Title: "Ticket To Ride -- Around the World on 49 Unusual Train Journeys"
Authors: Tom Chesshyre
Publisher: Summerdale Publishers Ltd. 2016
Tom Chesshyre loves to ride on passenger trains. In "Ticket To Ride," he writes about each of the 49 trains he rode in 22 countries, covering 22,304 miles. The time he spent on board totaled 21 days, 1 hour and 28 minutes. These trips were not all back to back; rather, they took place in 2014 and 2015. It’s a remarkably relaxing and comforting read, much like he experienced on his 49 separate rides. This is a book you can pick up and read a chapter starting at any point, as the stories are all independent. I like trains, so I found myself more and more enjoying this book as I read it.
Although he did not write much about the places he visited and the people he met, he was impressed with high-speed trains he rode. China has more high-speed train lines than the rest of the world combined at 19,000 kilometers and growing. And high-speed trains in China were not introduced until 2007. “Proof,“ he notes, “if it were needed, that where there’s a will and an autocratic government with cash to blow, there’s usually a way.” He writes it is estimated that “more than 2.5 million passengers now travel on China’s fast trains each day.”
He took trains to several places I would not want to visit. He was on the first chartered tourist train into Iran. He did have interesting conversations with a few Iranians, including one who was upset with the fundamentalists in control. “Eighty per cent of the people want to be open to the Western world; it is only twenty per cent who are hardcore about these things.” As a travel journalist he often traveled with tour groups, several of which were sponsored by a country looking for tourist business, like Iran. His description of his train ride through did not make me want to try it.
Another trip I found to be creepy was from Beijing, China, to Pyongyang, North Korea. He was constantly with a guide and an observer. One of them told him “there are about 50 diplomats at any one time in Pyongyang, as well as maybe 40 tourists.” My brother and sister-in-law took a one-day bus trip in and out of North Korea. It’s not a great place for tourists!
I enjoyed his description of his trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway from Helsinki, Finland, to Beijing, China. It’s a long ride, but it is very interesting. We had two younger men from Russia staying with us in 2004 and 2006 as part of a group visiting the Bismarck area to observe the automotive industry. They invited me to visit them, which I did in 2007. One friend picked me up in Moscow with a car and driver taking me to Nizhny Novgorod for three full days. From there I took the Trans-Siberian Railway all the way to Vladivostok, stopping to see friends in Omsk and the Irkutsk area. At every stop they kept me so busy I rode the train to get some sleep. Like Chesshyre, I had a memorable journey.
His trip from New York to Seattle took him across North Dakota on the Empire Builder, changing trains in Chicago from the Lake Shore Limited. He tactfully did not compare this trip with the high-speed trains in Europe, although he did enjoy going from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.
The Amtrak trains between New York City and Washington, D.C., are doing reasonably well, but neither the service nor the ridership is anything close to being like it is in Europe. When I was attorney general in the early 1980s, I visited with a railroad executive who told me the railroad could buy tickets for people to fly from Chicago to Seattle and lose less money than carrying them by train. I was very interested in train places Chesshyre visited in the U.S., which I will have to visit now that I know about them.
Chesshyre is very impressed with the high-speed trains in Europe, and so am I. We have ridden several, and they are impressive. And the trains in Europe are getting faster. Of course, in Japan the high-speed trains run precisely on time and they stop exactly where you are told to stand to get on the train. On one ride in 1984 I talked my way into the engine so I could see straight down the track as we sped along. Europe, Japan, and by what I have read, China, all have the right conditions and need for high-speed trains. I doubt they will ever be in the USA in more than a small area.
I enjoyed his story of his train trip all across the southern part of Australia. His description of the world’s longest straight stretch of railway track at 297 miles made me think of our many long, straight stretches of roads in North Dakota. The train in Australia, like most of the trains he rode, had several classes of service ranging from deluxe to coach. Of course, to get to most of the trains he rode he had to fly, but when he can, he prefers to ride trains.
If you like trains, you will really enjoy this book.
Bob Wefald is a retired North Dakota State District Court judge, former attorney general and a retired Navy Captain.
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