There is still something about a train journey which holds nostalgic memories for many people.
Although many train services have disappeared for compelling political or economic, reasons largely due to the emergence of air transportation over longer distances, still others have adapted and survived to become listed as well known tourist services for a variety of reasons.
For almost a century, the story of The Orient Express was inextricably woven into the tempestuous history of Europe. Its very name is redolent with fame and riches, spies and diplomats and the romance of the mysterious East. The most famous train ever to operate, the Express spanned a continent and became not only the wonder of railroad engineers, but the setting for novels, films, television features and sensational news stories.
A celebrated dancer, Margaretha Gertrud Zelle, who achieved world wide notoriety as “Mata Hari” the most dangerous woman spy, contributed to the popular designation of the Orient Express as “The Mystery Train”. She frequently travelled on the train, often as a spy for Germany in World War I. Shown in Figure 1 is one of set of 4 souvenir sheets (Scott 238), depicting Mata Hari, a poster of the Orient Express and a border scene. Check also Cook Islands 1985 (Scott 865), Korea 1984 (Scott SGN 243-5), Lesotho 1984 (Scott 453), and Romania 1983 (Scott 3165).
It was back in 1858 that the first plans for a “Trans-Siberian Railway” were promulgated linking Moscow and European Russia with the Pacific Coast of Siberia. Official approval was eventually given in 1891. Such was the size of the task faced by the Russians in the construction of the railroad that although work began in 1891, it was not completed until 1905. One of the most interesting aspects of this railway is its vast number of bridges, large and small, as the line traverses a large number of valleys along the route.
After World War II, the main element of passenger services was provided by the “Trans-Siberian” express, which had special sleeping can and dining facilities. The 9612 km journey from Moscow to Vladivostok took about 10 days to complete, at an average speed of 40 km per hour.
In 2002, the Russian Republic (‘Rossija’) issued a miniature sheet for the train’s centenary, Scott 6683, illustrated in Figure 2, that featured the route and the train on a multi-truss bridge. Check also Grenada 1982 (Scott 1121), Hungary 1979 (Scott 2576-7); other countries’ issues also exist.
Just after the end of World War II, the Japanese authorities planned the construction of a high speed straight railroad line between Tokyo and Osaka. It was not, however, until 1965 that these cities were linked by a full service. A special high speed locomotive called a “Shinkansen” train was built to service the line. Today the Tokyo-Osaka route is the busiest of several ‘Bullet’ train services with trains departing Tokyo at six minute intervals during peak period. Figure 3 illustrates the first ‘Bullet’ train Japan 1964 (Scott 827). Check also Japan 1972 (Scott 1109), and 1982 (Scott 1513).
The name The Flying Scotsman began to dawn on the consciousness of Britons in 1923. It was in this year that the express service of the same name was inaugurated, covering the 650 km connecting London and Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. The first express services on this mute back in the 1920s had a journey time of 10 hours 30 minutes, a figure that has been steadily reduced to today’s time of around 4 hours 30 minutes. Throughout its course it was originally hauled by steam locomotives, later by diesel-engine locomotives and now by electric locomotives. It passes through some of the most attractive scenery in the eastern part of England and also traverses some excellent pieces of civil engineering of the heyday of the Victorian Age. The Flying Scotsman has been depicted on the 17p value of a set of Great Britain stamps to commemorate the Great Western Railway 150th Anniversary, Scott 1093, shown in Figure 4.
Only one transcontinental journey is still operating across Canada from Vancouver to Toronto, a distance of 4467 km. The service operates 3 times a week as the “Canadian Pacific” and takes 3 days and 3 nights to cover the route, which is a combination of point-to-point transport and another which is more expensive, for the passengers travelling on the the train for its touring aspect . The train has been depicted on Niger 1992 (Scott 2471). Those prepared to pay a premium for more comfort enjoy superbly refurbished public cars, which includes club, dining and magnificent scenery from the observation units.
New Zealand issued a set of six stamps featuring its scenic trains on 6 August 1997 (Scott 1446-1465). Shown in Figure 5, is “The Overlander” connecting the North Island’s two main cities, Auckland and Wellington. This is the longest train journey in New Zealand providing scenic views of seascapes, farmland and the volcanic plateau.
The “Indian Pacific” journey across the Australian continent from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean first commenced in 1917. When the service first began the railroad distance was then reckoned at 4372 km. Today however, the line is fairly direct and by standard gauge track throughout, cutting the distance to 3961 km. Illustrated in Figure 6 is the prestamped envelope issued for the “75th Anniversary of the Trans Australia Railway” in 1992.
The Indian Pacific train crosses the Blue Mountains through magnificent scenery. While traversing the semi-desert Nullabor plain, the line contains a straight section of 478 km, which is the longest of its type in the world.
That brings me to the 75th Anniversary of “The Ghan”, which will take place on 2nd August this year. There were celebrations earlier in the year when the Alice Springs/Darwin section of the line was completed and the first train undertook the 3588 km journey from Adelaide to Darwin. An Australian prestamped envelope (# 030) was issued on October 9, 1980 to commemorate the opening of the Tarcoola-Alice Springs section of the line. The Australian Airmail Society Inc. advertised a set of attractive covers in February 2004 Stamp News to commemorate the first passenger train Adelaide/Darwin/Adelaide. The society has overprinted this set of up/down covers with a special cachet marking the Ghan’s 75th Anniversary at a cost of $27 set including postage or $14.50 for a single cover including postage, available from the Australian Air Mail Society, GPO Box 954 Adelaide 5001. (credit card facilities not available).
My research book was Famous Trains of the 20th Century by C. Chant, edited by John Moore ISBN 0 75370 2673. This article is an overview as many other countries have issued “Famous Train” sets.