FORTY-NINE individual train journeys covering almost 36,000 kilometres through 22 countries on five continents – surely there must be a story or two worth telling in all that?
There’s an entire book, in fact, presented in colourful, bewitching and often-humorous fashion by British travel writer and rail enthusiast (read “train spotter”) Tom Chesshyre: journalist, raconteur and passionate passenger.
From the station platform at Crewe in England to the endless nut groves of Iran, the nausea-inducing switchbacks of the Andes and the battle-scarred valleys of the fractured Balkans, Chesshyre not only documents the mechanical intricacies of a plethora of locomotives and carriages but captures equally clearly the quirks and lurks of the people who ride them.
In a series of professional adventures that at times verge on tumbling into boys’ own escapades Chesshyre spends a carefully calculated 21 days, one hour and 28 minutes in motion on one track or another.
En route he experiences the Orient Express in two very different incarnations, revels in the refurbished glories of the Tolstoy Night Train, ventures deep beneath the surface – literally – of North Korea aboard the Pyongyang Metro and learns to dodge verbal missiles on the Indian Pacific while traversing the sand-blasted expanse of the Nullarbor Plain. China, Turkey, India, Sri Lanka, Poland, France, Kosovo, Finland, Russia, the US, Peru: Chesshyre’s wanderings cause him to rub shoulders with some of the world’s true rail powerhouses and several of its smallest, most disadvantaged also-rans.
Fittingly, his travels conclude back in Britain, the traditional home of rail technology and site of spectacular, untamed scenery along two Scottish Highland lines.
Ticket to Ride is one book that really can be said to offer something for virtually everyone: an easy blend of good (and not-so-good) food, entertaining (if occasionally obnoxious) company, insightful current affairs, enchanting geographical snapshots and potted histories exploring railroads’ role in society.