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Old 05 January 2007, 03:50 PM
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Icon95 Thieves "gas train passengers"

I'm planning a trip to Rome this spring and I told a colleague that I was thinking of taking the train (London-Paris, Paris-Rome sleeper).

He immediately warned me that thieves aboard French and/or Italian trains had developed the technique of feeding sleeping gas into the sleeping compartments to allow them more easily to go about their activities. A friend of his wife's had told him about this, and he was certain it happened "all the time". When pressed further, he maintained that it was true, except that maybe it was just something that "happened a lot in the 90s", rather than being a burglars' fad for the new millennium.

I googled a couple of vague references to gassing rail passengers:

The US State Department says “Criminals may also spray sleeping gas in train compartments.”

and

Slow Travel Italy says “Night trains are the most dangerous when it comes to thievery. On these trains it has been reported that robbers spray a gas on the sleeping passengers to make them sleep even deeper so that they can steal their belongings.”

I can't find any news stories or any reports with dates or places on this rather sensational story. I've tried searching in English and French, but not Italian.

Before I book my ticket and place myself in the hands of poisoners, has anyone else ever heard this tale?
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Old 05 January 2007, 04:12 PM
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No... I got a sleeper train to Venice via Paris last October, and as far as I know, nobody gassed me. Nothing was stolen, anyway.

You can lock the compartments from inside, so if you do that, only people in the same compartment as you could steal things anyway.

The train I got had six berths to a compartment in standard class, and they were in three-tiered bunks on either side. The top bunks were fixed, but the seating folded up to make the lower two bunks so you couldn't sit once more than four people wanted to sleep. There isn't much privacy (no curtains) and it was quite cramped, and awkward getting in and out of bunks.

In "your condition" you might want to go for a more private first-class room with two berths. I can't remember if there were singles available.
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Old 05 January 2007, 05:32 PM
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I just heard this one, but the train was in Romania. Seems a little far fetched.
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Old 05 January 2007, 06:11 PM
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Are there any chemists or medical people hereabouts who might be able to suggest a plausible identity for this "sleeping gas" that can apparently render passengers deeply unconscious (seemingly without other ill-effects – carriages full of people vomiting, lapsing into comas or dying would presumably have excited some comment in the press) and yet allow the thieves themselves to wander freely among them and remain fully alert? I'm making the assumption that even the Sûreté wouldn't have much trouble detecting a voleur with a gas mask and pockets full of other people's valuables.

Last edited by VeebleFetzer; 05 January 2007 at 06:28 PM. Reason: thought of a better word
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Old 05 January 2007, 06:34 PM
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Icon95

Quote:
Originally Posted by VeebleFetzer View Post
Are there any chemists or medical people hereabouts who might be able to suggest a plausible identity for this "sleeping gas" that can apparently render passengers deeply unconscious (seemingly without other ill-effects – carriages full of people vomiting, lapsing into comas or dying would presumably have excited some comment in the press) and yet allow the thieves themselves to wander freely among them and remain fully alert? I'm making the assumption that even the Sûreté wouldn't have much trouble detecting a voleur with a gas mask and pockets full of other people's valuables.
That's about what I was thinking. There are reasons you don't see 'sleeping gas' outside of fiction. Most substances with the potential of rendering somebody unconcious need to be carefully controlled... too little and no real effect... too much, MAJOR effects. What would work well on a middle aged man would barely affect an athletic teen, and problably kill and elderly or very young victem.
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Old 05 January 2007, 06:52 PM
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Here's a real-life example of what happens when you try to use 'knockout gas' on a crowd.
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Old 05 January 2007, 07:09 PM
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I guess they could do it with ether spray which is often used to help start lawnmowers. They could spray a light spray into the face of an already sleeping person.
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Old 06 January 2007, 12:06 AM
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So, so-called "sleeping gas" can actually kill a person in real life, whereas in RPG's it just puts a person to sleep. How ought I take this into account in a D&D game?

- Pseudo "DMing is nothing to lose sleep over" Croat
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Old 06 January 2007, 12:19 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pseudo_Croat View Post
So, so-called "sleeping gas" can actually kill a person in real life, whereas in RPG's it just puts a person to sleep. How ought I take this into account in a D&D game?

- Pseudo "DMing is nothing to lose sleep over" Croat
Alongside the other abilities that usually get levelled up as you progress (health, magic, agility, yadda yadda) add a 'pulmonary function' ability. The gas removes x points from you pulmonary function bar. If you haven't levelled up the ability enough, your character will die.

Now from the OP I have got the opening scenes from 'The Prisoner' in my head.
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  #10  
Old 06 January 2007, 01:18 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pseudo_Croat View Post
So, so-called "sleeping gas" can actually kill a person in real life, whereas in RPG's it just puts a person to sleep. How ought I take this into account in a D&D game?

- Pseudo "DMing is nothing to lose sleep over" Croat
I would think that in a D&D world, the gas would have a strong magical/achemenical aspect that would make it behave more like a 'safe' product... assuming no backfires...
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  #11  
Old 06 January 2007, 03:47 PM
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One of the references I saw did refer to a "spray", but this would still require the malefactors to break into the compartnment before administering it, risking detection in the process.

I will be travelling with my parents so hopefully we can get a 4-berth couchette almost to ourselves.

RichardW, how did you sort out tickets etc. for your Venice trip? I am following instructions at the moment from The Man In Seat 61, and considering using the raileurope or SNCF sites. My main concern is that the London-Paris leg is so pricey - where are these £59 returns that people keep mentioning?!
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Old 06 January 2007, 06:31 PM
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I wouldn't worry about it, Embra. I remember reading this story in a number of travel guides before I embarked on my first trip to Europe in 2001.

And I have never once seen a story on the topic, either. You'd think that the gassing of a train would be big news.
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  #13  
Old 07 January 2007, 12:02 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Embra View Post
RichardW, how did you sort out tickets etc. for your Venice trip? I am following instructions at the moment from The Man In Seat 61, and considering using the raileurope or SNCF sites. My main concern is that the London-Paris leg is so pricey - where are these £59 returns that people keep mentioning?!
Cost wasn't really an issue for me... I'm sure a plane ticket would have been a fraction of the price. I think the whole thing came to about £230 (return), and that was with the rather uncomfortable sleeping arrangement. It does seem to be the Eurostar part that pushes it up...

I booked my ticket from Rail Europe, but I couldn't do it on-line at short notice (there's a cutoff), so I rang them instead. I had to book it in two stages - London Waterloo to Paris Gare du Nord, then Paris Bercy to Venice. I guess Rome would be similar.

It seems a decent enough company - I booked on short notice, wanting to travel as soon as possible, which turned out to be on the third day from my call. The person on the phone was really helpful but apparently misheard the address to send the tickets to, and so they were sent to one of my neighbours. It was registered post, but because the address was wrong, the neighbours hadn't signed for it and the Post Office seems to lose registered post if it's not delivered - I guess it was sent back. I rang to find what was going on, since I was meant to be travelling the next day. After faffing about with the Post Office, Rail Europe told me to call into their offices on Piccadilly and collect the reissued tickets the morning I was travelling, so I did so on my way through London and it all worked out OK.

So their customer service is pretty good. The cock-up was one thing - an understandable mistake, although the guy in the call centre should have read the address back to me - but they did sort it out with very little inconvenience, and I suppose the sorting out of problems is a better indicator of customer service than the never making mistakes.

You may well be able to get a better deal planning in advance...
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