This early blog post is inspired by an impromptu trip home via a night train. I hardly take trains, and even more rarely alone. But in the last year I have found myself alone on a train (in a reflective mood) listening to music on two occasions. Once was in the summer, when I took a pre-dawn commuter train into Toronto for the day. The other is as I write this, it’s 9pm and I’m somewhere in rural Ontario. Perhaps it’s because I don’t travel by train very often, but I feel a strange connection to this method of travel more than any other. And by connection I mean as much as you can get attached to a mode of transportation.
Trains represent adventure. More than a few of the best books I read as a child involved characters stowing away on trains or just following the tracks. Trains are a common part of fiction books and movies- the Polar and Hogwarts Expresses, or even the recent film “The Girl on the Train”. But trains have also been an important part of my own adventures. When I travelled to Europe with just my sister two years ago we mostly travelled by train. From falling asleep clutching my backpack to running along the platforms, trains have come to represent independence and excitement.
However, not every part of train travel is equally desirable. Train platforms, particularly underground subway platforms, have always made me anxious (someone could fall in front of a train so easily!!). But if you can get past the platform, train travel is pretty enjoyable. The one I’m currently on has free Wi-Fi and lots of leg room. Trains also have great views.
When you travel by plane it’s hard to connect the place you took off from to the place you land at. You enter this big metal tube on a landscape of cement, stay in it for a few hours, and get out in a completely new place, sometimes across the world from where you started. Busses are better at the ‘connecting’ but you only really see highways, trees, and pit stops.
Trains, however, are the most connected you can get to a landscape while passing through it. Train tracks are laid right through the middle of cities. Or better yet, cities are build around train tracks. You pass neighbourhoods and churches, farms and factories, stores and restaurants, parks and cemeteries. Trains move slowly through small towns, tiptoeing past homes and workplaces, people and cars. You get quick glimpses of communities and lives, lights on in upstairs windows and faces in school busses. Having taken trains all over Europe, in Japan, and of course in Canada, I can conclude that the best way to see a country is to travel it by train.
I also think there’s a certain nostalgia about train travel. Unlike modern and high tech airports and dingy bus depots, train stations are often in buildings with as much history as the city around them. With aged signs presenting the name of the little town you’ve found yourself in, faded posters on the bulletin boards, and large wooden counters, the deserted train station offers a sort of stale comfort that no other location does.
If you think I’m speaking nonsense- how can someone get so attached to a train?- I challenge you to take a train to another city, listen to some mellow music, stare out the window, contemplate life. And if that doesn’t convince you then just remember- it’s been a long week for me, maybe I’m going a little crazy.