Saturday, November 26, 2005

The People's Railroad

When I have to come to Toronto, I usually take the train. I like taking the train because I can pretend I’m getting some work done while I travel.
The only problem with the train is that it’s – well – slow and boring. Compared to trains in Europe, for instance, riding on the Via rail is about as exciting an experience as riding in an elevator.
Which is why I was very excited last year to learn that Via was about to add a new super-duper train called "IC 3 Flexliner" to its fleet. Not only would the new train be much faster, what was especially thrilling was the news that the new train was made in Denmark, the country of my origin.
As those North Americans not from America will know, Denmark is in Europe. The reason why a lot of things are done the way they are around the world has to do with what has happened in Europe over the years. Mostly, it seems, Europeans spent a lot of their time trying to get from where they were to some place else. Columbus was from Europe, for instance, and so was Napoleon.
Anyway, if you look on a map of Europe, you will see a little tiny bit that sticks up from the northern coast of Germany like a tuft of hair on a bald head. That's Denmark. Denmark is about the size of Prince Edward Island. To put things in perspective, most of Denmark would fit inside the Skydome.
Denmark is a part of Europe known as "Scandinavia" which is Nordic for "no more pickled herring and schnapps for me, thanks," and has also had a hand in producing Scandinavian Surprise Furniture which comes in large cardboard boxes and can be assembled into desks, book shelves, beds, kitchens, bath rooms and two-story cottages using only an Allen key. Just about everything made in Denmark needs to be assembled before it can be put to use.
The Flexliner, by the way, is able to travel at 120 miles per hours, which is interesting when you stop to think that Denmark is barely 120 miles long end-to-end.
When Via took the media on a jaunt from London to Ingersoll last year, the Flexliner reached a speed of 90 miles per hour, which was terribly exciting for the passengers, but not so exciting for the livestock. Because the Danes live in such a small country, they have become very good at designing small things. Danish cars are very small. So are the horns that go into these cars, horns that make the same sound small dogs do when they get their tails caught in the door. Not surprisingly, this being a Danish train, the Flexliner has such a horn, only it is very loud and the driver of the train liked to hear it. Canadian cows and horses are used to Canadian trains with their Canadian train whistles, but they sure don't think much of the sound the Flexliner makes as it comes roaring down the track at 90 miles an hour making a sound like a small animal in distress. "Look at those cows run!" was the excited comment from one of the normally unflappable media people.
I thought the train was very nice, except for the horn, and it didn't fall off the track even at 90 miles an hour, which was very reassuring. But whether it will change the way VIA is operated remains to be seen: the train was 20 minutes late leaving the station on the day of the media tour, and I haven’t seen it since. Maybe the VIA Rail people are having trouble finding the Allan key.
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