For some people the process of getting from one place to the other is a pain, a chore, an experience to dread with fear and trepidation. For others, like me, the act of travel itself, be it flying or riding in a car is just part of the experience and it’s something from which I get a lot of joy. But there’s one form of transportation that seems to transcend the usual angst and to which most travelers fell drawn – the train. Be it a modern high speed train in Europe or an old fashioned steam train in rural Maryland, the train has captured the imaginations of people around the world and I wonder why.
An era long gone – The rise of the train in the 19th century lead to expansion on an unprecedented level, not only in the United States but around the world. Instead of months to travel a continent, it only took weeks and the experience was far more enjoyable. When the famous Pullman car was introduced, the highest of society could travel in the style to which they were accustomed and it is this gilded age of travel that I think fascinates most of us. We’re so used to being ushered about like sheep in a stall that we want to enjoy those creature comforts that have all but disappeared. True, you won’t get white glove dining on the TGV out of Paris, but you do get some privacy, peace and quiet and civility. There’s a lot to be said for that. The train in question doesn’t have to be entirely practical either. Refurbished steam locomotives take passengers on joy rides around the world to experience the sensation of old time travel and to see the world in a new way. I was on one such scenic train ride just a few weeks ago and the train was packed, every seat sold as hundreds of people jockeyed to get on board a remnant of the past. There’s just something about the experience that compels us.
Little effort, maximum enjoyment – Train travel isn’t hard, especially when compared to flying. To fly in the modern era travelers must arrive hours early in order to be processed, poked and prodded losing valuable time from one’s life. The actual flying experience itself isn’t all that remarkable and one also must deal with getting to and from the airport, which is usually out of the way. Compare that to train travel. You aren’t supposed to arrive early, that just clogs up the platform. It’s perfectly alright to arrive on time, a sensation that just feels wrong to modern travelers. Boarding happens fast and hopefully orderly and the actual experience itself is wonderful. In a plane you’re lucky if you get a few nice views, but on a train that’s all you have. I’ve spent hours doing nothing but looking across the landscape as the train has raced past farms and flower fields. Add to that the fact that train stations are necessarily well located, usually in the center of town and you have an experience that requires very little effort but which returns a maximum level of enjoyment.
It just works – Everything, the ease of use, the pleasant journeys and the recollections of days gone by all add up to creating a travel experience that just works. I know, I know here in the United States we’ve had some issues with our commuter train system and if you live outside of the Northeast corridor it’s not really all that convenient. But in counties where it is well executed, namely Europe, it’s possible to use the train to be more productive and to get around with a minimal level of effort. It’s amazing to me that in the 21st century, amidst all the security precautions and fear that we can still enjoy a travel experience that is efficient and a pleasure to undertake. I can only hope that it stays that way for future travelers to enjoy.
Are you a fan of trains? Why?