I’ve always loved trains. There’s just something about them, isn’t there? Not as blustery and self-involved as cars, nor loud and angry and expensive like planes, trains move with a gentle, rattling hum, ferrying the public to far climbs for a small fee.
Nowadays you have the smooth maglevs, which sound almost like gliding alien engines whirring by, but I’m a fan of the old single-car trains ricketing along rusting metal tracks that grow thick with untethered grass. There’s a magic, a mystery to them, even a playfulness, that modern trains can’t touch.
And along with trains themselves, I also love train stations. Not the crowded major metropolitan ones, but the out of the way stops, the places people barely go to, that the trains stop at for nebulous reasons. The more isolated, overgrown, and unkempt, the better. And if cars can’t actually reach them? Now that’s something special.
I started what one might call my collection of stations back before college. My first big “get” was the Corrour railway station in the UK, nestled in an unassuming area of peaks and valleys, the landscape surrounding a quaint white building with gray gabled roofs sloping downward. An unimposing loch idled next to the site, waiting to freeze over again during the long winter months. I was lucky to go during the warmer season with my parents, back when my dad was still alive. I don’t know if he was quite the train aficionado as I was, or if he particularly enjoyed being dragged into the middle of nowhere to see an uninspiring building and brownish green hillsides, but he did it, so I give him credit.
While he may not have been impressed, I loved it. I had researched the area beforehand quite a bit, and to actually stand there and look around, take in the air and sunlight, was mesmerizing. Almost like I had stepped through the looking glass of another world that had only previously existed in my head. I had to have more.
I began focusing spare time into it, charting out potential ways to travel cheaply around the country and the world, and figuring out which stations I wanted to see. It helped that train travel is reasonably inexpensive.
As I whiled my way through the UK’s list – going to places like the Altnabreac station in Scotland, or the Sugar Loaf in Wales – my real destination was Japan. Unsurprisingly, there’s actually a term in Japanese for disused and remote rail stations – hikyō stations, or “secluded” stations. There are websites devoted to them, unfortunately none in English, but I’ve done my best to try and map out which ones I want to see and document for myself. And Japan is packed with them, some so isolated it makes you wonder why they were even built in the first place.
Maybe whatever it was that was at that place just had its fun with me and let me go. Maybe I just got lucky. Or maybe…maybe…I’m still there, and don’t even know it.
But y’know the worst part, the thing that really tears me up now?
I really hate trains.