Train Journeys in the Time of COVID-19

We are couch dwellers. Among the cushions we relax, and go on a virtual train journey.

Thank you, YouTube.

We start off with Sri Lanka, where train journeys are a tourist attraction. Founded in 1858, the Sri Lanka Railway Department keeps going. I took an all-too-short trip from Mt. Lavinia Hotel into Colombo, arriving at the historic Fort Railway Station, when I was staying there in late 2017. I wish I had taken the trip to Kandy by train. Instead, we struggled along congested roads with shiny silver and blue buses and corner Buddhas and tuk-tuks (cozy three-wheeled mini-taxis) and motorcyclists wearing identical crash helmets and glamorous film posters and wayward pedestrians… The train ride was refreshing, a few feet away from the pale green sea. An elderly man stirred his cup of tea, legs crossed, outside his house literally two feet away.

Children at a train window, Mt. Lavinia, Sri Lanka. (My photo)

Sadly, I thought of the single largest rail disaster in world history, in December 2004, when Train #50, the “Queen of the Sea,” was derailed by the tsunami near the beautiful town of Galle, further back down the coast. The exact number of people who died (many washed away) is not known, but it was estimated to be around 1,700.

Anyway, the YouTube ride was gorgeous. You can hop on board here.

A train takes a pause, in Sri Lanka. (My photo)

We are also enjoying long, quiet virtual rides on YouTube without any commentary at all. These are apparently recorded by the train driver as a record of their journeys. So, we rattle gently through the Vietnamese countryside from Hanoi to another city. In towns and cities, small houses and apartments with balconies crowd up against the railway line, leaning in so close that the inhabitants could almost shake hands with the commuters.

This is Hanoi’s “Train Street” – also a tourist attraction. (Photo:

The Vietnamese ride is noisy, with that rhythmic clicking, wheezing, gentle galloping sound that trains make. At one point, the driver sounds his horn furiously, where there are paths and crossings over the line. Finally, it reaches its destination in a siding, where trains come to rest for a while.

For a change, we switch to an electric train, which glides almost soundlessly through the Scottish countryside, heading from Glasgow south. It is February, it is grey, and soon rain spots the windscreen. Yes, trains have windscreen wipers (but not the human ones we have in Kingston). The damp English cloud settles over bare elm trees. Passengers wearing padded jackets huddle on the platforms. By the time we reach Carlisle, we are feeling a little depressed and the silence weighs heavy. We would have liked to engage the train driver in conversation to break the monotony – but he would probably have been a dour Scot with an impenetrable accent.

The old Glasgow Green station, now abandoned. (Image: © Carol Walker (Creative Commons)

Our most recent train ride was through a large part of Switzerland – a country where you could eat your breakfast off the sidewalk. The landscape is so perfect that it looks as if it is – well, landscaped. Manicured green slopes with toy (or perhaps real?) cows grazing; houses (possibly made of gingerbread, and edible?) with square chimneys; neatly stacked piles of wood for the winter; painted shutters and red geraniums in window boxes. Above, the sugar-white mountains where ski slopes await for the rich and famous.

In the UK, we surprisingly came across a real steam train, while having tea and cake at Bodmin Parkway station in Cornwall, a few years back. (My photo)

Next up – we are traveling on the Trans Siberian Railway. And we haven’t done Ecuador yet. With or without commentary. And preferably First Class.

The virtual life isn’t so bad, while self-isolating on the couch…

A special train seat reserved for a special person in Sri Lanka. (My photo)




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