The interesting thing about trains is the view out of the window, unlike most other forms of mass transport.
Cars, buses and trams all have the same view as each other; ships have sea and ports, in planes you see the runways, a bit of sky and that’s it, but trains? Aah the esoteric view is all encompassing, if only briefly. Back gardens, industrial areas, city centres, the list is endless. Of course poets and artists through the ages have espoused the beauty of train travel from Benjamin to McKewan, from Christie to film noir. There is the romance of trains, the practicality, the usefulness. But most of all, there is the view. I read somewhere that going past a cricket match one never sees a ball actually bowled. I don’t how true is that apochropal story, but I have never witnessed one. You do however see lots of interesting things through a train window. Flashes of superb nature, families in back gardens, cars waiting at level crossings, and houses; council, estate, detached, stately, all manner of dwellings where people live. But where else could you see, albeit fleetingly, a microcosm of life as if witnessing it through TV screen. Sometimes you regret not being able to see more, but that is the appeal; you only see that glimpse at that time, surely a fast forward movie in glorious technicolour. The golfer addressing the ball, the boat on the canal, the traffic jam on the road underneath. So the journey is more interesting for that, because what happens inside the train is nowhere near as interesting unless you people watch. Its not like on a bus which usually involves shorter journeys, the train generally throws people together for sometimes hours on end. On one particular train trip we went from Melbourne to Sydney, the journey took 11 1/2 hours, but never felt like it. Paradoxically, the view on that trip was quite boring after a couple of hours, but the other occupants in the coach were interesting and engaging.
Train journeys are of course a bit more humdrum when they involve a commute to work. I did this for three years in the 80s when I travelled up to London and then via tube to my final destination. The drudgery of the daily commute doesn’t inspire anyone to converse with their fellow passengers, they all sit behind their newspapers (in my day), and presumably behind their tablet/phone/laptop today, although I have not had direct experience of commuting for many years. That is except when I was involved in travelling to the Excel for the Olympics, often quite early in the morning, and things hadn’t changed much in the intervening 22 years since I last travelled on a train at that time of the morning. The good part of travelling in my Olympic uniform though was that tourists and other Olympians would engage in conversation merely because I was so dressed. Would that happen if I was in ordinary clothes? The juries still out, but I would guess not. Other long journeys besides the Australian one have been ‘up North’ on the East coast line which also provided superb views. The British railway system has certainly improved in leaps and bounds in the years since I commuted, is this because or in spite of denationalisation? Again there might be some dispute about this, but my view is that the private companies have invested heavily in new stock, rails and stations and have probably improved our travelling experience more than if British Rail had stayed in government hands.
So the view from the train window exceeds all expectations as far as I’m concerned. A train journey is like having your own wide screen television with an ever changing scene, always fresh, always changing. Someone else is doing the driving, so you can snooze, read, eat, drink; whatever, and you will never take a wrong turn or have to do a U turn when you miss your exit. Sometimes the journey is all too short, but is always interesting despite this. Give me the train anytime.