Friday, October 4, 2013

The romance of rail

Occasionally I'm stuck in traffic on a railway bridge near my home. I don't like being stuck on bridges; that makes me twitchy. So I divert my attention from potential bridge collapses and imminent death by looking at the train lines below.

They snake off into the distance and around the bend, and I want to sniff the air and jump on a train. To anywhere. Just for the hell of it. Just to see where those silvery lines lead. To go to a place I wouldn't have any reason to go to; a place I haven't been before. The smell of the electricity, the mild rocking motion, and a sense of adventure, of zipping past all those cars trundling slowly down the roads, lifts my mood.

There's something about trains that appeals, despite my hatred of packed peak-hour public transport. Maybe it's the relaxation element (outside peak hour) where you can sit down with a book and let someone else drive. I can't read in cars but I can read in trains.

If I'm not reading, there's scenery. Well, in my case it's usually a troll through western Sydney, much of which ain't pretty, but it's interesting. The demographics change. The Indian woman sitting on her apartment balcony near Parramatta will be an Asian woman by the time you get to Strathfield. The houses on their quarter acre blocks - often fibro, often untidy - which back onto the train line give way to apartments around Parramatta and Westmead, then more houses on smaller blocks - brick, typically - until we hit the inner west and the lovely Italianate homes around Summer Hill and Petersham, and rows of terraces. Then it's into the funkiness of Newtown and Redfern before darkness envelopes us and we pull into Central.

A train ride is a sense of escape. It's still an adventure for me, as I don't ride the train every day. Train rides mean a journey into town for pleasure, or occasionally a client meeting. Earlier this week I had to go to St Leonards, so I took the train and gazed happily out at Sydney harbour as we crossed it on the coat hanger. Blissfully bluesky day, shimmering blue water; heartlifting. You can't always see that if you drive your car across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

So I find there is still a romance about travelling by train, even in suburban Sydney.

On my trip earlier this week there was real romance in the air, and I wondered what the relationship was. A guy sat opposite me; he was on the train when I alighted, munching McDonald's. He was in his thirties, unremarkable. At Parramatta a Chinese girl in her twenties or thirties got on and sat next to him, snuggling up. He put his arm around her, and for several stops they stayed like that, her head on his shoulder, his face turned towards hers, intensely talking. I was busy looking out the window on my side and only noticed the girl get off several stations later. I assumed the guy got off too, but no, he was still sitting there and got off at Town Hall. I wondered if they were having an affair, grabbing each opportunity to see each other, even if it was only travelling on the train for twenty minutes together. It brings a whole new dimension to the romance of rail.

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