Minding the gap on passenger-train service

The most common words uttered by tourists are, “they do things differently here.”

Of course they do — experiencing those differences is the reason we travel. Just back from a trip to Scotland and the Midlands of England, as well as London, Syd and I are still readjusting to Canadian life.

As any fool knows, our friends in the U.K. drive on the wrong side of the road. They call it, “living on the left.”

I have this advice for anyone visiting there — do not, under any circumstances, get behind the wheel of a car. For one thing, the automatic transmission hasn’t yet made it to that part of the world.

The terror of driving on the left side of the road and shifting gears with a left hand that has no clue what it should be doing is surpassed only by those stretches of countryside where there is only one “track,” while your wife offers advice such as, “You’re pretty close to the edge over here!” and “Bear left, bear left!”

Better to take the train, which brings me closer to my point.

While British cities are scant on street signs (probably because nobody in his right mind would drive), there’s plenty of signage in train and subway (er, “tube”) stations.

For example, prolific warnings painted on the station platforms say, “Mind the gap,” meaning don’t trip or get your foot stuck.” In Canada, we’d say, “Watch your step” or “Please don’t break something and become a drain on the healthcare system.”

That is, if we had a train or subway (er, “underground”) network that had a gap to mind.

By virtue of a lot of space and few people, Canadian cities haven’t grown up with trains and subways. In Europe and southeast Asia, you can rocket by rail from one side of town to the other in minutes, or from one side of the country to the other in mere hours (we decided to hop a train for the 52-minute trip to Edinburgh from Glasgow one evening for a wee dinner, just because we could).

How strange it must be for people from those countries to visit here and find that petrol-sucking buses are the only option in and between our cities.

Which brings us to the issue of trains and downtown Kamloops. Maybe we should stop whining about having tracks going through our downtown area as if it’s a negative.

In countries where trains are the preferred mode of travel, anyone who suggested the tracks should be moved out of town would be submitted for a psychological assessment.

I will confess there are downsides to having tracks in our city — noise, mainly, and the impatient wait at level crossings.

I acknowledge, as well, that while we have tracks we have no passenger service — other than the Rocky Mountainer and 2141 tourism trains and an occasional Via Rail making a middle-of-the-night whistle stop. Freight trains are a big part of life here (last year our U.K. rellies expressed amazement at the miles-long CN container trains snaking down the North Thompson), but moving people by rail is no longer something we do.

Some day, I suggest, when we reach something approaching the density of the Old World countries, we’ll return to trains as a mode of public transportation. And we’ll be glad we have a rail yard conveniently located downtown.

About Mel Rothenburger (6115 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

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