Read the text carefully and answer the questions that follow it. Use your own words throughout as far as possible.

In the days when train travel was the norm, we were all rather inclined to take it for granted. After a thirty-year glut1 of jet and motorway travel, the novelty of which has long since worn off, we can see that train travel was—and when you can get it, still is—comparative bliss2. No one who has travelled long distances on a motorway, chained like a dog3 to his seat, unable to read or drink, deafened by their engines and blackened by their fumes, would wish to repeat the experience for pleasure.

Air travel is little better. One is cramped and disorientated. Chains are de rigueur here too; and if you happen to find yourself next to a manic child or compulsive chatterbox, there is little you can do to escape. Airlines attempt to compensate for these deficiencies with piped music, films, and instant alcohol. These overload the system and, combined with a swingeing time-change, lead to total dysfunction5; arriving within hours of setting out, one needs two days to recover.
Train journeys, in comparison, have much to offer. Unlike sea or air travel, one has a fair notion where one is; and the countryside, like a moving picture show6, unrolls itself before one’s eyes. One is transported in comfort, even style, to the wild places of earth—forest, mountain, desert; and always there is the counterpoint7 between life within the train and life without…

One can move around in a train, visit the buffet for snacks or a drink, play cards (or, on some American trains, the piano), strike up a conversation, read, sleep, snore, make love. Luggage is to hand too, not as in a car or airplane, ungetatable in trunk or belly8.

Some trains are designed to satisfy national needs. The American club car, for instance, exists for passengers to bore each other with accounts of business deals, marital problems: the price they know they must pay is to be bored in turn later. The English have never gone in for club cars, believing that on long journeys one should not utter at all. When buffet cars were first introduced to British trains, there was a real danger they might lead to social intercourse. Happily they turned out to be so utterly bereft12 of comfort and style, as to discourage any right-thinking person from staying a moment longer than the time needed for his purchase, which he is then free to convey to the privacy and silence of his seat.

Yet the sweetest pleasure of any long train journey lies in its anticipation… Even if achievement rarely matches promise, one may still daydream. How green are the vistas, what’s for dinner, whom shall I meet? In the end it’s the passengers who provide the richest moments of any long-distance trip. For train travel, being constricted both in time and space, magnifies character, intensifies relationships. Ordinary people become extraordinary, larger than life; and in the knowledge that they will not meet again, expansive, confiding, intimate. Let us talk now, you and I: later will be too late.

(adapted from Ludovic Kennedy’s ‘A Book of Railway Journeys’)


1 Why is a word like ‘glut’ used in connection with jet and motorway travel?

2 Describe, in your own words, the ‘comparative bliss’.

3 What figure of speech is used in ‘chained like a dog’ in this context? Explain it.

4 What are the disadvantages of air travel, according to the writer?

5 What, according to the writer, leads to ‘total dysfunction’?

6 Why is the countryside compared to ‘a moving picture show’?

7 Explain, in your own words, ‘counterpoint’.

8 What does the writer mean by ‘ungetatable in trunk or belly’?

9 What, according to the writer, are the American national needs?

10 Why do the English dislike club cars?

11 Explain the disadvantages of buffet cars.

12 Explain the meaning of the phrase ‘utterly bereft’.

13 Why does the writer think the passengers on train journeys provide the most interest?

14 In a paragraph of 50–60 words, summarise the writer’s views on the advantages of train journeys over other forms of travel.

Sample Answers

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