A thought on the train

The conductor is always the same conductor on my train to Tarrytown, which at first I found quite strange but – after consideration and repetition – now find quite reasonable and practical.

In the great big thing that is the Metro-North Railroad Mass Transportation System, I would expect that schedules be laid out according to cost, and that the ghost in the machine would optimize the correct personnel for the correct train at the correct price. However, the trains are prone to error, and therefore using the same conductor is also likely a matter of safety and familiarity with the route.

It’s interesting how the metal shines on train tracks. I assume, because of the heavy traffic and speeds at which trains travel, friction is created and an ever-so-slight scraping of metal on metal polishes the tops of the tracks to a fine glimmer, while their sides rust and oxidize.

What I’m referring to is best viewed at dusk, in autumn, when the steel catches the sun’s pale rays through brisk air and falling leaves. If one focuses on a single point on the tracks as his or her train heads toward its destination, the tracks seem to move of their own accord and it appears as if they – not the train – are providing quiet locomotion pushing onward toward dinner, and home.

In the morning, mist blankets the Palisades cliffs across the Hudson. I am not seated on that side of the train, and am watching trains speed by in the opposite direction, lights on, wheels maintaining speed. I see the mist in a reflection of a reflection – my window reflecting the window across from me, behind a family of three. In this instance I wish I owned a camera good enough to catch such subtle light – light mirroring light which mirrors mist and river.

Perhaps trains imply time. There is something about the motion, about the endless tracks ahead that imply the passage of the sun and moon, as if the tracks circumscribed the earth.

Cars don’t imply time; they’re too active, too unpredictable. There’s too much room for decisions. Stop here, or pull over there, or make a slight left.

A train has none of those decisions to make. It continues ever on, into the quiet night.