Train travel in the UK

I’m a huge fan of trains.

They’re cool.
They’re environmentally responsible, far more so than air travel.

There’s also a much more complicated argument for redundant systems I want to make here, which is essentially that if you’re overly reliant on any single means of transportation that system becomes an extremely lucrative target, and it makes recovering from any attack dramatically harder. But I’ll skip that.

We took trains from London to Edinburgh, Edinburgh to York, York to Bath, and Bath to Paris by way of London.

London to Edinburgh was great. Looking out on the sea, all the little towns, the English countryside — totally worth it. The only weird thing was because of the bank holiday (they went crazy for the bank holiday, it was bizarre), everyone headed out of London headed out one station, where they caught trains elsewhere. We had a bunch of shorts-wearing jersey-clad guys on the way up, who stood between cars, occasionally making offensive comments to women, and drank beer continuously.

The strange thing, at least to me, was that they were the only group of tattooed people I’d seen in London, and they weren’t young, they were older, middle-aged ways.

Edinburgh-York was fine, except that it was a Virgin train which (seemingly) meant that “quiet car” (no cell phones/needless noise/etc) was entirely ignored, but whatever, you don’t really expect things like that to mean anything, much as you might hope. York-Bath though…

We’re traveling along, minding our own business, when we smell something that smells like loaded baby diaper. It gets worse. People on the train start looking at each other, around at people who just got on, the babies… and it gets worse.

And worse.
And worse.

Later, my wife and I argued over how bad it got – she argued it was the worst smell ever, and I argued that while it wasn’t the worst ever, it was the worst smell I’d ever been exposed to for any length of time.

What was amazing was the response of the people in the car. There was a great reluctance to say anything, much less react visibly, but the smell was so bad people found pretexts to touch their mouth, bring handkerchiefs or other articles of clothing up to cover their noses, until finally many people were openly pinching their noses closed.

This was the great British stiff-upper-lip reserve.

I was, weirdly, reminded of an X-Files episode (weirdly because I didn’t watch the show that often).
Cop: “They say it cuts the smell if you don’t breathe through your mouth.”
Mulder: “They lie.”

I ended up leaving the car, which you’re not really supposed to do because the seat assignment is regimented and standing is as enforced as having a seat (weirdly) so it’s hard to give up a seat even if you’re nauseated by a smell and about to be sick.

I ended up between the cars, unable to take it as almost all the rest of the British endured without complaint. A conductor came by and said to the refugees (and I don’t know how to punctuate this to convey the humor he managed) “There was an accident with a dog. (beat) Allegedly.”

He went through and sprayed something in the car that either
a) removed the smell or
b) deadened the smell sense of car riders

I went back to my seat, now weirdly less smelly than between cars where the stink cloud had moved. A cleaner came on two stations later, and whatever he did, the situation got even better.

Then London-Paris… the thing about trains, if I may, is that being far more economical than air transport, it makes sense to make the seats at least somewhat more spacious. Especially if you’re me and really tall, it seems like an obvious conclusion, trains = more space. But the train through the Chunnell was really cramped and annoying, and its only redeeming value was that it didn’t have the horrible security and general hassle of flying from London to Paris.

2 thoughts on “Train travel in the UK

  1. Martin

    I think subsidizing train travel is a good idea in the USA, too.

    I believe the WSDOT is working on improving the line between Seattle and Portland so that it’s a fast (er, less slow) ride.

    If you’ve ever lived in the Northeast, you know the potential that train travel has. If we could ever get a European-style high-speed line down the West Coast, we could be in San Francisco in about 6 hours – not so bad considering all the overhead associated with flying.

  2. DMZ

    Yeah, it’d be so nice to have a superfast coastal line: Vancouver BC-Seattle-Portland-all the way to San Diego, say.


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