It took a long time for train service, discontinued in 1959, to come back through our town. If you want some nostalgia and the story of why the train disappeared, you can read here, but without going into detail today, the old train right-of-way cut down the middle of towns, through backyards and across main streets. Suffice to say, it took years of fighting by those for and against, until the line was re-activated three years ago.
So a train gliding about a mile down the road from me, albeit an echo to memory, is still new, and I watch in awe when I catch one of the monster engines that trundle through at regular intervals. My ears perk up at the moan-and-toot combo of the occasional whistle that breaks our quiet zone, and no matter how long the delay, I inhale when the bells clang, the lights blink and gates drop in front of my car. When I sit at a cherry table at the library one day a week, I crane my neck to look out the window as a rumbling vibration telegraphs the arrival of an out bound express passing fifty yards away, and a half-hour later on its return to the city.
For the longest time, it seemed that my fascination was all about steel and power and muscle, and for sure that plays into it. But it is also something more—something mystic and intriguing about this mode of transportation. The cut where yellow and beige trees line the tracks is a seam sewed into the city—a bloodline. Like a capillary, our little branch bleeds into a major network of veins— steel rails that slip people like so many neurons and electrons, to the next town over, and the next—to a metropolis of art, culture, activity, education. It offers a certain freedom to know that all I have to do climb the steps to an inbound shuttle and settle on a leather seat, to take a ride beyond my ordinary place, outside my regular parameters, to the pumping heart of things, and then perhaps, beyond.
The train offers so much more than simple commuter convenience. When I’m stopped at a crossing and gaze down the rails it becomes clear that along with the burnished gold of passing autumn foliage, imagination lines those new tracks too.