One month ago I reviewed The Last Train to Zona Verde by Paul Theroux. Last week it was The Last Train: A Holocaust Story by Rona Arato. Today, it is Train: Riding the Rails That Created the Modern World - From the Trans-Siberian to the Southwest Chief by Tom Zoellner. You must suspect that I like trains. I do, but more in fantasy than in experience. I have only once been on Amtrak, I have also ridden a classic train into the Adirondacks on a one day excursion, and twice I took day trips out of London. Otherwise, I have only been on commuter trains. This is pitiful compared with noted travel writers like Paul Theroux and Michael Palin who have been on trains all over the world. After four nonfiction books on various topics, Chapman University English professor Tom Zoellner joins these other noted writers in staking a claim in the literature of trains.
In Train, Zoellner reports on seven trips chosen to help him tell the history of the rail industry, especially its travel service. He begins appropriately in Great Britain where rail service was invented. During his trip from the northern most tip of Scotland to the coast of Cornwall, he notes riding the bed (not original tracks) of the original Stockton & Darlington, the location of the world's first passenger train service. Ironically, the conductor with whom he spoke had no inkling of the history beneath their feet. Luckily for readers, Zoellner did his homework. We get a lively account of the origins of train travel and its spread across the planet, as well as descriptions of the current state of the trains and the places they go.
Zoellner also road trains in India, the United States, Russia, China, Peru, and Spain. In his chapter on Spanish rail service, he took a bullet train between Barcelona and Madrid and discusses the successes and failures of high speed trains in France, Japan, and the United States.
Zoellner is not as daring in his travels as Theroux, but he is entertaining and informative. His book Train will please pleasure readers as well as help students. It might even sway a few more travelers toward travel by trains.
Zoellner, Tom. Train: Riding the Rails That Created the Modern World - From the Trans-Siberian to the Southwest Chief. Viking, 2014. 346p. ISBN 9780670025282.