Journalist Tom Zoellner is back from a rousing trip around the world — entirely by rail. In his book, “Train: Riding the Rails That Created the Modern World,” Zoellner charts the history of the locomotive along the world’s most important railways, from the birthplace of the steam engine in Cornwall, England, to the frigid stretches of the Trans-Siberian railroad. We’ll talk about his journey and discuss the future of high speed rail.

Tom Zoellner, author of "Train: Riding the Rails That Created the Modern World - from the Trans-Siberian to the Southwest Chief"

  • It’s a amazing to travel around the world by train and I hope I can also travel around the world by train.As it is the most safe way.

  • andrea

    My best train trip was in ’84 after I’d spent a year living in Florence, Italy. My boyfriend and I were heading out of Italy through Venice by train — it was our last night in Italy and had a little time to kill so thought we’d enjoy a final bittersweet meal in our beloved country. We’d completely lost track of time, when I glanced at my watch and realized that we had only 10 minutes to catch our train! Racing across Venice to the station, we saw our train just starting to move away. My boyfriend grabbed my luggage, ran ahead of me and managed to jump aboard all the while I was running harder than I’d ever done in my life. The train now on its way, I barely caught up to the last car when my boyfriend reached down and grabbed my arm and the conductor grabbing the other! With all of their strength, they pulled me in and fell onto their backs; me falling on top of them. (what a sight!) Once we’d realized that we’d made it in safely, we got up, brushed ourselves off, looked at each other and burst out laughing. What a memorable ending to a remarkable year living in the most beautiful country in the world!

  • Guest

    Train travel is a metaphor for the passage of people through time.

    • Beardo

      Awesome quote, Frank.

      • Guest

        Thanks, it just came to me.

  • radioman

    In 1987 my wife and I traveled from Berlin to Leipzig Germany (when east was east and west was west). When leaving on the train from the east to go back to our temporary home north of Frankfurt, an East German border guard informed me that I had actually left yesterday. His statement left me uneasy because I could not be accounted for if he was correct, (I could not be back in the east again so soon after having left), and I could be considered a western spy. I simply informed him that the day before my twin brother had crossed the border…. and to my surprised that answer was sufficient. In retrospect this should not have been surprising because the travel agency of the GDR was really a cover for the Stasi and they knew everything (our host family told us that the Stasi had approached them to in order to recruit us as spies…the husband told them to get lost). The border agent then checked under our seats, and mirrors were rolled under our carriage to check for GDR citizens looking to exit the country. We were then underway without further issues.

  • Hans Cathcart

    I just got back from visiting the Boeing factory in Renton, WA, and every one of Boeing’s 737 airliner fuselages is still delivered via rail from Wichita, KS.
    Hans from Petaluma

  • Ben Rawner

    What was your guests favorite train to sleep on? When I backpacked around Europe the sleepr cars in Italy were so great!

  • lalameda

    My grandparents homesteaded near Clovis, NM in the early 1900’s. They, like other farmers and ranchers in the area, used cast off box cars for homes and outbuildings. They still had those, including a caboose, when as a child in the 50’s and 60’s, my cousins and I played in them. The caboose is still there, I can see it from Google earth. There was no local lumber available which is why they bought the boxcars and caboose.

  • Bob Fry

    My father once mentioned he was one of the army of young men riding the rails in the Great Depression. He left Texas during that time and ended up in California…one of my biggest regrets is not asking him more about his experiences. Too late now, but if your parents are still alive, be sure to talk to them!

  • Pamela Ciszewski

    It’s interesting to note that the audible experience on BART is a low droning sound and sometimes grating and high pitched. I think it is a drain on the psyche of it’s passengers, especially those who commute daily on it. I enjoy the sounds on an old fashioned train, it doesn’t drain my energy and distract me.

  • ebbflowin

    I grew up in northern California a couple blocks from a Southern Pacific spur line falling asleep to the sound of passing freights, and spent much time in our basement with my train fan father building model railroads, and reading every book in ‘The Boxcar Children’ book series.

    In middle school my parents visited the old west mining town of Virginia City, NV and they fell in love. They soon sold both of their businesses and we moved there. My father then took employment on the Virginia & Truckee Railroad where my little brother & I rode the steam train to our heart’s content. It all culminated in my crowning achievement of acting as the locomotive’s fireman on the Baldwin Locomotive Works Engine No. 8 at the ripe age of 13.

  • Irma Grant

    It’s the wonderful people you meet and connections you make on train rides around the world: the lunch my sister and I shared with a Spanish family while railing through Spain, the young Russian couple my husband and I shared a cabin with while crossing Siberia, the worldly discussions on the slow Indian rails and the sharing of parenting advice across the Scandinavian landscape. Memories I will cherish forever.

    Irma Grant
    Pleasanton, CA

  • Katherine

    My best train memory was taking the Cal Zephur from
    SFrancisco to Chicago with my family. I was 8 years old (1956), and the
    Porter allowed me to sit in the VistaDome while we got the train washed in
    Denver. Just he and I in the Dome – it was the thrill of a lifetime!

  • Peter

    Speaking of songs inspired by the rhythm of the rails, train buffs should enjoy this great Soviet propaganda song from 1978, “My address is not a house, and not a street: my address is the Soviet Union.”

  • logiclust


    My love of the rail began in New Zealand. Actually, It began while driving up i5 on the way to the alaskan highway when i could see this train snaking its way through the mountains along a ravine and how i had wished i could be on that train rather than the back seat of the car i was occupying.

    I began my rail experiences on a trip from Dunedin to Christchurch where i fell in love with both the train and the woman i was with. Since then I’ve been fortunate enough the travel and ride many rail systems and absolutely love being able to drop down off the sidewalk and hop on a train that gets me across town in just a few moments.

    In March, 2011 I was sent to Japan for work and decided to purchase a JR Pass and spend a week exploring. It was on the 11th that I was headed back from Nagano to the airport in Tokyo when, just before Tokyo Station, the Shinkasen screeched to a stop, rocked and rolled and jerked about. We sat quietly in the dark underground while aftershock after aftershock kicked us about. Almost 2 hours had passed when power was restored to the train and we started creeping out as a snail’s pace compared to what these bullet trains normally can do.

    It was a terrifying experience that i throughly enjoyed. If that experience didn’t spoil my taste for riding trains, nothing will.

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