The Empty Carriage

Have you ever thought, when you find yourself alone in a carriage on a late train, are carriages ever really empty? Who knows what the previous occupants have left behind? A half-empty packet of crisps. An empty bottle. Maybe even an item of clothing along with the ubiquitous umbrella. But maybe they left something else – A piece of themselves forever trapped by the closing doors. Too late to leave having missed the shrill whistle and the wave of the flag. A lost moment of elsewhere thought that caused them to stay beyond their stop.

I wonder, is it only me and my reflection that stare both ways at the darkened world outside the glass or are others unwillingly sharing our glimpses of occasional lights passing outside the empty carriage. In truth, does anyone ever really leave the train at the end of the journey? Or do we all continue to travel within the carriage whilst believing we have an existence outside; in a place called work and somewhere else called home. Are we souls forever condemned to travel to and fro… Coulsdon North and back, day upon day. Nights disturbed by the maintenance crew who wander the carriage like ghosts in a dim reality of artificial light. And when the train is retired to rest, will we also reside in the museum – reflections dimming as dust settles on the glass? Or will our reflections and ourselves disappear with the wiping of the attendant’s cloth?

Did someone brush past you as you boarded the empty carriage – or did you just imagine them?

Strangers on a Train
Strangers on a Train


  1. I don’t think that I have had thoughts like this, Martin, but I will now! Interestingly, because I am afraid of flying and not as comfortable as I am on a train, I think I do have more of an “otherworldly” awareness as I settle into my airline seat. I notice detail of who is around me, what they are doing, and I generally have greater awareness. On a train, I’m more comfortable and don’t pay attention. I’ll have to think about that!

    1. Lots of people have a fear of flying – that’s nothing to be ashamed of. I wasn’t afraid of flying – I used to pilot light aircraft – but I absolutely hate flying now. It’s the commercial airlines. They’ve taken away the joy in their greed and I’m not convinced that safety is highest on their list of priorities. Additionally, you are trapped with your fellow passengers – on a train you can always get up and walk around πŸ™‚

      I wouldn’t let my little ‘ghost’ stories put you off train travel. Trains lend themselves to such tales πŸ˜‰

  2. marvellous piece of writing, full of tingling wonder at possible realities … i am sure part of me is still in the trains i travelled as a child …. those big noisy steam trains that chuffed and rocked and clacked through the night …they were totally magic experiences for a child, who no doubt still lurks on the big cushioned seats with their wrought iron racks above and windows beside that fell down with a crash πŸ˜€

  3. This is fabulous Martin! I love the reflections, both words and your stunning artwork. So much wonderful stuff happens in the world of train thought and thank you for adding to the speculation!

    1. Thank you Kate. I’ve neither heard nor seen the Wellington Sidings Spectre. And it gets no mention in the definitive history books covering the line. So I haven’t come across it in my researches. The section of track it reputedly appears on is the surviving section of the original line from Finsbury Park and is used to access Highgate Depot. I wonder when it was last seen? My suspicion is that it hasn’t put in an appearance since 1962 – when the last N2’s and N7’s were withdrawn. On an underground line people don’t expect to see steam trains so they need to concoct an explanation when one passes in the early hours of the morning. Freight continued from Finsbury Park to Mill Hill along the surface section of the Northern Line until 1964 – though it was latterly Diesel hauled. Cynic!, Moi? πŸ˜‰

  4. Absolutely fantastic photo!
    And the new challenge (?) about writing seems really to be freeing you to enter another world.
    Question about, are you a photographer or a writer, is a non-question.
    You’re both, of course. Images are images are images (as Gertrude Stein might have said).

    1. I have been wandering off on a few odd tangents recently… I guess a Blog is a journey of self discovery Judith, aided and abetted by good people such as yourself and my other regular friends πŸ™‚

  5. Great prose and a wonderful blog you’ve got here Martin. Someone once told me that he loses a small part of him each time he visits a place he likes. So much so that when he reaches a ripe old age, there will be nothing more of him to leave behind.

    It is many years later that I realised he must have omitted to mention that we too take a small part of something when we leave. And one may himself even more complete than when one first started the journey.

    1. Thanks Dan πŸ™‚ You know, I tagged this with fiction but I wonder if that was to comfort any readers that might find the words disturbing. I do feel that we leave a piece of ourselves in our life’s journey – sometimes that piece is tangible to others through something we’ve done. Equally, we clearly do add to ourselves with each new experience and it could be said that we grow as a result.

      Thank you very much for kind and thought provoking comment πŸ™‚

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