…what thrills me about trains is not their size or their equipment but the fact that they are moving, that they embody a connection between unseen places.
― Marianne Wiggins
I never had the glorious chance to discover trains like my mom did. She properly met one when she was 11 even though she had travelled in one when she was 6. I never had that chance. I was born and I moved around and the trains were just there. Grimy bloodlines of a grimy city. ‘Locals’, they were called. Seems apt.
A part of the city like no other mode of transport could be. Airplanes get you to places where trains can’t even go. But they are good only if you got somewhere to go.
Rambling and nomad wandering is really what trains are made for. No, not the modern maglevs and aircushioned ones that hit sound barriers in the face. The old ones.
The locomotives. The diesel engines. The grumbling ones.
To ride a ‘local’ is still an exercise but mostly due to all the humanity stuffed in them. Well, of course, they are unpredictable and prone to fits of bad behaviour. Yet, there is a daily scramble by these tamers of computers and men and medicine and machines, to get inside one of these ordinary trains. It requires courage and
ability far beyond ordinary men. To track one of the trains as they enter the lair, to run alongside these rusty beasts, to think that you have conquered them. Some call it a chore while some attain a level of zen that enables them towards greater things. Like getting to work on time.
As a commuter of these locals I have observed them over time. I have tracked their patterns, their interests. their days and nights. I know not where, what and when they eat and drink. I know nothing of their reproductive capabilities and nothing of their secret home in the unknown, simply called “the shed”. I have merely traveled in their bellies, one might say like Jonah but in some senses quite unlike, and gone from place to place, in a strictly literal sense. I have held onto my dear life with hooks and metal bars and other people in order to arrive.
But they have never paid attention to me.
Has a train ever paid attention to you? I bet they haven’t. They are like those missing fathers and careless mothers who miss people’s birthdays in fiction and non-fiction. We built them shrines. Places for the trains to meet up. You know, hang out, have a drink maybe, ogle at some female trains, shoot some darts, catch some
sports on the telly and do trainly stuff.
Then, there are the migratory ones. The Don Drapers of the locomotive world. The ones that invade your sensory fields with such disdain that you go deaf for a moment. The ones that traverse this great landmass for hours and days. The ones that look cool.
Back when novelty actually meant something, people gathered. Collectively, they lay in wait as metallic leviathans sliced through air, time and dimensions.
Leviathans that did not run. No sir, they moved with ancient grace.
The great ones. The named ones. The Peruvian Central Railway, the Trans-Siberian, the Orient Express, the Flying Scotsman, the Bullet Train. The Palace on Wheels, Deccan Odyssey, Darjeeling Toy Train, Royal Orient, Golden Chariot. Nobody ever gave passenger planes meaningful names. I mean, Airbus A380 is just
a machine. There was the Concorde but they kinda killed it. And there is the Blackbird. Ok, yeah, there are some of those too.
It simply boils down to which one of these two is more human. Answer will always be trains.
If dragons were real, I would call them ‘trains’.