06 March 2004

Trains, trains, trains

I do not know much about computer games, and I generally avoid reading blogs that are heavily devoted to the subject. However, as a railfan, I've recently discovered one which is pretty nifty: Microsoft Train Simulator. Although the visuals are not exactly high resolution, it does an amazing job of putting one right inside the cab of several different kinds of locomotives, including steam, electric and diesel-electric. The routes are laid out in remarkable detail, even showing period automobiles, typical landscapes and buildings alongside the tracks. Six routes are included: the Marias Pass in Montana, Washington to Philadelphia, the Orient Express through the Austrian Alps, the Midland Railway in England between Carlisle and Settle, and two Japanese routes between Tokyo and Hakone, and between Yatsushiro and Yoshimatsu. One can choose a number of vantage points, both internal and external to the train, all controlled from the computer keyboard. My favourite internal view is of the club car on the Orient Express, complete with a smouldering cigarette, ceiling fans and background music.

If I could add some routes to a future edition, I would love to see:

(1) Twentieth Century Limited, New York Central's famous New York-Chicago train which ran between 1902 and 1967 (and featured in Alfred Hitchcock's great film, North by Northwest). I would choose the segment between Chicago and Elkhart, Indiana and set the action in 1948.

(2) Orient Express between Sofia, Bulgaria, and Constantinople, with the domes of Hagia Sophia in the background. I would choose 1910, when there was still a substantial Greek presence in The City and the Ottomans were still in charge.

(3) Chicago Aurora & Elgin, the electric interurban railroad that operated between 1902 and 1957 and went through my hometown of Wheaton, Illinois. I would choose 1951 as the year and cover the entire line, which is not very long.

(4) South Africa's famous Blue Train (die Bloutrein), running between Cape Town and Pretoria, perhaps around 1960 and covering the stretch from Cape Town that climbs the Hex River Pass. (No, I've not been there, but I have seen Great Railway Journeys of the World.)

(5) For Canadian content, either a Canadian Pacific transcontinental, somewhere in the Rockies, or Algoma Central's Agawa Canyon tour train northwards from Sault Sainte Marie. Time period negotiable, but the latter must be in September or October.

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