on Sunday night.

Once people are inside, they struggle through the narrow doors into the compartment. In spite of the large number of people, many travellers put their suitcase on the seat next to them, only removing it when someone else asks. Vain hope for some space.

It’s a weekly ritual. ‘It always gets busy after dinner’, says pharmacy student Gillian Vodegel. To avoid the rush, she’ll sometimes take an earlier train. Economics student Merks tries to beat the rush by catching the fast train from Zwolle. And student of law and history Kayleigh Hakkers prefers to catch a ride with her parents on Monday morning. Unfortunately, they’re not always available, and she only travels for free on the weekends.

Laptops

With the train reaching Zwolle, the compartments reach their capacity. The students inside the train watch with rising panic as the people transferring from Leeuwarden approach the train. But students who live in and around Zwolle are also entering the train with their big bags on their shoulders, scanning the train for empty seats.

This train is always too short, says Thijs van Soest, and it’s especially crowded tonight. ‘Normally, the train has six compartments, but today it only has four.’ He’s working on his thesis for spatial planning and design. It may seem like a strange place to do something that takes up all your attention, but some people love studying on the Sunday night train. It helps that most passengers have been travelling for so long that they’re too tired to make a ruckus.

‘If you’re stressed enough, you can study’, says dentistry student Thomas. But Gillian, who’s trying to watch a class on her laptop, isn’t making much headway. ‘I need a place to sit with a power outlet, but there aren’t any left.’ Myra Hoekstra, law student, has no choice: she has an exam in the morning.

One thirty

Other than that, it’s a slow Sunday night. Students are chatting, listening to music, watching Netflix. One of them is dentistry student Lieve. Even if she had an exam in the morning, she still wouldn’t be studying: ‘It’s a Sunday.’

It’s about two hours later when the train passes the Europapark station. The students stretch, slowly rising, giving a sigh of relief when the intercom crackles to life: ‘The next station is Groningen, where this train terminates.’ 

No, says Merks: ‘The Sunday night train is far from relaxing.’

Nederlands

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