Finding Love, Adventure, and Friendship on Trains: Happy New Year!
CNN’s travel section ran a piece recently about a couple who met on a Metro-North train out of Grand Central Station on Christmas morning, 2011. She was on her way to visit family in Connecticut; he was on his way to volunteer at a Christmas food drive. They boarded the train alone. A decade later, they are still together.
The story reminded us that one of the great, under-appreciated benefits of train travel is the social aspect. Trains boost economies and cut greenhouse gas emissions, sure. But they’re also just plain fun. They create friendships and romance. Amtrak’s blog has a whole section devoted to train-based love stories, which you can find here. And trains are often the starting point for life-changing adventures, or just pleasant weekend getaways with the family.
So, as we roll into a new year, we wanted to note some writing that highlights the adventures and relationships made possible by trains. And we wanted to suggest a few ideas for creating your own stories in the coming year. As this train rider, who met his future wife on a trip from Portland to Seattle, counsels: “Be open, be brave.”
Safe travels in 2022! And please stay in touch.
“Meeting People on Trains: 4 Memorable Characters.” A blogger for Eurail writes that “it’s the fleeting conversations you have while traveling Europe by train that create lasting memories. . . . For many years after you return home, you’ll find yourself pausing for just a few seconds to wonder how that person you met on the trains all those years ago is doing.” The writer recounts four encounters that were seemingly small and unremarkable—but “had a profound impact on my trip in very different ways.”
“A Life on the Rails.” Atlas Obscura chronicles the relentless pursuit of all things train-related by writer, photographer, and graphic designer Emily Moser. Since 2009, Moser has blogged about riding trains in New York (and around the world) at I Ride the Harlem Line. Moser’s far-flung journeys include train trips in Alaska, Japan, Ukraine, and Russia, where she chronicled (with text and photographs) the remnants of an abandoned rail line in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster. In 2011, Moser got the attention of the New York Times for her project to visit and photograph every Metro-North station (125 in all). A year later, Wired featured her 3-D model of the Harlem line’s Brewster Station. Wired noted that Moser’s blog “has expanded to become a document of the history of New York's railways. The site features old postcards, maps, and other bits of railway ephemera, along with Moser's panoramic photos of every station in the Metro-North system.” In 2015, Moser married an employee of Metro-North in a ceremony that took place at Grand Central Station.
“The Enduring Romance of the Night Train.” New Yorker writer Anthony Lane recounts a night-train trip he took from London to Glasgow in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Lane, a lifelong night-train rider and enthusiast, briefly sketches the story behind the rise of sleeper cars in the U.S. and suggests reasons for their survival, including this one: “At stake, you might say, is a sense of latent adventure. Although it is unlikely, as you clatter through the night, that anything of note will befall you, the prospect that it could feels ever present, just out of sight beyond the next curve of the track. To remain awake to that possibility, even as we’re meant to be sleeping, is the privilege that beckons some of us back, year after year, to this awkward and beguiling locomotion.”
"Guy Walks into a Bar Car.” Humorist David Sedaris describes a trip he took from Chicago to New York in 1991 on the Lake Shore Limited line, capturing the sense of possibilities that Lane finds enchanting—and also a sense of loss. The first comes in the form of a man he meets on the ride to New York, Johnny Ryan. The second involves his memories of a stranger that he met on a train several years earlier, Bashir, who had invited him to start a new life with him in a new town. Sedaris declined. “All the way to Penn Station, hung over from my night with Johnny Ryan, I wondered what might have happened had I taken Bashir up on his offer,” he writes. “When you’re young, it’s easy to believe that such an opportunity will come again, maybe even a better one."
Stories set on trains—and books about trains—are perfect companions for the journey. There are plenty of opinions about “the best” reads, but The Guardian’s list of the top 10 books about trains is a good place to start. It includes The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux (1975), which tells the story of a four-month train trip through Asia. As the Guardian notes: “Theroux is also a novelist, so the dialogue between him and the shifting cast of oddballs sitting opposite him is a particular pleasure.” Also see the Guardian’s list of the top 10 train stories for children. “I love the notion of the train as a little self-contained world, with all the people and stories and intriguing spaces it might hold,” writes the recommender, Kenneth Oppel—whose novel The Boundless is about a train seven miles long that runs through Canada in the late-nineteenth century. And see The Uncorked Librarian’s list of 23 “thrilling and chilling” books set on trains, listed by genre—including historical fiction, mysteries, romance, and community recommendations.
As for trip suggestions, see Atlas Obscura’s list of 11 “unforgettable” train trips around the globe and The Travel Channel’s list of “epic train trips that redefine romance.” For trips in the U.S. specifically, see the lists by USA Today and Travel and Leisure. One thing everyone seems to agree on is that Amtrak’s Coast Starlight route—a 36-hour journey from Seattle to Los Angeles—ranks as not only one of the best train rides in the U.S. but in the world. The views include “waterfalls, lush forests, snowy Cascade Mountains and the Puget Sound,” as USA Today notes. “To see long stretches of Pacific shoreline—views you won’t get from the highway—book a seat on the west side of the train."