Now it’s trains: String quartet are hassled for travelling with cello

Dreadful tale from Mike Vincent on Musical Toronto.

The Bozzini Quartet, heading for the city by rail, faced demands from a train conductor to pay for an extra seat for the cello.

We are unaware of any such precedent. Let’s stop this before Richard Branson hears of it.

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  • Well, if the cello is taking up a seat instead a human being able to use it, then it’s fair enough.

    But on a quiet train there’s no reason for them to pay if it’s just taking up floor or luggage rack space.

  • Well, that’s pretty bonkers. I’m no physicist but won’t 12kg of cello “project” a lot less far than 85kg of human flesh (or a 22kg suitcase) in the event of a rapid deceleration? And in an emergency a cello will probably trample no-one trying to make for the exit…

    Orchestras paying for a cello seat on “major” trains such as Eurostar are normal (this quartet in Canada seem to have done exactly that): the excellent top brass at Eurostar a while back decreed that cellos (and whole orchestras) were very welcome Eurostar passengers, and cellos were simply required to buy a seat (at child prices). On planes orchestras always buy cello seats too. Don’t let’s get too far on this nightmare, but there are all sorts of rules for securing a cello on planes, from a sensible baby seat belt through to amazing lengths of heavy-duty blue string plus two or three technicians and an incomprehensible manual, which can delay a plane by ages whilst they try to interpret the latest instruction from an office somewhere (honestly, airlines, a baby seat belt is much the best). In one new instruction the cello wasn’t allowed to touch the floor, and no amount of blue string seemed to be working; so after 15 minutes of increasing frustration, we suggested to the captain (who by now was involved) that a pillow placed between floor and cello would solve that issue. He laughed, did it himself and sent the technicians packing. And don’t let’s get started on double basses on trains and planes – there are multitudinous rules and weights and sizes and regulations: it’s often a miracle that double basses ever get to play a concert…

  • VIA Rail has become worse than any airline. Last July my wife and I had a performance at the Ottawa Chamberfest – she was playing my music. She plays the kantele, a Baltic zither-like instrument about the size of a coffee table, which is transported in a hard case, the whole thing weighing the same as a standard large suitcase packed full. We have flown trans-Atlantic several times with it, and never had any problems finding space for it in airplane cabins. On some planes, it even fits in the overhead carrier. Airline staff are always helpful on the airlines we fly, mainly Finnair and IcelandAir.

    But when we tried to take a train from Ottawa to Toronto, we were denied passage outright for carrying the instrument, as it’s a “non-standard” size item, despite the fact the the total linear dimensions of the case are the same as any large suitcase. It’s just slightly slimmer and very slightly taller. It fits in any luggage rack on any train in Europe, where traveling with instruments doesn’t even raise en eyebrow. But we were given every excuse in the book, safety, didn’t fit in the rack, though it would have, etc. They wouldn’t transport it at all, since the train had no luggage compartment, offering to have it shipped in the other direction via Montreal to Toronto, on at least three freight trains, with no guarantee of delivery and no liability.

    This ridiculous regulation was introduced sometime last year, we were told. Essentially no instrument larger than a viola can be brought on a VIA train, though you’d have to look deep in the terms of service to find that out. We only extracted a refund from them after much arguing. Combine this with the fact that even short distances on VIA are prohibitively expensive, and taking the train in Canada has become pointless for musicians. Fly or, as we ended up, rent a car for shorter distances. VIA is a waste of time and money.

  • What is wrong with the baggage compartment on the train? I’ve travelled (in Canada, probably the exact same route as the Bozzini did) with my very large dog, in his cage, by train. He was in the baggage compartment and was perfectly safe there.

    It’s not like an airplane.

    • The problem with the baggage compartment – when the train even has one, it’s not a given on VIA passenger trains, as we found out – is the company’s limited liability of 250 $CDN. No musician in their right mind would part with their instrument under those circumstances, even if it’s insured.

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