Josna Rege

264. Railways, Real and Imagined

In 2010s, Books, Britain, Family, India, Inter/Transnational, Music, people, places, reading on April 22, 2014 at 4:30 am

atoz [2014] - BANNER - 910


The other day, racing to catch a close-up of a Severn Valley Railway train brought back all the romance of steam trains. The best ones were taken by Paul, who ran full-tilt up a steep slope to get to the station in time. Today, as I ride the Weymouth train to Bristol from Worcester (UK), looking out on fields of newborn lambs, leafing trees stacked with old rooks’ nests, here and there a church or an iron-roofed shed, horses grazing and hedges in bloom, I realize that although I take every chance I can to actually travel by train, the railway has figured most of all in my imagination.

Over the years I have ridden the rails in India, England, and the United States, but the romance of the railway has been instilled in me through fiction, poetry, film, and, most of all, song.

Railway-ChildrenAs a child, my favorite work of railway fiction had to be E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children, in which a family of children and their mother, left alone when their father is taken away by the police, have to remove from their middle-class surroundings to an old cottage by a railway line and are left to their own devices whilst their mother works for a living. The railway fills their days and eventually the railway saves the day.

A favorite among railway poems is T.S. Eliot’s Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat. The rhythm is the thing: try reading it out loud all the way through.

As soon as I associate railway and film I think of Satyajit Ray’s painfully beautiful Pather Panchali. Here’s the unforgettable train scene in it.

When it comes to train songs, dozens rush to mind, most of them American folk songs. When Nikhil was a baby I’d sing him one after another at bedtime. I can’t think of just one, but some of my favorites are  The Old 97, The Wabash Cannonball, Down in the Valley (Birmingham Jail), and Freight Train Boogie. For a couple that may not be among the usual suspects, here are Robert Johnson’s Love in Vain and The Who’s 5:15.


But as memorable as the journeys themselves have been, and however much I’ve been caught up in the romance of the railway, the train trips I remember most fondly have had destinations: beloved friends and family. In the end, the best thing about the railways for me is the people whom they take me to meet.

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atoz [2014] - BANNER - 910

  1. Wow, I was poking through my blog and I realized that I never followed-up on these wonderful links you left in the comment you made back in May. I’m so sorry. First, because that’s a really long time and second because I really enjoyed this post and I could have enjoyed it earlier.

    • Thank you, Dan! Nothing to apologize for–I had forgotten, too, so your visit was a pleasant surprise. This reminds me to come back and visit your blog again, and also of how much I love trains.

  2. I love train travel too. I once rode the train often. Now it’s so hard to get from one place to another in a straight forward way that I don’t. From Atlanta I have to either go through New Orleans and spend the night and then to Chicago and then wherever I’m going. Or go up to DC and then across to Chicago and from there to any place to the west. I’m sure train travel would increase if the routes weren’t so few. I never rode a steam train though.

  3. Great post. I love trains, too, although I’ve only traveled by rail 3 or 4 times. The most special was a day trip from London out to Windsor Castle and back. On the way out, we were served a delicious brunch, and on the way back we had tea. We don’t often experience that kind of elegance in Texas!

    • Forgive the late reply to your sweet comment, Linda–I could barely keep up with the posts during the A-to-Z Challenge month, let alone getting to all the replies. That train trip to Windsor sounds as if it was a rare treat. And eating on trains has a special pleasure all its own. Tea and trains—what a combination! it doesn’t get much better than that.

  4. And looking forward to seeing you soon. Another lovely blog xxx

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