BMT Q Car Number 1612C (1908, rebuilt 1938), New York Transit Museum

Riding the train is one of the great joys for my three-year old grandson.   Specifically, he likes to ride the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) F train, although the G train might do in a pinch.  The F train runs from Jamaica, Queens to Coney Island, Brooklyn, and my grandson is familiar with every Brooklyn stop.  As he pushes his toy trains across the table or floor, he mimics the automated train voice that intones, “Stand clear of the closing doors, please.”   

As a product of the suburbs, where getting from one place to another generally involves driving a car, I did not discover my own love of riding the train until I was in my 40s.  During her junior year in college, my younger daughter studied at the University of Lyon, France. This provided me with the opportunity to travel to France and practice my nearly forgotten French. 

While in France, we traveled by train to visit my cousins in Switzerland, a soothing, relaxing journey.  I was fully armed with a book and a plan to take a nap, but was instantly mesmerized by the rails, seamlessly passing through forests and small, picturesque towns, with patches of snow and ice dotting the landscape. 

And that is the beauty of trains.  Riding the train for a journey of some length, other than during the madness of commuter rush hour, can be as soothing as swimming in warm waters.  Although few of us ride the train simply for the love of riding the train (unless you are accompanying a three-year old train aficionado!), time spent on a train can be both productive and relaxing.

BRT Brooklyn Union Elevated Car Number 1407 (1907)
Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum is adjacent to Union Station, District of Columbia

Trains played an important part in the history of U.S. mail delivery.  Mail by Rail, one of the permanent exhibitions at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum in Washington DC, tells the story of how sorting the mail on train cars modernized the delivery of the mail by the U.S. Postal System.  Although first class mail is no longer sorted or delivered by train, adults and children can explore this history through the exhibition and in a historic railway car at the National Postal Museum.

Mail sorting train car from the National Postal Museum

In Night Mail, English poet W.H. Auden (1907 – 1973) lauded the delivery of mail by train.  The following are excerpts from this charming poem.  To read the complete poem, click on this link:  Thanks to my friend Anne R. for sharing this with me.

“This is the night mail crossing the Border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,

Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner, the girl next door.

“Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from girl and boy,
And timid lovers’ declarations,
And gossip, gossip from all the nations,

Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, the adoring,
The cold and official and the heart’s outpouring,
Clever, stupid, short and long,
The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong.”

There is a special place in downtown Brooklyn for train enthusiasts, both old and young, the New York Transit Museum.  The Transit Museum, located in a decommissioned subway station, features vintage train cars, some dating back to the turn of the century, as well as vintage buses.  A series of exhibits, both physical and digital, as well as guided tours of the train cars, a special tour of the old City Hall station, class visits and more, make this a popular destination.

It would be remiss to not mention the Transit Museum Shop, where one can purchase various train-themed gift items, including books, puzzles, apparel, mugs, jewelry, umbrellas and the like.  Toy replicas of various trains are highly popular, including the beloved F and G toy trains. 

Options for riding the train for medium or long distance in the U.S. can be found through Amtrak, a quasi-public agency that receives government subsidies but is managed as a for-profit entity.  I have enjoyed riding the train from the beautiful Union Station in Washington, DC to Penn Station in New York several times on the Northeast Regional line, including the Acela Express train. 

Riding the train sometimes can be a gritty, frustrating experience, especially for commuters.  Overcrowded trains, missed connections, and other commuter woes happen all too frequently.  But in an ideal world, we could all travel safely, conveniently and in comfort by modern rail.  Whether your next train ride is tomorrow or years from now, remember to “Stand clear of the closing doors, please.”   

Thomas the Tank Engine, Percy and the F train all ride the wooden rails


All Poetry. Night Mail by W. H. Auden. 

MTA Regional Transit

National Postal Museum

New York Transit Museum

Poetry Foundation.  W.H. Auden 

Wikipedia.  Amtrak

Wikipedia.  History of Rail Transportation in the United States

Wikipedia.  Timeline of United States Railway History

This Post Has One Comment

  1. I was that child over 70 years ago in love with trains. My mom used to take me in to Boston to sit in the car overlooking the train yards. Later when I was 10 my dad took me in an all day train ride sponsored by a rail enthusiasts club…down to Providence then up to White River Junction…pulled of course by a beautiful steam locomotive. If my brother had been born first I might not have been thus indulged…who knows?
    I did marry a Muni driver!

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