The sound of a southbound train seems louder in the stillness of the night. In the daylight hours, its passing would hardly have been noticed, but in the quiet darkness, it seems intrusive, demanding attention. Where would it be going? To the Spanish border and then on to Barcelona? A locomotive pulling a line of wagons, a cargo capacity equivalent to dozens of lorries. From whence had it come? From Perpignan or maybe just through Perpignan, perhaps its station of origin was hundreds of kilometres north, perhaps even across the border. It would be good to know, for no reason other than fascination.
Back in the 1970s, some of the English newspapers would have carried brief details of some of the freight ships docked in English ports, there would have been notes of the cargo being carried and the intended destinations. It was never clear why such information needed to be published, those who needed to know would surely have been aware, one would hardly expect to turn to a newspaper column to check the whereabouts of a large crude oil carrier or a vast bulk barrier, but there was a great sense of reassurance in the comings and the goings of the great ships.
Don’t trains bring a similar sense of reassurance? Perhaps in Ireland they have not a significance to match that of the great lines of wagons crossing from France to Spain, few trains in Ireland no roll through the night in the way that the sugar beet trains once did. The trains bound for the Spanish border speak of s world that is ordered, they speak of co-operation between nations, of precise planning, of sophisticated organisation, of huge industrial resources to provide such a service, and of the financial wealth needed to maintain it.
Would those driving the locomotives passing at five minute intervals have a sense of what they symbolise, or would they feel as we would feel about our own work, that it is a job to be done? Perhaps it would never even occur to them that a foreigner might be listening to their progress through the Catalan countryside, for which of the locals would now even notice the passage of the trains.
Just as as the newspapers once carried paragraphs announcing news of imminent sailings to distant destinations with exotic names, so perhaps, deep in the Internet, one might find a timetable that would advise details of all the departures that will rattle through the Catalan night.