Let The Train Take The Strain

[Listening to: Freight Train Boogie - Chet Atkins & Doc Watson 03:03)]

What better way to travel..Train journeys have always been a favourite of mine (apart form a few years spent commuting into London). I used Amtrak to cross the United States 4 times in only a few months when I first visited the States in '90, and marvelled at the sites from the viewing car as dawn broke over the desert in Arizona; the width of the Mississippi as we swung through iron girder bridges high above the muddy water; and the endless plains of the mid west before we started winding our way slowly through the Rockies, passing freight trains with as many as 4 locomotives to provide enough horsepower to pull their length up the inclines, and to slow them down on the other side.

Now years later I find myself every other week catching the train on a Friday to spend the weekend in Rome, along with many Italians who work in Milan but live in Rome, or who have families who live in Rome. Rome may be the capital, but Milan is the ecomnomic centre, and many Italians (and not a few Europeans) have migrated their for work. In many cases, judging by how busy the train is every Friday and Sunday, a lot of their families still remain down south. Every car has men in suits, but times have changed, and now one in two is using the time to work, and the others are reading or watchings DVD's on their laptops.

The carriages have changed as well. On Trenitalia the seats recline, the tables have power sockets and flip up to leave you enough space to get out. Passengers are asked to not use their mobiles in order to not disturb their neighbours, and the overhead luggage rack is big enough to take a flight bag. A far cry from the old British Rail carriages I remember catching to London. So now, instead of keeping my eye out for the Thames, the sign that my commute was ending as pulled into Maidenhead, crossing that great brick span of the bridge built by Isombard Kingdom Brunel to carry his Great Western Railway across the Thames, I'm trying sto stay awake as we take 4 1/2 hours to go from Milan to Rome. The French may have achieved 574 Kmh on their trains (okay, not for the general public yet), but they don't have quite the same terrain as the Italians.

In fact, Trenitalia is very un-Italian, and doesn't suffer from any the complaints I'd levy against most of the other forms of transport in Italy. Alitalia just doesn't cut it against any other European operator, and their ratio of groundstaff to passenger is going to make it a hard job for any prospective buyer to turn them around. The only airline I'd rate as worse is US Air, (and that's based upon just 1 return journey on US Air, that's how bad they were). Driving in any Italian city is a nightmare, mostly due to an obsession with talking on their mobiles whilst driving, unrestricted parallel parking meaning cars are parked 2 or 3 abreast, and the highest ratio of cars per capita in Europe (64% in Rome for example). The buses are bad - but only because of the cars. The buses are frequent, clean, environmentally friendly and cost next to nothing. Well, that's if you pay. I rarely see people validating their tickets, so unless they all have season tickets someone is losing out...

And now, as we pass silently through the night, I'm going to close. It's time for a nap........