I just can’t put my finger on what it is about trains but I’m in love. Even Michael Portillo with his Great British Railway Journeys has done nothing to dampen the flames of my ardour. Locomotive, rolling stock, engine, coach, carriage…… all words synonymous with railways. All words that evoke feelings of the excitement of a journey to be taken, an adventure to be had or just the different view of countryside not seen from the road. I should probably add a side note that I am fortunate that I don’t take a rail commute for my work. I’m not sure if I did whether it would totally annihilate my passion for trains.
Since childhood railways were always a fascination. We used to holiday in a small Devon village called Dawlish Warren with a really accessible little station that we used to spend hours playing around (no health and safety all those years ago) and in. The track used to run right alongside the sea with just a path between that and the beach. It’s where I learned to listen for the rails ‘singing’, the noise they would make long before the train became visible. There was a building anticipation as the singing got louder and louder as the train neared and as a small child the size and noise of the engine thundering passed was quite phenomenal.
The engines at that time were the new high-speed trains (or as I discovered later, the technical name….. British Rail Class 43) and looked so different to the chunky ones which had gone before which were completely non-aerodynamic in appearance. What it made up for in speed it lacked in the gritty raw sexiness of the slower dirtier old diesel trains (or to give them their proper name….. the British Rail Class 50 … amazing what you can learn from other train geeks). Standing beside the track when that flew past really was something else. It was around this time that my brother took more than a passing interest in trains, and would get my mother to take him around the country to collect numbers in his little book. Obviously I put as much distance as possible between his fledgling train-spotting and my hard gothic image, the potential impacts were far-reaching and catastrophic. For this period, I remained in the closet.
Along the way there have been significant train journeys in my life. There has been courtship by train, courtship on trains (messy) and sad train journeys with a broken heart. Later as I moved away from dating by train it became a more significant mode of travel, going to London or Manchester for the occasional business meeting or new contact with significant people. It’s around this time I developed my ticket-angst. It’s really not helped by the sheer volume of tickets required for one journey and generally having my head in the clouds and being a bit ditsy. I regularly try to feed my seat reservation ticket into the machine to get out of the station and look bewildered and a little lost when it doesn’t work. Back in the late 80’s it became a standing joke between me and a friend who was at university in Oxford how bad my ticket-angst had got and also how ridiculously early I needed to be AT the station, ON the platform of departure, WITH my tickets in my hand…… WAITING.
I’m fussy about my seat. Always by the window. Always with a table. Always with a plug for my charging compulsion. Always facing the direction of travel. (I’m even worse on a plane). I prefer the quiet carriage but I yearn for the old Pullman carriages and it is an as-yet unfulfilled fantasy to go on a sleeper, as it is to go on a double-decker train (both on my Life List #11 and #12 respectively). Actually, let me rewind that, I prefer First Class, of course I do, I’m very high-maintenance or so I’m told! My ideal train journey to London consists of wine and sandwiches from the person that comes around in First Class.
I have been fascinated by the enormous Union Pacific trains during a road trip from Arizona to California that go on for miles with too many cars to count on the back of the locomotive and disappointed in equal measure by the lack of passenger trains in Tucson because after all the car is king there. I have nervously ridden the subway in LA and Hollywood filled with anxiety about being mugged (watched too much American TV) but also loving the difference of it to our Underground.
Still on my to-do-train list are:
- The Orient Express
- The Rocky Mountaineer
- The Welsh Highland Railway
- New York Subway
- Fort William to Mallaig
- California Zephyr
- Caledonian Sleeper
Most definitely NOT on my list is the Le Shuttle. No thank you.
Suzi – officially OUT of the closet.