Back then a journey on a real InterCity train was pantwettingly exciting. The big Class 45 diesel trains used to thunder through my suburban station without stopping on their route to mystical and faraway places like Bedford Midland or Kentish Town. I was so obsessed by them that I used to catch a local train to St Albans, where the big trains did stop, and then catch one of those to London, speeding back past my home on the way. I felt – as best a ten-year-old boy could – like a real explorer.
To me, trains were a clever combination of acceptable schoolboy hobby and pure escapism. An old man with long silver hair on the television told me, ‘This is the age of the train!’ and I believed him.
As a student in the late 1980s I took advantage of the long summer breaks to explore Europe with a magical ticket called an Interrail pass. I joined the community of Interrailers sleeping on station platforms and various night trains trundling around Europe. For a £150 one-month ticket, I could travel north to Scandinavia, south to Morocco and east to Turkey, stopping at plenty of places in between. It was pretty addictive, and I just couldn’t put my trusty Thomas Cook European Timetable down.
Sadly before too long, work got in the way and my cheap red nylon rucksack, battered sleeping mat and well-thumbed rail timetable were retired to the attic next to my train set. I felt that I no longer had enough free time to get anywhere that could bring back that long-range rail buzz. Somehow I got over my rail addiction and defaulted to travelling to faraway places by plane for those precious few weeks’ annual holiday.
In 2012 I changed career and found myself for the first time with the ideal combination of resources to rekindle my love of rail adventure on an altogether bigger scale – some money in the bank, plenty of time and a large-scale 1956 edition National Geographic map.
I have now completed several Trans-Siberian, Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian rail journeys from my home, reaching destinations such as Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo and Hong Kong by train. In 2016 I successfully completed a solo journey on the longest and highest railways in the world, to reach Tibet by train.
Welcome to my world! I hope you enjoy reading about my travels and that they might inspire you to embark on your own train adventure.
Matthew Woodward @ 2019