Shades of the USSR Night Train


Waiting for a night train in Upstate NY

I live in a pretty suburban area (well, it’s a small city, surrounded by rural areas). We drive everywhere in cars, and the nearest (tiny) train station is about 20 minutes away.

Hence, it’s been a couple years since I’ve been on a train…and much longer since I took one at night. In fact the last time I rode a train at night was when I was 21 and an American student, living and studying in the former USSR.

Just this past weekend, I found it necessary to take a train at night again (long story involving some other travel and a death in the family, necessitating my attendance at the wake in another city). It was only an hour long train ride, from point A to point B, but waiting in the old station  – pretty much every train station in Upstate New York is “old” – and then standing at trackside, for the train to come in, brought to mind that other time and place from two and a half decades earlier.

I got used to riding the night train during the months I lived in the Soviet Union. It was the most common form of travel in and around the cities (primarily Leningrad and Moscow for me), and my “free” time after classes, which I used to explore palaces, museums, and the countryside around, usually brought me back into the home station during darker hours.

But I always felt and was “safe” because there was virtually no crime on public transportation or on the streets at that time (the citizens were too fearful to step out of line, and there were soldiers with big guns wandering all over the place)…but the atmosphere was oppressive to say the least.

My latest night train experience, I’m happy to say, was a little different (and the seats were more comfortable too). 🙂

5 thoughts on “Shades of the USSR Night Train

  1. kris fletcher says:

    I’m always amazed at the things that linger in our memories. Two and a half decades ago, you probably never imagined that the night train would still be with you – yet there it is. Love it.


    • You’re spot on. I guess it was the damp, sort of misty dark that triggered the memory…and the faint scent of metal from the tracks and steel beams, mixed with cigarette smoke and the hum of voices as people milled around waiting for the train to pull in. The dark is great for focusing one’s senses to what is visible or sensed immediately. And in the dark, I imagine many train platforms look and feel quite similar in various parts of the world.

      It was a rather nice flashback because it brought me back to my 20’s. The other aspects of that study abroad semester that weren’t as nice are still good memories, in that I wouldn’t change anything about the undertaking. And it helped me to realize my initial career plans weren’t going to mesh with what I wanted from life. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience for me. 🙂


    • Yes, it might well be. 🙂 Although I’ve written an historical novel set in Russia (not published and probably never to see the light of day), I’ve never come up with what I consider a good enough plot and/or set of characters for a novel set at the end of the Soviet era. Remembering the train makes me think that perhaps I should keep brewing a little about it.

      Liked by 1 person

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