‘Trains show us that freedom and constraint are a matter of dosage,’ Patrick McGuinness wrote recently in the LRB. He quoted Klaus Kinski’s character in the 1966 film of Dr Zhivago, ‘shaking his chains, an anarchist headed for the camps’: ‘I am the only free man on this train. The rest of you are cattle!’ ‘Soul’, a poem Pasternak wrote in 1956, is one of 20 on display in another meditation on poésie des departs, in Bloomsbury Square until tomorrow.
The best thing I saw at Edinburgh this year was The Sleeper, written and directed by Henry Krempels. (The play will be on for one night only in London, at the Rosemary Branch Theatre on Thursday.) Karina, played by Michelle Fahrenheim, is a Londoner travelling on an overnight train somewhere in Europe. She’s a writer, probably a Guardian reader, definitely a Remainer. Returning to her compartment after brushing her teeth, she finds someone else in her bunk. She rushes to the guard in a panic. The young woman hiding in her berth, Amena, is a Syrian refugee. She will be kicked off the train at the next stop.
At the High Court last week, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), the parent company of Southern rail, failed to secure an injunction against Aslef, the train drivers’ union. On Monday they took the case to the Court of Appeal, which also dismissed it, allowing the first drivers’ strike in the company to go ahead on Tuesday.
A police helicopter crashed into the Clutha Vaults Bar in Glasgow on 29 November 2013. The pilot, two police officer passengers and seven in the bar were killed. The Air Accidents Investigation Branch published its final report last week. Relatives of those who died had been briefed in advance. They said that they were doubly disappointed.
Last week the government ‘delivered’ on its plan to privatise the successful East Coast main line. Stagecoach and Virgin now co-own it. My first experience of the new regime came while buying a ticket for my daughter, when I saw that the old East Coast booking site has been cosmetically Virginised. I was charged £6.45 for ‘special delivery next day’. Five days later, the travel time booked for had come and gone. Two messages of complaint, no reply, and Virgin still has my cash safely trousered.
‘Welcome to the Hathersage Folk Train,’ the woman with a clipboard called out as we pulled away from Manchester Piccadilly. ‘Is there anyone with us who hasn’t been on the Folk Train before?’ A few hands went up. ‘The Full Circle Folk Club are going to play for us all the way to Hathersage and then we’ll all go down to the pub and –’ Someone interrupted to ask if we’d be stopping at Dore. ‘Nobody panic, this is a normal train to Sheffield!’ The band started playing.
Besides scrapping the welfare state, the government's plans to return Britain to the Victorian age include 'High Speed Two (HS2)', a 'proposal to introduce high speed rail from London to Birmingham – and later to Manchester, Leeds and ultimately Scotland. The recommended route would run from a rebuilt Euston Station to a new station in Birmingham.' The Department for Transport is currently running a formal consultation, which includes a series of 'road shows in Camden to provide more information on the proposals and give you the opportunity to have your say'. The first of them is at Euston today, until 8 p.m. There's a vivid description in Dombey and Son of what happened to Camden when the London and Birmingham Railway was built in the 1830s:
On the train to Rome the other afternoon, three bored young policemen were roaming the corridors. Maybe they'd been on since Trieste and were going all the way to Naples: who knows. In the compartment next to mine a young black woman, travelling by herself, was talking on her phone. One of the policemen stopped outside the door to her compartment and asked her to be quiet. She ended the call. The other two officers swaggered along to join their friend. The three of them stood in the corridor, in silence, staring at her. I thought I should go out and ask them what was going on, maybe tell them I was an English journalist, possibly one who was writing an article about racism, or about sexual harassment... Or maybe I should I just go and sit in her compartment.
On a South West Trains ‘service' out of London Waterloo the other evening, a barrage of announcements. The guard, the steward and an automated recording repeatedly informed passengers – sorry, 'customers' – where the train was going, where the buffet car was ‘situated', and that there were special 'quiet zones', with blue stickers on the windows, where mobile phones should be switched off. As if mobile phones were the only things that could disturb the quiet. There was a blue sticker on my window. There didn't seem to be any way to switch off the endless announcements. It reminded me of the Sistine Chapel, where angry young men in uniforms yell Silenzio! over the murmur of the disobedient crowd.