Railway Romance Return?
Is there a bright future?
© Peder Fjordvang Photo: VisitVejle
The sun was setting on a still, March winter evening as our train from Copenhagen to Arhus approached Vejle. The Vejle Fjord which we’d been tracking for a short while, spills into the Kattegat, bound by the Danish Strait islands and Baltic Sea to the south, Sweden to the east.
In the Middle Ages, the Danish royal family prospered from the Sound Tolls, Øresundstolden, which ships paid until 1857, protecting them from sandy and stony reefs, tricky currents, even pirates, as fresh supplies and ship repairs were found in busy Copenhagen to the south.
Our view was interrupted by the Vejle Fjord road bridge, Vejlefjordbroen, (above) moving vehicles north and south without upsetting the relative calm of Vejle. I preferred the distraction of the warm, orange embers on the picture windows of the famous Danish Sommerhuse, scattered behind the beaches on the north shore of the fjord.
We were off to meet John and Karin, our good friends in Aarhus, Denmark’s second city for a long weekend. Usually, we would take a very early Ryanair flight from Stansted. It’s cheap, the car park coming a close second in cost to an airline ticket.
This time we flew British Airways to Copenhagen. We can afford the time and we wanted to spend a day exploring, before starting our train journey.
We now want to return. A day was not enough, as John gently reminded me, if we were serious about exploring Danish history in this beautiful, capital city.
While sitting in our super comfortable standard class carriage, akin to First Class in the UK, I started musing about never flying here again.
The promise of a railway journey
In our kitchen, three pictures hang high, reminders of the halcyon days of train travel. Poster prints made popular in the interwar period, encouraging people to take their holidays by train, often too seaside destinations around Britain. These are prints from Kelly Hall originals, who paints modern vintage artwork in her south coast studio. Retro, tourism posters are fashionable again and these took Mrs H’s fancy at some point.
Many railways vied for our attention, but by 1923, there were four main companies left - Great Western (GWR), London, Midland and Scottish (LMS), North Eastern (LNER) and Southern (SR). Each had their own advertising department, but designers were mostly in agreement that posters needed a clear message of encouragement to one destination. Trains provided cheap transport for everyone and allowed many to go on holidays they would otherwise not have been able to afford.
The stylised posters are designed with escapism in mind, a promise of something better and different for a week or two.
Where does all the romance come from?
If you’re of a certain age, being transported by train to a world of possibilities was baked in with films like Brief Encounter, Some Like It Hot, even Murder On The Orient Express, a railway which dates back to 1883, travelling the length of Europe into Asia. Even a seasonal classic, White Christmas, starring Bing Crosby features a long train journey from Florida to Vermont, entirely possible when the film was released in 1954.
They tell a story, which includes travelling back to a place where there was more time. Time to enjoy the journey and not worry quite so much about efficiency, speed and how much longer?.
Long train journeys meant overnight accommodation was essential. And before turning in, why not enjoy some fine dining on white linen with attentive waiters in the restaurant carriage.
Great Western still advertises its Pullman Dining between Paddington and Plymouth on Wednesday, Thursday and Fridays, lunch and dinner. Unlucky, if you prefer to travel on a Tuesday.
Isn’t the dining carriage the place where romance starts? It certainly was when Cary Grant met Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest over dinner.
There is a touch of class about a train journey, at least the ones we prefer to remember. Even the more mundane are far more comfortable than a plane, shoe-horned in, knees barely clearing the seat in front, too close to fellow passengers for any real comfort.
Upgrade to Business or First Class on those longer flights. Of course, if you can afford it. But you’ll struggle to make any new memories stuck in the same steel tube. How else could we have watched a winter sun setting on a Danish fjord if it hadn’t been by train?
Practical, climate friendly, what can possibly go wrong?
I won’t labour the point. The train ticks a lot of boxes when we focus on the environment, especially high speed electrified ones. Electric planes are a long way behind as are hydrogen fuelled ones.
I once relocated to Bristol, swopping my VW Corrado Storm for a £6,300 season ticket from Bristol Parkway to Paddington. I thought it made sense to move from a faceless London suburb, because I worked in a Great Western Railway building close to platform 1.
The Red Dragon, GWR’s 125 service from Camarthen in South Wales, whisked me away from Bristol Parkway at 8.00, arriving Paddington at 9.14. Until it didn’t anymore, Swindon and Reading becoming additional stops. And then there were all the unexpected ones. The Box tunnel, one of Brunel’s engineering feats, regularly flooded in winter and the train had to divert via Bristol Temple Meads, a 40-minute detour. The cars and trucks which hit bridges, which then had to be inspected by a railway engineer before services could resume. The unfortunate cows which wandered onto the track and the sad suicides which always seemed to happen on a Friday? You only notice when you travel everyday.
Commuting can be hell as many Londoners will attest too. One of the benefits of the last two years and hopefully in the future, is less crowded services from the suburbs?
Perhaps the romance of the train has to be reserved for holidays?
I made a cursory search on Trainline (booking app), to see how easy it was to go from London to Aarhus? It breaks down into three distinct sections; London - Brussels, Brussels - Hamburg, Hamburg - Aarhus. If we can get to Hamburg by 20:43, we’ll be in Aarhus by 01:19. Relax. Far better to spend at least one night in Hamburg, perhaps two?
There’s definitely something in the air tonight, Charlie. Gregory’s Girl, 1981.