So what if British trains are slow? They are only catching up with the rest of the world

I do hope that there are some foreign tourists enjoying Britain's slow trains at the moment. Retired Americans, say, or mellow Australian backpackers. People who stay relaxed while looking out of windows at stationary British landscapes.

I do hope that there are some foreign tourists enjoying Britain's slow trains at the moment. Retired Americans, say, or mellow Australian backpackers. People who stay relaxed while looking out of windows at stationary British landscapes.

This is not to wish harm to foreign tourists. It is just to say that these are the only people who might actually be enjoying the experience of, say, spending entire nights on trains travelling between London and Nottingham (as opposed to the locals, most of whom probably want to string themselves up from the nearest broken signals).

Swedes, I hope, are already cracking jokes with Spaniards about funny British trains (maybe they will re-run the one about the man asking if he has the right platform for today's train. The guard replies: "No sir. This is yesterday's train. Today's train comes tomorrow") Commuters will not laugh, but if you are a Swede or a Spaniard, there is at least a chance that you will board your British train smiling contentedly at the ancient truth that timetables are not the only thing in life.

We are always reading in guidebooks, after all, about the pleasure of catching trains "just for the experience of it". How about the famous "toy train" to Darjeeling in India, for example, which takes an entire day to trundle up a miniature-gauge railway, along a route that can be covered in no time at all by bus? Everyone agrees (except, presumably, for local commuters) that the train is the only way to do it - because of the funny clanking noises and the sheer nostalgia the ride evokes.

Then there was the excellent direct train that, until recently, still ran between Athens and Istanbul. The only reason for getting on this train was the time it took: between one and two days (not precise enough for you? Go by bus then). What I particularly liked was that it was slightly slower than the same scheduled train service had been at the time of the Ottoman empire.

It is the same with all the great train rides. Yes, some of them are very long journeys. But what makes them really "great" is their slowness. The Trans-Siberian may be the longest railway in the world, but by any standards a whole week to get from Moscow to Vladivostok is a hell of a long time. A French TGV covering the same route could do it in not much more than a day.

My own favourite place for extremely slow trains used to be Spain. It was as recent as the late-1980s that I enjoyed the pleasure of taking the longest domestic train journey then available anywhere in the European Union, between Barcelona and Granada. Timetabled at an astonishing 18 hours, it was none-too-convenient for a quick business meeting. But for a tourist, creeping down the coast to Valencia, moseying inland across the plains of La Mancha to Ciudad Real, then meandering south through places like Valdepenas and Baeza... well, what could be better? The Spanish state train company, Renfe, seemed to understand this, deliberately slowing the train down the nearer you got to your destination. The last stages, inching between the barren hills of Andalucia, gave tourists a spooky feeling that they were coming to the last place in the world.

But that has all changed. These days Spanish trains have become so speedy that there is no fun in them any more. Riding to Andalucia is getting to be a lot faster than riding to (say) Nottingham. I don't see why British train operators cannot capitalise on this, and start making a virtue out of their slowness. At least it will please the tourists.

News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
peopleHere's what Stephen Fry would say
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Proust as Captain Laure Berthaud in 'Spiral'
tvReview: Gritty, engaging and well-acted - it’s a wonder France’s biggest TV export isn’t broadcast on a more mainstream channel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Carmichael in still from Madam Bovary trailer
film
News
i100
Sport
Serena Williams holds the Australian Open title
sportAustralia Open 2015 final report
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links