There’s something quite marvellous about trains. You can sit and think, work, or play while it slowly extracts you from your city and gently inserts you into another. There’s no mess and fuss to do with cars and so forth, and the scenery is almost always interesting, whether it be the backs of people’s houses, where you can see washing lines, pools, gardens, gym equipment, horses and llamas (no I am not joking), coastline_from_trainor those businesses and infrastructure that we don’t often keep on the high street – any number of strip clubs, storage for trains and school buses, lumber yards, power stations, public storage units, yards with endless amounts of rusted metal – or farmland growing crops (sometimes in interesting geometrical arrangements), ocean, boats, piers, oil refineries, and of course surf and beaches. (I’ve some video clips of some of this. Perhaps I’ll edit it all together into a video for you later.)

You can look up from your thoughts, work, or leisure from time to time and gaze out over any of this for a while, drinking in the scenery at will. I find that people on the train are very friendly -almost ridiculously so- almost as though either the train attracts a certain type of person who is conducive to this type of mood, or there is something about going on a journey (at least on these huge ocean-liner-like trains) that brings out good feelings in people. A certain romance that we all subscribe to.

coast_starlight_train_1 coast_starlight_train_2

People not on the train seem to share a little of this too. As the train goes by, it is quite common to see someone stop what they’re doing and just watch the train go by, with a far off look in their eyes, as if thinking of themselves taking a journey, or having taken one that they are fondly remembering. (I’ve seen this on train journeys I’ve taken all over the world. It seems rather universal.) Some people wave at the train as though it has carriages full of friends and family just happening to be passing by. It’s all pleasantly sweet.

While sitting, you can plan what to do once you get to wherever you’re going. The anticipation is actually a large part of the fun for me. What will I do first? Will there be time to do all I want before jumping back on to the train? Where will I stop and eat the lunch I packed? working_on_pacific_surflinerMight I stop and say hi to some old friends I might know in town, or shall I remain anonymous today? A bonus feature for me is that I take the Brompton with me. It sits above me neatly folded in the overhead compartment, and wherever I end up, I’ve got a ride. You don’t need a Brompton or other folding bike to do this. I’ve noticed several convenient bike hangers (looking a bit like coat racks!) for cyclists to use.

When you reach your destination, you simply step off and get lost in the city or town. It’s quite magical.


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16 Responses to Locomotion

  1. Yvette says:

    Speaking as someone who has happily done several train journeys on her round the world trip, I heartily agree with you. My favorite part is the central location of the train stations- no need to fiddle with working out how to get from the outskirts of the city to its central part, you’re already there!

  2. J says:

    Obviousely you have never taken trains in China or India. It’s dirty, crowded and painful. It’s nothing but torture.

  3. Clifford says:

    Excellent line of reasoning there… You’ve had train journeys you did not like and therefore train journeys are bad. I stand corrected.


  4. stefan says:

    Was that a train trip from Los Angeles northbound, along the coast towards Ventura/Santa Barbara? I did that trip once, and I really liked it!

    Cheers, Stefan

  5. Supernova says:

    I also like the LA-San Diego leg — either way it is very relaxing to watch the ocean go by outside the window…

  6. Lisa Moeller says:

    Will you celebrate National Train Day on the train on May 9?

  7. Clifford says:

    Hi Lisa…. Perhaps. I think I will be doing some train riding on Saturday, although maybe not in as grand a fashion as I have been this week…


  8. Clifford says:

    stefan, Supernova:

    -yes… North is excellent, and I’ve plans for South (not done that yet actually). Yes, quite an excellent line it is (even without the local wine tasting sessions…).


  9. Nikolay says:

    The Surfliner is just great. Sometimes it’s not on time, sometimes around holidays it’s too crowded but the great ocean view makes up for all that. It’s somewhat depressing that not more people are riding it…

  10. Clifford says:

    “It’s somewhat depressing that not more people are riding it…”

    More wine for the rest of us (although that is actually the Coast Starlight… the real long haul ocean liner train that goes all the way up to Seattle…)!


  11. robert says:

    Train travel can be great fun, convenient and cheap; what could be better than an off-peak Eurostar jaunt from London to Paris, or riding the length of Italy in total luxury, for the price of a carton of ice cream (consumed en route)? J does have a point though; standing room only from London to Oxford after a hard day is no fun at all. On balance, though, I like trains, even in the UK.

  12. Oliver says:

    My view of trains has forever been tainted by the soul-destroying, yet ubiquitous, bus-replacement service of doom. That and the price of travelling by train in the UK.

  13. Well, I’ve been on some lovely sea-side train routes, including the ride from Oslo to Copenhagen via Sweden and the ferry from Hälsingborg to Helsingør, but I still think that the most spectacular by-the-sea ride I’ve been on is the one you get when you go from New York to Boston, roughly the thirty-mile stretch in Connecticut between Old Saybrook and Old Mystic. Salt marshes, yacht-moorings, and beaches strewn with bladder-wrack.

  14. I’ve loved traveling by train in India, and found my fellow travelers were friendly, despite the language barrier. It was invariably crowded, but I certainly did not find it remotely painful or tortuous, as J describes above. I enjoyed my 40-hour-trek from Calcutta to Bangalore, as well as my many shorter journeys. I’ve only once taken a train in China, but did not find that painful either.

    In the UK, I particularly like train journeys in the north of England and in Scotland, where the countryside is more rugged than in much of England, and the trains tend to be less full. I find it increasingly uncomfortable traveling through the south of England due to the increasing disappearance of luggage racks and guards vans, and the adamant refusal of any train company to carry my mobility scooter.


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