Double bassist Jean-Yves Bénichou recently sent me this item about the increased difficulties and hassles that European double bassists are encountering while traveling with their basses on trains. In Europe, trains tend to be used as the main method of transportation for musicians (much like planes in the United States), so these developments are of great concern to to professional musician.
October 7th 2005 AFP
Two young bassists were penalized with an infringement of 142 euros (193.00$) for excess luggage because they both travelled accompanied by their double basses. “I often travel with my double bass between Paris, Vierzon and Bourges and it is the first time that I encounter a problem. The conductor asked us to pay a 45 euro fine per double bass and 26 euros of expenses for filing a claim on each instrument “, explained 22 year old Jean-Marc to the press, who travelled last Monday with a young woman.
“We were two in a compartment of eight people. We did not obstruct. But the train conductor did not want to argue. He even added that I had received a bad education to travel with an instrument of this size on the train “, added the young man. Reaching almost 2 m in height, the double bass is largest the instruments of the family of strings.
“At our arrival at the station of Bourges, we went to the head office of the SNCF (the French train company) to tell them all about it. They told us to address ourselves to the customer service. That’s what we will do! “, concluded the young musician.
The SNCF told the press that they were officially undergoing investigation. This lamentable episode which is currently being repeated more and more on French trains demonstrates the “bassist-racist” directives of the SNCF, who excludes a certain category of musicians from their trains.
If on the whole, SNCF train conductors maintain a human outlook in this matter, there still is an increasing number of dedicated “good citizen” employees who take these exclusion directives literally. What will happen to those travelling with baby carts, wheelchairs, surfers, skiers or snowboarders? All of these people have “luggage” that exceeds the official standard size of carry on bags as well as the popular and friendly double bass, (that Hitchcock himself carried off the train in one of his films: North by Northwest, 1951).
The double bass is not so large at that (1m60 with the endpin retracted). It can be attached in an angle of the train corridor while being supervised by its owner who may decide to stand during the entire trip or sit on a folding seat.
No matter whether they’re amateur or professional, bass players share their passion and teach everywhere in France in order to diffuse music, since their cultural mission is of public nature. The SNCF, which has its own symphony orchestra, knows well that it cannot exist without double bass. The double bass player should not have to undergo persecution more than other musicians. Is it thus necessary to prohibit the transport of musical instruments in the trains? Does an orchestra exist made up entirely of piccolos? (We have all heard “you should have taken up the flute”!)
Enough is enough…. Let’s return to a reasonable world of human beings that respect themselves.
The ABCDF, Association of the Bassists and Contrebassistes of France is asking that the SNCF be more tolerant with our instruments in its trains and treat them like standardized luggage, as long as they don’t get in the way of travellers during rush hour etc…. We are asking the SNCF to cease its unjustifiable lawsuits and return to a more human business attitude which will thus “make us like train travel” as one of their advertisements states.