I love trains, always have, even though I grew up in a region that had no trains. Railroads had once served many of the small towns in my corner of Missouri, but cars and trucks stole the passengers and freight as the twentieth century progressed. Once the trains stopped running, the tracks were ripped up and probably sold for scrap. Deserted depots and overgrown former rail beds are the only reminders of that bygone era.
As a boy, seeing a train was a rare and exciting event. Massive, rumbling freight trains seemed to stretch forever. As an adult, I have traveled by train in parts of the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. A rail journey is a wonderful way to observe changing landscapes as they pass by your window. What better way to see landforms and patterns of urban and rural land use. Meeting fellow travelers who also value the journey as much as the destination is a bonus. What more could a geographer want!
National Public Radio’s David Greene recently took one of the world’s great rail journeys. He traveled the Trans-Siberian Railroad, from Moscow across vast Siberia to the Pacific port of Vladivostok, a distance of six thousand miles. “To give you an idea, that would be the distance if you took a train from New York to L.A. and then from L.A. to New York. You’re still not done. You’d have to then go from New York to Chicago,” Greene explained in his first report. He examined Russia’s past, present, and future through the stories of people he met along the way. In Greene’s words, the journey was an “epic, colorful, fascinating ordeal, perhaps just like Russia itself.”
What is your favorite travel experience?
Listen to the David Greene’s reports on National Public Radio:
Part 1: Russia, A Nation Shaped By Tragedy And Hardship
Part 2: In Russia, Modern ‘Revolution’ Comes At Its Own Pace
Part 3: In Russia’s Far East, A Frayed Link To Moscow
Part 4: Russia By Rail: One Last Look
Photos by NPR’s David Gilkey: Russia By Rail: Photographs from the Trans-Siberian Railroad
Moscow-Vladivostok: A Virtual Journey on Google Maps
“Russia’s Iron Road” by Fen Montaigne, with photographs by Gerd Ludwig. National Geographic, June 1998, pp. 2-33.