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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 1 (April 2, 1934.)

The Suburban Train — A Daily Half-Hour Of Adventure

The Suburban Train
A Daily Half-Hour Of Adventure

Whenever I spend a couple of weeks in any of the more outlying suburbs, and whenever location of the house allows of it, I travel into the City by train, and the truth is that I frequently derive as much fun from the journeys to the City in the morning, and home again in the afternoon, as I do from my entire stay. For to me there is just the same spirit of excitement, and adventure, and romance connected with catching a train to, say, New Lynn, or Henderson, or even Mt. Albert, as there is in settling into the reserved corner seat on the Limited.

And the rigid subjection to schedule that catching a train involves is unparalleled for combatting that little demon of procrastination that is in most of us, and that eats up our lives, minutely and insidiously, in seconds and five and ten minute intervals.

There are several trains for me to choose from. Early workers' trains before seven o'clock, used more by men than women. Trains for workers in shops, and tradesmen, and all whose starting-hour is near eight o'clock. And trains for office workers that reach the City before nine.

There are heavy-booted watersiders on these trains, and servant girls, and factory girls, and men without collars and ties, and sometimes unshaven men. And they carry their lunches in little bags or wrapped in brown paper. And there are serious students on the train, who read during the whole journey, as often as not making pencilled jottings in note-books or on the margins of the text as they go along. And matrons with kits and baskets going in to market travel by these trains. And typists and barristers, and hawkers, and message boys.

The men, for the most part, spend the half-hour in scanning the morning paper, or chatting with friends, or sitting alone in gloomy silence or smiling meditation.

The women frequently delve into small kits and bring out a magazine or a novel or some form of fancy-work. And if one is oneself disengaged one may overhear interesting details about Emily's fiance being far too good for her, or what the boss said to Flo yesterday, or “where Sis and Lulu and I went for the holidays.”

How kindly trains are towards day-dreamers! How they lend themselves to that ancient, fascinating game of make-believe! The waiting-room, the signals, and the shining lines stretching on and on into the distance to left and right. How easy it is to delude oneself that the journey is for a thousand miles into an enchanted country and to the fair, spreading Cities of the heart's desire. “Nonsense!” you say. Oh, very likely. But what would become of a world without it? How would we live our lives from day to day were it not for that glamorous, colourful chimera, the dream of what might be around the corner? And for me there are three things than I can rely on never to fail me in calling up this cherished dream—a ship casting off her last hawser and pulling gradually away from the wharf, the chatter and excitement and piling of luggage incidental to a departing train, and the straightness of a long, white road.

And at every station when the bell rings and the guard blows his whistle and we roll forward again to an accompaniment of powerful grunts and puffs from the engine, and new passengers settle down into their seats, the absence of crush and bustle, the confident, unflustered action of the guards, and the rhythmic beating of the wheels, all give an air of permanency to the journey such as aids and strengthens my game of make-believe.

At night my suburban train is a long dark prehistoric panther, swinging round corners, darting in and out of tunnels, pounding along the straight, and roaring for signals and crossings and tunnels. And always at night it seems in a hurry, sending houses, factories, farms and telegraph poles reeling behind us, as if it fed on space and would compete with Time itself.

“Good gracious! How late you are!” my friends say when I arrive at my destination. “Why ever didn't you get on a tram when you knew you were too late for the 8.30? Or Bob could have run you out in no time.”

But even as I mumble an apology I feel no remorse. Let it be trams and cars when expediency demands it, but trains when my soul cries out for the bright half-hour of adventure at the end of a busy day.