Train travel is something I had never experienced until my study abroad semester in London. From weekend trips to Wales and Scotland on British Rail to my daily treks on the Tube, traveling by rail was a new and welcome concept to me. Growing up in my small mid-western city, there was no mass transit system – still isn’t for that matter. The communal travel experience and the ability to go whenever, wherever was a revelation to me.
On television, the opinion of train travel seems to range from a rather heated debate in mid 19th century Cranford to the soul deadening commuting horror of Reggie Perrin. While many Cranford residents worried about the unsavory elements a steam locomotive line might bring to the town, Reggie’s experiences on a impersonal, mid-life-crisis-inducing commuter train proves the Victorian ladies’ worst fears were justified. It must be noted that in his journey from Reggie’s home in Surrey to his London office, he is always exactly 27 minutes late to work due to some bizarre occurrence or another such as “the wrong kind of passenger at South Norwood.”
And love the trains or hate them, the Brits seem to be required to spend a great deal of time memorizing very complex train schedules:
Within larger cities, rapid rail travel exists for the convenience and annoyance of its citizens. The Manchester Metrolink trams, like the one pictured at the top of this post, are the transport of choice for Cold Feet‘s Adam and Pete. Other tram and light rail systems exist in places like Sheffield, Tyne and Wear, the West Midlands and Glasgow. But the most famous commuter transit system in the UK (and the oldest in the world) is the London Underground – affectionately known as the Tube. I loved how it got me from my home base of Baker Street station to anywhere I wanted to go. You didn’t have to keep track of indecipherable schedules, unlike the bus system. Just stand on the correct platform and a train would be along soon enough. Of course, you can’t be too concerned at rush hour about personal space (there is none) and more than once I declined boarding a sardine-packed car. Did I experience a Sliding Doors, life-altering consequence by missing a train? I doubt it, but I know I avoided the likelihood being groped or suffocated.
Overall, my time on the Tube holds only fond memories of London – the towering escalators, buskers in the tunnels, “Mind the Gap”, those funny springy, bulb devices you hang onto to keep from falling over, fellow riders ignoring you while reading their tabloids… well, just watch this video and you’ll see what I mean. This was filmed in the same year I was in London. Too bad I never saw a Beatle on any of my trains.