January 01, 2013

On the Iron Roads

On the Iron Roads

Russian trains are changing.

The fastest Sapsan[1] services now dash from Moscow to St. Petersburg in well under four hours. Cast back just 50 years, and the premium daytime express train demanded twice as long for the same 400-mile journey.

Speed is surely good for business, but less conducive to the telling of life stories and the sharing of confessions. For decades it was the very slowness of Russian trains that opened the door to en-route entertainment and fueled the imagination of Russian writers. In the opening lines of The Idiot, Dostoyevsky has his epileptic protagonist reveal his life story to complete strangers in a third-class carriage on the Warsaw to St. Petersburg train. Fellow traveler Parfyon Rogozhin reciprocates with a few extraordinary confidences of his own.

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