Midnight train to Georgia

Doesn’t that song bring back memories? Gladys Knight and the Pips if you are wracking your brain.

Have you ever been on a midnight train? I have and I must confess I didn’t sleep that well. I heard every station that we pulled into and tossed and turned in my bed. Johannesburg to Cape Town is just over 1500 kms – so quite the journey. It really is delightful to sit at the window and watch the world go by as the scenery changes. It is just those mysterious stops in the middle of nowhere that kept me awake. I couldn’t see any reason for them apart from maybe giving the train a chance to sit, rest and hiss. However, many people are turning to train travel these days. Perhaps a combination of Flight Shaming and the desire to create a greener world.

Behind every movement there is an entrepreneur – so welcome Midnight Trains – a company doing just that. Overnight trains connecting the big cities of Europe. It makes sense really to do the train in Europe. By the time you have driven all the way out to an airport, gone through the check in process (which will probably take longer these days) and then gone through security you could be half way to your destination.

Overnight trains have been a bit of a bucket list thing for a while and one thinks immediately of the Orient Express or the Blue Train or the Ghan. But Midnight Trains is a bit different. It is like a hotel on rails – much more comfortable than the usual bunk you get on a regular overnight but maybe not a luxury experience and probably priced a whole lot better than that. Unfortunately they will only be up and running in 2024 and only from Paris.

But there is definitely something magical about the Midnight Train.

In his article for the New Yorker, Anthony Lane sums it up beautifully-

“There’s a whisper down the line at 11:39
When the Night Mail’s ready to depart

That is the opening of “Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat,” from “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” published in 1939. Skimbleshanks, with his “glass-green eyes,” is a calming and supervising presence on the London-to-Glasgow line. His train departs, like mine, at twenty minutes to midnight, and he, too, consumes a cup of tea en route, “with perhaps a drop of Scotch.” As for Eliot’s account of the sleeping compartments, not much has changed:

Oh it’s very pleasant when you have found your little den
With your name written up on the door.
And the berth is very neat with a newly folded sheet
And there’s not a speck of dust on the floor.
There is every sort of light—you can make it dark or bright;
There’s a handle that you turn to make a breeze.
There’s a funny little basin you’re supposed to wash your face in
And a crank to shut the window if you sneeze.”

Doesn’t it just make you want to jump on a train?

By Lesley Keyter

Lesley Keyter is the face of travel in the fast growing city of Calgary. Every week since 1997 she has has featured live on the Morning News Global TV.

3 comments

  1. My train song is ‘The City of New Orleans’ by Arlo Guthrie. I’m tempted to take a long train trip around the US: Chicago, NewOrleans, San Francisco to Vancouver with stops along the way, but not sure when it would fit into our vacation scheduling.
    We took a midnight train from Sydney to Adelaide in 1999 / 2000. That’s about 1,500 km and left Syney at about 6 pm and arrived in Adelaide late afternoon the next day with a stop in Broken Hill for about 60 to 90 minutes at about 9 am. We had a private compartment with two seats that made into bunk beds plus a wash basin. Nothing fancy. We, or at least I, slept well. It was a good way to see the outback. The train continued onto Perth. It wasn’t a high end tourist train then.
    We’ve used the high speed express trains in Europe in a few countries but none overnight. A much better way of getting around than driving or flying and not all that expensive, unlike Vancouver to Calgary’s Rocky Mountaineer. I’m tempted to see Switzerland in depth by train, which reportedly gives a very good coverage at a reasonable price.
    There are numerous train songs but Midnight Special by CCR doesn’t encourage me to take a midnight train.

    Like

  2. My daughter and I did the train Ghan train from Darwin to Adilaide just before COVID shut things down. Loved it and would do it again. Travel by train is much more relaxing.

    Like

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