Shades of the USSR Night Train

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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). 🙂