One of the things I like poking around the BBC web site is the amazing little stories they come up with all the time. Yes, they do a thorough job covering the standard 'news' news, but they also take time to look at things in a way that is far more gentle and observant than the 'freak show' style of coverage in American media for stories to one side of the mainstream. They're not trying to "win the day" - it's more like they know it's a big world out there, they pay attention to it, and they'd like us to do so as well.
I've pulled together some recent stories from the BBC News Magazine I'm grouping together under the heading "Ghost Trains" for reasons that should become obvious. More below the Orange Omnilepticon.
The Cave Trains of Sweden
Let's start with a short video (sorry, the BBC doesn't seem to want to allow embedding) that journeys to the Stockholm Metro. A photographer has discovered it is a world of eerie beauty, and his exploration of the cave style station architecture at times when the stations are empty has brought a new appreciation among the otherwise blasé ridership. You'll find it here, after a brief commercial.
Interplanetary Expedition to the Abandoned Rails of Mexico
Not all that long ago, as humans reckon time, Mexico had an extensive passenger rail system - and then the lines were privatized. Rail lines were abandoned; towns found themselves with stations but no trains. Will they ever return? Two brothers built themselves a custom vehicle and ventured into a past disappearing into the encroaching vegetation. (Again, a short video after a commercial.)
Once Upon a Time in Paris
In the 1800's, the railroads swept around the world in an orgy of construction. Lines were built everywhere, with rather more or less planning and coordination. In Paris, separate railway lines meant separate railway stations. Le Petite Ceinture ("Little Belt") was a short railroad that connected them in a loop. The line eventually fell into disuse. Today the tracks, stations, and tunnels are like another world winding largely unseen through the city. Officially off limits, nature is reclaiming it. What will be its fate? (Another short video - after a commercial - here.)
Secrets of the Royal Mail
If you read literature set in Victorian London and later, i.e. Sherlock Holmes, one of the things taken for granted by its denizens is a level of postal service that seems incredible. One might post a letter to someone in the city and receive an answer the same day. What kind of organization made that possible? Would you believe a special underground rail line? By the early 1900s, traffic in London had gotten so bad that the Royal Mail determined that the way to preserve its accustomed levels of service was to avoid the streets altogether. A dedicated mini-rail line opened in 1927 and served for almost a century. A written account with photos is here; video of the underground is here.
Trains to Nowhere, for No One
There is a peculiar circumstance in which the letter of the law sees empty trains running once a week at odd hours to out of the way places. Why?
"Parliamentary" trains - also known as "ghost" trains - are strange services which often run just once a week and in one direction.Switzerland - It's More Than Chocolate and Watches
They exist in order to keep certain lines open, because without them the train operators would often have to close the route - something which costs time and money.
But tracking these trains down - and taking a journey on them - is the particular passion of a select group of ghost train "hunters".
With the development of railroading in the 1800's, many countries embraced the new technology. For Switzerland, it enabled tying together a country where the terrain had traditionally isolated one region from another. (Hence the multiplicity of languages.) This involved heroic feats of engineering - tunnels, bridges, special rail mechanisms. Many of the lines remain today; a few, like this one, are recognized as world heritage sites.
...Celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, the Rhäetian is, amazingly, not a tourist train. But it is one of only three inscribed on Unesco’s World Heritage List, featuring 84 tunnels as well as 383 spectacular bridges and stone viaducts that cross the landscape’s lacework of glittering rivers and glaciers.No video, but some beautiful pictures and links to much of interest. And here's something else you might want to keep in mind. Swiss scenery was the inspiration for much of the landscape in Tolkien's Middle Earth!
There you have it - assorted tales of railroads that seem of another time and place. It's an amazing world out there - for those who pay attention and know where to look.