This entertaining new book from railway expert Andrew Martin might be entitled ‘beyond the Orient Express’. Martin rides the remaining night (or sleeper) trains of Western Europe at a time of great change for the railways, with several of the historic night routes and trains going out of commission. He is partly doing the journey in memory of his railwayman father, who took him and his sister on holidays organised by the British Railwaymen’s Touring Club.
Martin is an amusing guide, and the book is stuffed with good anecdotes and facts. There are mentions of books, films and paintings involving sleeper trains that make you want to chase down the references immediately. Discussing a painting by Caillebotte called Le Pont d’Europe, he notes: “It shows a man looking down on the station from the bridge. There is a strolling flâneur, perhaps a depiction of Caillebotte himself. He is possibly eyeing up the man looking down on the station. The woman walking alongside the flâneur has been interpreted as a prostitute. It’s unlikely that both interpretations could be true. A dog is heading purposefully over the bridge in the opposite direction, and doubtless it, too, is going off to have sex” (p. 29).
He finds that night trains are not always glamorous and are sometimes exciting in the wrong way (he gets robbed and also wakes to find a stranger in his cabin). His journeys are sometimes interrupted by the refugee crisis as borders are closed, and lines disrupted. He touches briefly on this, but it’s not a primary theme of the book.
This would make a good original gift for train fans, and for anyone who (like me) loves travelling overnight on trains. I had never heard of the Nordland Railway but this made me want to go next winter: “the Nordland begins by skirting a fjord. There is the same thrilling proximity of rail and sea that you get on the Cornish main line at Dawlish, but that’s over after five minutes, whereas this lasts for a hundred miles”.