Sounds along the railway track

Photo by Balazs Busznyak

Like so many Canadians, I watched with horror as the weather-related disaster unfolded in British Columbia. They called it an Atmospheric River. This term is new to me but I came to understand very quickly how destructive it can be. So very sad to see all those homes destroyed and people’s lives turned upside down. The loss of property and animal lives is truly staggering.  

One of the images I cannot get out of my head is the one with the railroad tracks suspended in midair. Metal rails and heavy wooden railway ties just dangling in the breeze.  So very lucky that the landslide did not occur at the same time that a train would have been passing by. 

Those railway-ties reminded me of the many wonderful hours I have spent travelling on trains. During our stay in Switzerland, whenever we wanted to go anywhere, it was always by train. For me, every trip was an adventure and I never tired of watching the world go gliding by. 

After an unforgettable sea voyage from Sydney, we arrived in beautiful Vancouver early in the morning on April 1, 1957. It did not take long to clear customs, collect our luggage and board the Canadian Pacific for the next leg of our journey. We had heard so much about the Canadian Rockies, and now we were about to see them for ourselves. My sister and I had our cabin but we were seldom in it because sitting in the Observation Car was far more exciting.

It took just a day and a half to arrive in Calgary, but Eva and I both thought that our initiation to our new homeland, had been breathtaking. The grandeur of the mountains; some with glaciers perched on top of them; the endless forests; and glimpses of a few turquoise lakes, were visions seared into our memories. 

During a recent trip to Switzerland, I took a ride on the Centovalli Railway. It is touted as one of the most beautiful and scenic trips anywhere. The little train runs between Domodossola and Locarno and takes two wonderful hours to complete the journey. The name Centovalli means 100 valleys. I did not count them, but we certainly traversed over many beautiful valleys. 

During our trip, there were places where the little train had to hug the side of the mountain as it wound its way along the tracks. Mountains on one side, and deep drop-offs on the other side.  We crossed over fast-flowing rivers, deep gorges, many little villages and a whole lot of short dark tunnels.  For most of our trip, the highway tagged along with us, sometimes above us, sometimes below. It was interesting to watch the cars negotiate the sharp twists and turns along that mountainous road.

Another memorable trip was the one aboard The Indian Pacific. This train travels from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean along the bottom of the Australian continent. This four-day 4,353 km journey, is through some of the flattest terrain in the world. Between Ooldea and Loongana, we travelled along the longest straight stretch of railway anywhere, some 479 km. 

We left Perth in the morning and arrived at our first stop, Kalgoorlie, in the early evening. In 1893, gold was discovered in Kalgoorlie and overnight it ballooned into a gold rush town. To this day it’s still the largest gold producing mine in Australia. Gold is not exactly mined, per-se, it is more like excavated with dynamite.  They have dug out what is known as the Super Pit, which at its lowest point it is 400 meters deep. This is below sea level. It was dark when we arrived, but as the place was floodlit by gigantic lights, the bottom of the pit was visible.  We saw several massive trucks, which work around the clock, lumbering up a narrow winding road, hauling the precious rocks to the surface.   

Then we visited the famous Stellas Hay Street Brothels. Yes, they still exist and are run by the government. Time spent here was limited and we had to stay on the bus; it did not include an inside look.

The next day we arrived in Adelaide and after a two hour stop, we were on the move once again. Our next stop was Broken Hill which is also a mining town, but for silver.

It is also the base for a non-profit organization known as the Royal Flying Doctor Service. They provide emergency and health care to people living in rural and remote areas of the Outback. Leaving Broken Hill, my journey was almost at an end. Once we climbed over the Blue Mountains, it was a smooth downhill run into Sydney. 

I wish that train travel in Canada was as accessible as it is in Europe. Train travel has given me a chance to relax and enjoy the landscapes as it rolled by my window. It also gave me a chance to form new friendships while socializing with my fellow travellers. Sitting down to eat at a beautiful table; covered by a white tablecloth; set with china plates and crystal glasses; well, it sure beats the plastic utensils one gets on the airlines these days. I know that I have to board a plane to get to where I am going. I also know I have to prepare myself for long hours of sitting in seats that have become increasingly narrower with time.  However, I much prefer the relaxed atmosphere of train travel, unfortunately yet another elegance that has been relegated to the past.