Why are trains so much romantic than planes, cars, and buses?
Trains pay homage to our early rail systems – a story of living legacy. The first common carrier railroad, the Baltimore & Ohio railroad (or, heh, just the B&O) is still operated today. The old names I encounter while reading about railroad history are delightful. Gone are the times when you’d wax lyrical about taking the gravity roads or riding the tramways.
Here’s a quaint old-timey excerpt from 1869 describing travel on the ‘gravity road‘ from Pittston to Hawley:
Let the tourist willing to blend venture with pleasure, step upon the front of the car as it ascends Plane No. 2, at Pittston, and brings to view the landscape of Wyoming Valley, with all its variety of plain, river, and mountain, made classic by song and historic by her fields of blood. The Susquehanna, issuing from the highland lakes of Otsego, flows along, equaled only in beauty by the Rhine, through a region famed for its Indian history—the massacre upon its fertile plain, and the sanguinary conflict between the Yankees and Pennymites a century ago. The cars, freighted with coal, move their spider-feet toward Hawley. Slow at first, they wind around curve and hill, gathering speed and strength as they oscillate over ravine, woodland, and water. Emerging from deep cuts or dense woods, the long train approaches Spring Brook. Crossing this trout stream upon a trestling thrown across the ravine of a quarter of a mile, the cars slacken their speed as they enter the narrow rock-cut at the foot of the next plane. While looking upon the chiseled precipice to find some egress to this apparent cavern, the buzz of the pulley comes from the plane, and through the granite passage, deep and jaw-like, you are drawn to a height where the glance of the surrounding woods is interrupted by the sudden manner in which you are drawn into the very top of engine-house No. 4.
The journey is much richer than the destination… and train travel can well reflect this idea.
I’ve taken Amtrak to Montreal with a friend, and though the trip was about 13 hours from DC, it was much more enjoyable than the same stretch of time on a bus. Especially those buses where you’re stuck with a driver who changes the air controls erratically, so you’re forever going from sweltering to freezing and back again. Come to think of it, I think this is true of most long-haul buses.
On a train, you have more of an opportunity than on an airplane (and certainly more than on a bus) to get up and stretch your legs without disturbing other riders. Sometimes you even pass through the mountains! Or through a mountain itself. Your windows are better. Plus it’s slower travel than flying, meaning you make more time to take in your surroundings — though it isn’t quite slooow travel.
For me, rail travel is more practical than driving since I don’t have a car and the U.S. railroad networks have stops in the main cities. But… I actually prefer walking, cycling, or taking the bus within the city since you can’t see much from a subway car.
And I know this is just fueling my wanderlust, but there are many interesting rail systems to ride abroad, too. How about taking the Trans-Siberian Railway — longest in the world! — from Moscow to Beijing? Or exploring India’s geography and culture through its railways (some declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO)?