holmes train holmes  Passenger trains are nearly two hundred years old.  Today marks the 188 anniversary of the first passenger train in operation, in England, in 1825.

Passenger trains, particularly the romantic steam train variety, have featured in much literature and the movies.  I always think of the heroine stepping through a cloud of steam and appearing like an apparition (sigh), just when the hero spots her.

There are some great books and movies that feature trains.  Wikipedia has a list of movies that involve trains, but some of the train-set fiction I remember best includes:

Sherlock Holmes


Trains, train schedules, sleeper trains, a “special” (renting a train), jumping off trains…trains feature a lot in the Sherlock Holmes cannon.  Passenger trains were one of the primary forms of individual transport in Victorian times.

Book Illustration Depicting Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in a Train Cabin.

The second Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey Jnr. featured a train, too.


doctor_zhivago_320The Russians

Tolstoy was writing a little earlier than Conan Doyle, and trains feature in his work.  Anna Karenina suicided by train.

Dr. Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak, another 19th century classic, also features a long train ride for the characters.


anna kareninaOther Favourites

Back to the future 3Back to the Future III was also set in the “Victorian” wild west and a steam train was the set for the big finale.  The steam train also became a time travel vehicle (perhaps foreshadowing the steam punk genre?).


northbynorthwest-2Perhaps one of my favourite (but not the top one) is North by Northwest, which has a long sequence of scenes and nail biting tension set upon a more modern diesel train.


Source-CodeAnd just to show that trains are not out of fashion yet, the very recent SF thriller, Source Code, was set almost entirely on a train (and was filmed in Canada, too!)


But perhaps my top favourite train-set movie of all time is Murder on the Orient Express.  It barely dates, this movie, because they were filming it as an historical when they made it back in the 80s.  The film setting is the 1930’s, and the entire movie is an homage to the elegance of that era — Art Deco, the clothing, the leisurely and mannered life style of the rich, and their corresponding travel habits.  Even the train itself is romantic  — the Orient Express has a colourful history.   Besides being a cast of who was big in Hollywood in the eighties, the movies is also a terrific whodunnit with a great ending.

What’s your favourite train movie or book?


murder orient






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