My baby takes the morning train …

Horrific train crashes have dominated the news in the past few weeks. Train crashes that resulted in considerable loss-of-life.

This is forcing me to alter my mind-set on the matter of rail travel. That’s too bad for, like Sheldon on Big Bang, I like trains. Indeed, as modes of transport go, I will confess to loving train travel.

I also have for years suffered under what seems now to be a rather obvious delusion that formerly led me to believe that rail travel was the safest and most agreeable way to get from one point to another on the planet.

I have taken trains all over the place. I’ve always delighted in the experience. I’ve taken the little E&N Dayliner down and up Vancouver Island more times than I could mention. I’ve traveled across Canada by rail. I took Amtrak from San Diego to LA and it was a gorgeous trip in terms of scenery, though not in terms of feds scouring coaches looking for ‘illegals’. That was plain creepy.

I’ve been on crowded London commuter trains many times; I’ve done the ‘Chunnel’; I’ve been on sexy French trains that travel nearly 200 mph; I’ve train traveled the length and breadth of Europe by rail; and even took the huffing little ‘Sugar Train’ on Maui about a year ago. Magnificent scenery, horrible clunky ride, but fun nevertheless.

And in all those adventures it never once entered my mind that there was any sort of risk involved while in transit. Foolish I guess in light of recent events which, while they may have resulted from ‘human error’, human error, like shit, happens and people die, like those unfortunate souls in Spain or Paris of late.

On the other hand and regardless of risk, train travel is so much more agreeable in terms of moving large numbers of folks around. Air travel, unless you have a seven figure source of income, is ghastly nowadays and to be avoided if it possibly can be. My butt takes two days to recover from the horrible seats after a long flight; you have to wait in queues for the can (a wait which multiplies the sense of urgency a hundredfold); you can’t much wander around; some fucking moron in the seat in front will lower the back of his seat into your lap; another moron will try to stow a full-size kayak in the overhead bin; and there will be turbulence that manifest when you have a full cup of coffee or are trying to take a pee. I won’t even mention the nightmare of security at ‘all’ terminals.

But the train, On a train you can wander around. You can go back for a drink or a snack. You can gaze out the window at actually scenery rather than clouds. You can go into towns and see the backsides of houses, much more enchanting than the streetviews in which people are trying to show off a bit. In the back yards you can see the derelict cars, broken down sheds, and knickers hanging on clotheslines.

And on trains you can meet some very interesting people.

– Once shared a compartment on a European train with a married couple whom had both escaped from Dachau during the war. First hand account of hideous history. The poor woman broke down in tears when the German customs guy slammed open the compartment door and yelled out “Achtung!” to announce we should have our passports ready.
– Befriended an American PhD student who was put under ‘compartment arrest’ because the conductor on a trip from Rome to Zurich thought he was going to commit suicide because he sat at the end of the last coach with his feet dangling over the end of the train. I guess you don’t have to be all that bright to get a doctorate.
– Shared a compartment with two early middle age females, one of whom was friendly and the other decidedly unfriendly. They were obviously in a relationship and they were squabbling like any old married couples. On the overnight trip from Vienna to Florence the snarky one, once she’d fallen asleep, entertained the rest of us in the compartment with highly audible farts.
– Got into conversation with a Yugoslav (this was a few years ago) medical student who asked me if I thought the Russians would invade Czechoslovakia (this was just prior to when they did invade Czechoslovakia in the summer of 1968. I suggested, in my naiveté that I didn’t think they’d risk the global censure. He dismissed my comment with: “You don’t know the Russians like I do, my friend.”

And much more. I could write a book on rail travel. Perhaps I should.


8 responses to “My baby takes the morning train …

  1. I love train travel too, but I totally prefer the European trains. I’ve traveled by train in Eastern Canada and the US, and it’s just not the same. It’s too – I don’t know, maybe “formal” is the word? In Europe, everybody and their dog takes the train, and as you say, you meet the most interesting people. In North America, we are so used to driving our cars everywhere that we just seem to be rather uncomfortable and out of our element on a train.

    • I once came out of my compartment on an Italian train in the early morning, desperate for a pee, and in the corridor were masses of people and their goats and chickens and so forth, It was great. Yes, I like your point. We are much more formal.

  2. I grew up with train travel as a regular part of life. In fact, my grandfather ended his federal career as a dispatcher and I loved being allowed by the engineers to blow the train whistle as a kid…I wish train travel in the US was better.

  3. As long as the trains don’t explode in my town I’m good with them. Of course that was not so much the train as the company cutting corners

    • Yes, that was pretty horrible and it was one of the recent events that was stuck in my mind. That company is going to be sued into the next millennium, and should be.

  4. I love travelling by train….but it’s too often too expensive: a 20 euro difference i’d swallow but when it’s around 100 euro difference I take the ‘plane.

    • It’s often much too expensive. I was quite horrified by the fares last time I was in the UK. The French trains we found relatively inexpensive by comparison — and much nicer.

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