Honestly, the public transport here in Rome isn’t that great. Tired looking trains come rattling along the tracks, festooned with graffiti. I actually don’t mind this form of public art but train after train being vandalised is a bit much. Unless, of course, the Roman authorities use graffiti on trains as some sort of branding exercise.

But the really scary part is how the trains are packed. And I mean PACKED. During August, Rome is left to the tourists brave enough (or stupid enough) to do the sightseeing stuff in the dripping heat. This means that the trains were relatively uncrowded in my first month of work. I get on at Circo Massimo station and get off at Laurentina – eight stops. I’ve always been able to get a seat, especially on the return journey as the train starts at Laurentina.

And speaking of the return journey. You are standing at the station and you gaze down the tunnel, watching for the train to saunter in from the yards. Where I might add it’s been standing in the blistering heat for who knows how long. Most of the trains I seem to catch are not air-conditioned. So you enter this baking tin can and hope you can withstand the furnace for eight stops.

Colleagues at work said to me oh, you haven’t experienced the train system during September. When everyone is back, then it will be really bad. Just HOW bad I discovered last Monday, September 5. Most Italians had returned from their summer holidays and were obviously so eager to get to work that the train was totally packed when I got on.

I couldn’t believe it as the train came to a stop at Circo Massimo. Inside, people were hanging off the hand rails and packed tightly against each other. The doors flung open and I wondered how on earth to get on – other than shoulder my way onto the train. Fortunately, one person struggled out and I struggled on. Talk about close encounters of the unwelcome kind. I’m not keen on people invading my space at the best of times but I had no choice in the matter. The trains rattle along pretty fast and sometimes brake at the station fairly abruptly. We were all flung forward as it stopped at Laurentina. The train doors fling open and the rush out and up the stairs begins. You are swept along by a tide of people rushing this way and that.

The return journey though was FAR, FAR worse. It was around 5.00pm. The train slowly entered Laurentina station – and I do mean sloooooooooooowly. The platform was three people deep. Everyone was inching forward, ready to cram onto the train the moment the doors opened. Standing next to me was an elderly nun. I thought it would be unseemly of me to shoulder said nun out of the way just so I could get a seat. But I positioned myself to be at the door when it opened. The nun and I rushed on and sat on adjacent seats on the left hand side of the train. This is an important thing to do because the uscita or exit is on the left-hand side. And you need to be as near to the exit doors as possible because when the train is packed with hordes of people – the nearer the exit doors, the better your chances of getting out alive.

By the time the train rattled out of Laurentina, it was nearly full. The nun said something to me in Italian and smiled. She was obviously a very experienced Rome Metro traveller because she launched herself into the seat nearest the exit doors. I muttered sì, sì whilst praying to the train gods that I would be able to get out. I could see what was going to happen. As the doors flung open at each station, people would pack themselves in so tightly that we’d be unable to see out of the windows to know what station we were approaching. Some of the trains make announcements – prossima fermata or the next stop – but many trains make no announcements. So I have remembered the sequence of stops and mentally tick them off: Laurentina: EUR Fermi; EUR Palasport; EUR Magliana; Marconi; Basilica San Paolo; Garbetella; Piramide; Circo Massimo.

I noticed that many people get up and shoulder their way through the hordes one stop before they alight. So I started my journey towards the door as we left Piramide station. Conscious of the nun sitting to my right, I uttered mi scusi and flung an arm across her to grab hold of the rails near the door. I had to scramble across the poor nun, then stand winched between two women as the train approached Circo Massimo.

The doors flung open and I started politely saying mi scusi but no-one was really budging. So I abandoned all politeness and adopted the tactics of a beefy New Zealand All Black. As I was trying to struggle off, with my elbows digging into people, about four passengers were trying to get on. Hello? Ever heard of waiting for other passengers to alight first? I literally propelled myself out of the door – just in time too because the doors slammed behind me and il treno (the train), with its graffiti-covered carriages rattled off into the darkness of the tunnel.

I have now adopted various strategies. Beat the hordes and get on the train at 6.30am. Nope, didn’t work; train was packed. Beat the hordes and leave work a bit earlier and get on train at 5.00pm. Nope, train was packed. Work late and get on train at 7.45pm. Nah, didn’t work either. Every morning and evening, I now have to psych myself up to tackle the chaos that is Rome’s train system.

I managed to get a snap as the train was leaving Circo Massimo station - notice the people packed inside the vestibule area.

Like the jaws of some gigantic spider, the train awaits innocent passengers who dare to tackle and be swallowed up by Rome's train system.

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