Great Railway Journeys of the World Frayn Kennedy Kington+ others Dust Jacket
Great Railway Journeys of the World Frayn Kennedy Kington+ others Dust Jacket
Great Railway Journeys of the World Frayn Kennedy Kington+ others Dust Jacket

Great Railway Journeys of the World Frayn Kennedy Kington+ others Dust Jacket

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Great Railway Journeys of the World Frayn Kennedy Kington+ others Dust Jacket
 
Great Railway Journeys of the World Frayn Kennedy Kington Palin Robson Thompson Wood Dust Jacket  1982  182 pages indexed
There are two groups of rail buffs. The smaller group is the more visible. Its members stand at the end of station platforms, notebook in hand, waiting for passing Deities. Michael Palin is the apotheosis of this type. With his Ian Allan handbook, he could have been discovered on sunny summer evenings in 1955 dedicatedly train-spotting at Sheffield Midland. When he revealed his passion for trains to a 1980 television audience, the reaction was immediate and enthusiastic. Millions shared his sense of pride in the greatest railway system in the world and remembered their own childhood preoccupation with engines and engine-drivers. For many, like Michael, that obsession has never left them.
But there is another group of railway lovers. Its members cannot tell a Black Five from a Lamborghini. They are not trainspotters, but train travellers. Their qualification for membership is a desire to travel by train whenever they have the choice. This book is mainly for them.
Thirty years ago, there was no alternative to railway travel. Long-distance journeys, even across continents, meant travelling by train. Ludovic Kennedy did not choose to cross America by rail when he and his wife went from New York to Hollywood in 1950. It was the only way to go. Nowadays, such is the pace of change, you have to be old, eccentric or a tourist to cross the United States by train. The poor take the bus, the rich fly. Jumbo jets and freeways have almost eliminated the crack expresses which once bound America together; even romantics like me accept the sad reality that only tourist trains will take the great transcontinental route once today's rolling-stock wears out.
But, elsewhere in the world, passenger trains are by no means in decline. In Britain, where it all began, more people are taking the train now than a decade ago. In South Africa the Blue Train, most luxurious of all the world's passenger services as Mike Wood discovered, now sometimes runs not twice, but three times a week. At the heart of this revival there is a simple truth. People like travelling by train even when it is more expensive and less convenient than driving or flying.
One writer in particular speaks for those of us who refused to accept the Railway Age had ended. He did not make a journey for the BBC. But something Paul Theroux wrote in his account of a journey across Asia, The Great Railway Bazaar, served as a text during the making of the TV programmes Great Railway Journeys of the World. He wrote, 'I sought trains, I found passengers.' Our travellers, too, brought back the same story. If you want to join the least exclusive club in the world, buy a second-class train ticket and meet your fellow travellers. I believe this lay behind the warmth of the response to the television films, screened by the BBC in the autumn of 1980. You may be alone on a train - but you are rarely lonely. These accounts of the train journeys are not primarily about the history of railways, although that history is everywhere visible to those who want to find it. Nor are they about the future of railways, although the energy crises of the 1970s have confounded experts' predictions. Essentially they are about what it is like to travel through today's world at a pace and in a manner suited to the human condition. Whoever heard of train lag?
Today we are often frightened by technological progress usually for excellent reasons. But, if our experience of riding the world's trains counts for anything, it demonstrates that people's worst fears about progress are sometimes unfounded. The Victorians, more optimistic than we are about the impact of science, celebrated their railway-building achievements with great confidence and a notable lack of embarrassment. For them railways meant an advance, both geographical and spiritual.
It is the same today in much of the so-called third world. Try telling a newly.qualified engineer in Zimbabwe that railways bring industrialisation, and industrialisation brings misery. When the railroad is the highway to national prosperity, few stand in its way. Until the nation-state itself declines, railways will continue to play a prime role in forming national unity. Michael Frayn's witty description of the genesis of the Indian Pacific, the train that carried him across the Australian desert, is a case in point.
But the pieces in this book are not really about the links between government and railways. The only time political events played an explicit part in these journeys was when our film crew arrived in Bolivia. Miles Kington and his colleagues crossed Lake Titicaca from Peru on the very day the then government was overthrown in a military coup. The journey ended, not as planned in La Paz, but at a small wayside station called Viacha.
The Bolivian mishap was an exception. Day-by-day experience of train travel during normal times brought my colleagues into close contact, not with politicians, hut with the international fraternity of railwaymen. Stationmasters in India, signalmen in the Yorkshire Dales, barmen on the Broadway, engineers in the outback - it was a privilege to meet them. Everywhere we found them dedicated to the efficient running of their railroad, with (it has to be said) varying degrees of success. After you have read Brian Thompson's account of his leisurely journey through southern India you will not forget the charm and courtesy of the railway employees he met as he meandered towards Cochin.
I must thank my colleagues, too many of them to mention individually by name, who made the television films on which the travellers' tales in this book are based. We were not necessarily rail buffs when we started. Now, two years later, we know why Robert Louis Stevenson preferred to travel -usually by train - hopefully.
John Mason Brown, an American writer, put it another way. He wrote, The real joy to be had from riding trains begins where their usefulness ends.'

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