Train blogging

I’m typing this while riding on the X 2000, SJ´s electric train, travelling quietly at up to 200 km/h (125 mph). We just had a delicious meal, including “easy beer” and surprisingly good coffee.

Thanks to the SJ site for the photos, which represent very well what we’re seeing, both outside and inside the train, except that the train is full.

Our journey to Göteborg will take less than 3 hours for the 398 km, exactly on the schedule. It’s a beautiful, modern train, with comfortable seats, good leg room, sockets for radio and music, electric power outlets, and full access to fast wifi, which makes this post possible.

SJ stands for Statens järnvägars, as explained on the SJ website:

Soon it will have been 150 years since the first train from Statens järnvägars (SJ) departed from Gothenburg central station. On arrival ecstatic passengers could testify to how they had ”been thrown forward” at 30 kilometres an hour.

Our fellow passenger across the aisle explained that this is not the best time to visit Sweden, but I have to differ. The weather is great for walking, and on this train journey, we’re seeing quaint old farmhouses, interesting little towns, spruce forests, birch tree stands, and occasionally, glorious fall foliage.

Reality and the third rail

The Reading Terminal Holiday Railroad Photos by G. Widman for GPTMC

When I was last in Philadelphia I walked through the Reading Terminal Holiday Railroad and Train Display.

This is a giant model railroad layout (1/3 mile of tracks) at the Reading Terminal Market. There’s a detailed, interactive display featuring historic scenes of Philadelphia and rural Pennsylvania. Trolleys and Reading Railroad trains pass through City Hall and travel over the Schuylkill River.

I couldn’t help noticing that these were Lionel trains, the sign being the characteristic third rail. I remember as a boy having mixed feelings about that third rail.

On the one hand, it was a reminder that my model train layout wasn’t reality. Of course, a cynic might have pointed out that my mountain was a clearer giveaway, since it scaled to 25 feet high, not to mention that the entire world fit within a 4′ x 8′ rectangle with abrupt declivities on each edge. Yet I could somehow overlook those signs and still be bothered by the third rail.

On the other hand, the third rail was a reminder that I didn’t have the less realistic American Flyer train that my friend Jeff had. My locomotive and cars, as well as my accessories, were all more real, and the third rail spoke to that. In a practical sense, the third rail also permitted more “realistic” wiring of the tracks and switches.

One might say that the third rail marked a gateway between reality and fantasy. It was an icon, drawing me into the model railroad world. I spent hours and hours in that world, which felt more real than many other parts of my life. At other times, though I would look at it and be reminded that that world wasn’t as real as I hoped.

Now, as an adult, rushing to catch the “real” train to the airport, I had the opposite reaction. The beautiful train layout caught my eye, and I immediately wished there was more time to study it. But there was easily enough time to notice a key feature, that characteristic third rail.

This time I knew. That third rail told me that this was a real Lionel train, not some second-rate substitute. This train layout was a real world, with City Halls and rivers, trolleys and people. It was a place I’d once again be happy to lose myself within, as opposed to the false world outside, with all its fake products, commercialism, planned obsolescence, and unkept promises, not to mention the wars, institutional violence, and injustice that belie its values.