Indian Pacific

Shortly after midnight we passed the halfway point. The nights could be lonely: everyone tucked into their berths, one end of the train to the other, until morning. On this single track no other locomotive whooshed past in the opposite direction, clickety click, clickety click, a flashing light in the dark. No brakes squealed, no doors banged, no noisy passengers disembarked in the small hours as they did from sleeper trains in Europe; no stationmasters called along the platform in French or, an hour later maybe, in Italian or German, the interchanging languages answering the unspoken question of sleepy travellers within: Where are we? There was no snoring from above or tossing from below, as in a companionable six-berth compartment where, come morning, your Spanish/German/Finnish cohabitant might share a breakfast roll with you because you’d rushed through the station with only minutes to spare before departure. No, the Indian Pacific purred quietly through the night, with no real schedule other than to continue until it reached the edge of the continent.