The best seat on an ICE train is 13. Or 17. Well that‘s if it‘s the new rolling stock. And the train‘s going forward. And the driver hasn‘t opaqued the glass.

Seats 13 & 17 sit behind the driver‘s cab. You see the cab, the driver, and the track ahead. I took seat 13, yesterday, by good luck. The driver played host, and it was wonderful.

I‘ve ridden at the front of Docklands driverless trains, as they dive into tunnels under Fenchurch Street Station. It feels like diving into a Thunderbirds set. Of course, the Thunderbird trains were monorails, whooshing through bright white bendy concrete tunnels. There was no longing stretch of monorail for a boy to see those wonderful racing fantasy trains stretch away. I knew real futuristic rail tunnels would have no bends; I knew the Thunderbirds track was short to keep the set in budget. Real tunnels would be straight for the comfort of futuristic train passengers. Until I drove that docklands train. Well, sat in the drivers seat. There it was; the unreal, bright white concrete tunnel, and it was bendy. Bendy, bendy, bloody bendy

The youthful me also watched early music videos, shot in SNCF drivers‘ cabs, and sped up; on the BBC‘s Old Grey Whistle Test; videos so good they‘re copied even today. And now I‘ve experienced that video fantasy too. The rhythm of wire supporting pillars whooshing silently past; old trains racing to, on the other track; slowing down for stations to shake and vanish. Deutsche Bahn even ran my train 40 minutes late so I rushed into the setting sun.

Ah, but reality is useless at imitating fantasy. It so insists on details. No fantasy train driver would keep muttering “scheiss”, und “funfzig percent Traction”. No fantasy driver, leaving a station, would light up a fag and make a phone call. Reality has all those dusty details that fantasy just doesn‘t want, like talking to signalmen…

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