The last couple of days in my previous articles, I’ve been explaining why train travel can sometimes be the most awful curse that can be inflicted on anyone for a couple of hours. Today though, to wrap up this collection of posts, I explain what makes train travel more respectable than a lot of other ways of getting around and why I continue to take the train.
Just take this off, then that, take that out of your bag…
I don’t think there are many people (in the whole world) who’d disagree with me when I say that catching a flight these days has become a pretty hairy experience. When you consider the time taken to get to an airport, which is usually farther away than a train station, then the time to check-in and pass security, then the flight itself, then the delay collecting luggage at the other end, it can easily add up to, if not exceed, the time taken if you were to have taken the train. Obviously in many cases, like being in Ireland for example, there isn’t really the option to take a train unless you’re travelling domestically, but in many cases, the simplicity factor is something that keeps me going back. The ease of buying a ticket online, not having to check-in or give my luggage to someone and pray that it gets re-united with me later on, and just get on and sit down in a decent seat (usually with significantly more legroom than most airlines) is something that can’t be beaten.
That’s not to say train companies aren’t taking the lead against airlines – often times, I get the impression that railway companies just keep on trucking, unaware of the obvious benefits they could be pushing to potential passengers. Likewise, more and more seem to be turning to the airline method of charging exorbitant prices for everything on the train. A couple of years ago, I took a train down to Cork and was disgusted to see that a can of beer, which you can buy for probably not much more than â‚¬1 in a shop came in at around â‚¬5.60 on Irish Rail. So, what I did was, not wanting to pay that, I actually bought the exact same cans (for a euro each) in a shop in Cork and then drank them instead on the way home – if they’d only been about â‚¬2.50 or so, I would almost surely have saved myself the trouble, but they weren’t so they completely lost out. Still, aside from the fact that railway companies seem to be trying to steal every last cent off their customers, some benefits like the ease of taking the train and getting on can’t be beaten.
Scenery – Need I say more?
Take a flight to anywhere and after about 15 minutes, you’ll spend the rest of the journey looking at clouds below you and blue sky above you, and nothing else. You can try and convince yourself it’s nice to look at it, but you can be 100% sure that it’s absolutely nothing compared to what you’d see if you were on the ground. Train travel, in my case, has sometimes been pretty hairy and scary and not always an experience I’d have wanted to repeat, but it’s also been very easily responsible for me seeing some truly fantastic sights around the world, ranging from the sun setting over rice fields in Vietnam, to cities between New York and Chicago that I’d never have seen if not for taking the train. A couple of days ago, I talked about the ‘Reunification Express’, a train I took from Hanoi in Vietnam, down south to Ho Chi Minh City. The journey itself took absolutely ages, but the scenery was unforgettable and ranged, as I say, from rice paddies as we trundled on into the evening sun, to waking up to the sights of previous fields and forests permanently destroyed by the chemicals poured down by the American military many years ago. OK, so it turned out afterwards that I could have flown the distance in 2 hours versus the 28 hours it took by train, but then I’d never have seen any of this and would never have been telling this story right now.
Likewise, while I was in New Zealand, I decided, even though there were perfectly good (and cheap) flights between the two cities, to take a train between Auckland and Wellington. The Overlander, the train that runs the service is revered for its scenery as it passes through mountains, over bridges that afford expansive views across the landscape and right along the coast as it nears Wellington. In fact, it was better than it could have been imagined – the views were spectacular and left me feeling much better about only having enough time to see the two cities and not much else in New Zealand.
So, in spite of it all, travelling by train can be awful, it can be slow and expensive, boring and tiresome – but, it can also beat any other way to get where you want to go. If you can, and you want to see something of the countryside, go by train – just make sure you pay as little as possible and that you don’t get stuck sitting beside someone undesirable. And, if you’re in India, that the toilets are working and you’ve a stash of loo roll just in case.