Monday 20 May 2013

Diddly-dee, diddly-dum

As I write, there are a lot of disgruntled commuters in Wellington getting to work late after a derailment this morning - less dramatic than the recent one in Connecticut, but hugely disruptive nonetheless. Not a good day for KiwiRail; though the Firstborn returned yesterday after travelling back from the capital on their Northern Explorer on a perfect blue-sky day with fabulous views of the mountains, lucky thing, and was deeply impressed by the long-distance rail experience. I became a member of the Rail Fanclub even earlier than her - in 1975, when I travelled around half of Australia on an Austrail Pass (look at that groovy 70s font!) most notably on the old Ghan from Adelaide up to Alice Springs.
No-one could call that an efficient trip - I remember standing on the open-air platform at the end of a carriage watching ants stream along a parallel rail faster than we were moving; and in the relatively recent past the train had got stranded for so long that the guard shot a camel to feed the passengers - but it was full of character and polished-wood elegance. It was also the first time I ever ate Bircher muesli, and that was a life-changing revelation. The new Ghan is much smoother and more reliable, and in its Platinum incarnation much more luxurious, but it hasn't the personality of the old one (though it still has great stories: the idiot American backpacker who nearly froze in an outside stairwell on my actual trip just one of them). I also, in 1977, crossed the whole of Australia on the Indian Pacific, at the start of my epic 16-year OE.*
I love train travel - it's lovely to be able to move about, eat at your leisure, and watch the landscape pass by. It's wonderfully relaxing. Well, my latest train trips have been, moving effortlessly around Europe, taking the Northern Explorer myself recently - though I do remember a hot and crowded trip long ago from Jogjakarta down to the bottom of Java to catch the ferry to Bali that was all hard seats, blazing sun and packed people; and getting grit in my eyes on a steam train from Delhi to Agra. Those trips were memorable though more for the experience than the discomfort, and for the views and insight into how the locals live and get about. Vivid. At the other extreme, there was also the Maglev at Shanghai, slick, futuristic and amazingly fast - just the 434km/h.
Within the next month, there'll be four more: the Coastal Classic from  Anchorage to Seward, the Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver to Banff, Via from Jasper to Vancouver, and the Sea to Sky from Vancouver to Whistler. They'll all be civilised and comfortable, but the spectacular scenery they travel through guarantees that they'll be memorable. Can't wait. Toot toot!
*OE = overseas experience

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