“My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing,
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.”
~ Edna St. Vincent Millay, The Selected Poetry
I was younger than I can remember when I first fell in love with train travel. At least I think so.
It’s always been there at the centre of my life: whether getting on a train, getting off, waving hello or goodbye or simply (at the age of 3) running up and down the length of trains, screaming, my delighted parents following in pursuit.
Now, as a 32-year-old, the passion is still strong. More than most things, train travel brings me a sense of ease, even bliss that all is right in the world. Train travel serves me as a reminder of some of the most important lessons in life:
1. The stations.
There’s something about walking into a mainline train station which arrests the senses: the busyness, people rushing here and there, the noise, the smells and the almost tangible feeling of excitement, accompanied by the ticking over of the old mechanical departure boards, train doors slamming, whistles blowing, station announcements, as all the possible places you can go to are called out. In most countries in the world it seems no accident that train stations are such grand buildings which people have gone to great efforts to conserve, giving rise to feelings of wonder and excitement. It all begs the question: Where shall I go today?
2. The stories.
People say you see more sincere kisses at an airport than you do at weddings, the same if not more must be true of train stations. very interaction is a story: a hello, a goodbye, a missed train and change of fate, a train just caught. Each option changes what happens next in each person’s story. My life has been changed by more than one missed or caught train, and who I met on that train. And after all, like Marianne Williamson says, “If a train doesn’t stop at your station, then it’s not your train.”
3. The people.
Train travel seems to have held on, particularly in the developing world, to a level of social interaction that is not easily found, for instance, on planes. People actually talk to one another, share food and experiences, and in some parts of the world the tradition of the “bar car” is still going strong. The train windows act as picture frames of the world outside, as the passenger gets the privileged view into the lives of others as they pass through the outskirts of a city, suburbs, a view of washing lines, rivers and children playing, out into countryside and fields.
4. The romance.
This is a huge part for me. I got my love of train travel from my dad—growing up watching the Railway Children, model trainsets, taking occasional rides on steam trains, and travelling everywhere by train. Every time I walk into a big station I can’t help but imagine how it must have been in bygone days, with steam filling the station, families, friends and lovers running after trains to wave goodbye to the dear ones embarking on their journeys. Arriving at a faraway station to be met off the train by relatives was / is such a warm feeling.
5. The journey.
Cliché or not, this is all about the journey and not the destination. The dynamics of a train journey is constantly changing, with people getting on, getting off, the scenery outside turning from urban sprawl to fields, to sea, to mountains. Nothing stays the same. Like in life, nothing is permanent, it’s constantly evolving. A bright view of uninterrupted ocean turns into a dark tunnel through mountains or cliffs the next. And finally, like with all things: the end of the line.
There’s something wonderful about the historical side of train travel—the old days where it was a big adventure, but for me so much of that remains. In our society where so much pre planning is usually required, it is still so easy to turn up and just get on a train, even for hundreds of miles. It seems easy and accessible.
I know that I will always take the train.