Thursday, February 9, 2012

Romancing the Rails

(Photos by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

I am a train lover

I love the rhythm, the intimacy, the freedom to sit and daydream, watching for wildlife and studying the patterns of the clouds, instead of worrying about missing my exit on the freeway.

I've ridden the Amtrak Empire Builder across the Northwest, and the Crescent from New Orleans to New York City.

I've crisscrossed Europe by train, people-watching and studying villages and glorious old cities through the wide windows.

My daughter and I rode the Maglev train in China, rocketing across the landscape at breathtaking speed.

But last fall I took a three day excursion from Vancouver, British Columbia to Banff, Alberta on the Rocky Mountaineer. And by the time the trip ended my love affair with trains was only deeper.

In the Gold Leaf coach we were treated like royalty. Gazing up at the jagged mountains through the domed top of the coach, I was surrounded by people of all ages who were making the trip of a lifetime. Some were celebrating anniversaries, others were marking their "must do before I die" lists. My seatmate had traveled from Australia to see her brother in Toronto and she was crossing the country by rail. I told her that one day I hope to cross her country the same way.

At one point, we pulled onto a siding and the attendants let us know a fast-moving freight train was approaching. As I stood in the vestibule taking photos of the beautiful autumn scenery, I became aware of a faint hum. It grew louder and I realized it was the empty rails beside us vibrating from the movement of the coming train. The sound grew louder and more defined and just before the freight train reached us and sped past, the tracks made the high, clear sound a bell makes after it's been rung. It was as thrilling as hearing a whale's song, and as I moved back to my seat and the train started moving again, I played the sound over in my head, relishing it.

Later, when we pulled into the station I stepped out onto the platform and took one last photo of the train, not quite ready for the trip to end.

No wonder trains have been wrapped in romance since the first iron horse thundered across the rails. If you listen close enough, trains will sing. And for train lovers like me, something inside us sings back.

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