Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Riding the Fast Train

Trains have always held a fascination for me.  On occasion I have taken Amtrak between Portland and Olympia, and found it to be a refreshing way to make the commute...much more relaxing than battling the freeway (though I must admit the stretch north of Vancouver, WA to Exit 88 to Tenino and then on to Offut Lake is generally less crowded).  Although it is touted as a way to catch up on work or reading a novel, I have more often found myself simply gazing out of the window at the passing scenery.

As a child I remember counting the rail cars while stopped at a crossing, and it was a very special treat to see an old locomotive under full steam.  Now as an engineer (and no, not the train type of engineer!) I find myself involved in various transit and light rail projects over the course of my career.  The whistle of a distant train still evokes a smile on my face.

During our trip through Europe we thought it would be fun to ride the train from London to Paris.  The Eurostar runs non-stop from the International Station in London (to which we rode in the "Tube" or London's subway. Yes, more trains!) into the heart of Paris, arriving about 2 hours and 15 minutes after pulling away in London. 

Train stations in Europe (or at least in London and Paris) are vastly different than our American counterparts.  Here we sit waiting for our departure in London's St. Pancras International, which more resembles a major airport with the restaurants and shops.
I think the caption for this picture is either "I've got a ticket to ride", or "I'm going to Paris!"

I would include a photo out of our window, but the train simply travelled too fast! For most of the trip we were approximately 300 Kilometers per hour, or 180 miles per hour.  Everything outside was a blur.  I was especially curious about the portion under the English Channel, but we could've been travelling at night for all the difference it made.  Despite the speed, it was extremely comfortable.
Paris' Gard du Nord station, our destination
One very nice thing about train travel in general, and travelling in Europe, is the sheer convenience of it.  The train arrives, we disembark, and walk towards the exit and our taxi.  No security, no passport check, no long walk down endless concourses...and you are immediately in the heart of the city.  Between the subway systems in Paris and London, the streetcars in Amsterdam and the "normal" train (which only goes around 80 mph), it's the only way to travel.

The train schedule board in Paris.  Every so many minutes the letters and numbers would flip and the changes would cascade down the face of the panel. 
After spending a few days in Paris, we then boarded another high speed train that would take us to Rotterdam, where we would then transfer to Holland's train system.  The Paris-to-Rotterdam was another rail company called Thalys. 

The Thalys train in Paris, going to Rotterdam
Inside the passenger car

We chose First Class, partly because we were late in obtaining our tickets and they couldn't guarantee we would sit together, and we thought it would be cool.  It was!  The seats were very comfortable (two on one side and one on the other side of the aisle), a meal was included, as were glasses of wine.

Arrival at Rotterdam station
The Thalys train was almost 30 minutes late leaving Paris, which meant we would miss our connecting train at Rotterdam.  However, the agent assured us that was not a problem.  We could simply hop on the next train to our destination.  The ticket would still be honored...and one was leaving in just 10 minutes.  Yes, we made it.

All the trains in Europe are electric.  I took this picture simply because I was designing similar structures that support overhead wires for the new train out to Denver's airport. 

I highly recommend riding the rails in Europe.  As the old Western Airlines commercial (with the cigar-smoking bird) said, "It's the only way to fly!"


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