Track Switch - Steel Dreams

by Celefin

Chapter 1: Euro Cargo

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Author's Notes:

For the true experience of this first chapter, I recommend this here on loop.
Also, a 'pantograph' is the thing on top of electric locomotives that connects to the overhead line.

Track Switch - Steel Dreams
by Celefin

The Canterlot – Manehattan express thunders past, spewing a towering cloud of smoke and trailing a fine mist of ash and soot. Steam hisses from the cylinders. The rails sing in anticipation of its approach and hum its echo when it is gone.

Passengers may please refrain from opening the windows on the windward side, lest soot stain their well-groomed manes and fine attire.

The lush green countryside is baking in the summer heat and Celestia’s sun glints on streams and lakes. Sheep dot the meadows like small clouds on a green sky. Foals greet the train with happy waves at the crossings. Their parents hitched to their wooden carts splay back their ears in anticipation of the whistle that pierces the air a moment later.

Clearwater Junction, a lovely little village. Refreshments available, ice cream for the foals. Twenty minutes to stretch your legs while the train takes on coal and water.

A freight train on the Baltimare run has waited for the express to clear the line, the tank engine puffing yellow smoke in lazy intervals. Hot steel and three waggons with empty fish barrels, stinking like blazes. The firemare throws wood into the firebox and the puffs turn into an acrid cloud. The linepony pushes the track switch lever, the driver leans down and gives him a hoofbump and the train lumbers out onto the track.

The water crane swings away from the express train, the signalpony pulls the cables and the signal arm goes up.

“All aboard to Manehattan!”

The whistle goes.


Yeah, right. And good riddance.

I check the glowing displays one more time. All good.

The double red light in the murky darkness switches to green and yellow and I push the throttle with a smile. The lone guy in the signal tower looks up from his Sudoku and gives me a thumbs-up although he can’t see inside my cabin. I salute him back anyway and feed the sleepy engine.

No smoke billows, no steam hisses, no murderous heat or icy wind, no ash and grease in my coat and no smell of sulphur.

A soft hum, nothing more. Hell yeah.

It was glorious at times, but I don’t miss Tartarus on wheels.

My TRAXX F140 MS2 is champing at the bit. I love the look most humans give me when I use that expression. Just a little longer, girl. Metal groans and clinks as I pull out of the station and over the maze of track switches, all the waggons swaying softly. The last train before me has just cleared the block and the signal flashes green. Out onto the main line.

My locomotive hauls the fifty wagons full of car parts and consumer goods bound for Mannheim and Frankfurt out into the night. One kilometre of train, fifteen hundred tons of cargo, six hundred kilometres from Paris to the German Manehattan.

I give her a little pat on the console with a fore hoof. There you go. I smirk and work the controls, pouring more and more of what the twenty-five kilovolt overhead lines can deliver into her system. The engine goes from a hissing growl to a high-pitched whine to a delighted purr as we accelerate.

Sun and Moon, I love this.

After a little while, the light of the suburbs and commuter train stations fade into the distance and I am alone on the double track. Straight and flat. The landscape stretches out around me in my night vision, light grey all the way to the horizon. The triple headlights are a flaming torch, cutting through the darkness in a fiery halo of green and purple stripes.

I listen to the engine and pity my human colleagues who cannot hear her hidden songs as she tops out at a hundred and forty kilometres an hour. She whines and hums in a steady ebb and flow, a barely perceptible rhythm even to me. Her coils sing hymns of electric fire and tamed lightning. The rush of air, the rhythm of the rails, the thunder of the waggons and the scraping whisper of the pantograph on the overhead line.

A green signal marking the next block flashes in the dark and is gone again in an instant, leaving a brief orange smear on my retinas. I spread my wings and glide on the song of steel.

In the small hours of the morning, the engine sounds unsure of herself. A note is off. I sing to her in a voice that only she and I can hear. It reverberates around the cabin and paints a second picture of my surroundings in my conscious. I think she likes it, the way the circuits click and whisper back at me as the engine noise evens out. Trax is content and so am I.

We reach the border and cross the Saar River on old and rumbling steel beams and stop on the German side to switch systems. Just as myself, she speaks several languages and clicks a few times in recognition of the German fifteen kilovolt current. There is a short hum and we are ready to go.

The landscape turns hillier and the engine labours against repeated inclines as we make our way to our first destination. There are headlights on the other track and seconds later the sleek shape of the first ICE of the day to Paris streaks past us with barely a sound. A brief shudder from the bow shock of the white queen, and then she is gone. I assure Trax that I am loyal to her and pat the console with a wing. She hums.

An hour later my train crawls across the bridge over the mighty Rhine and every second signal is on halt or slow, we have low priority after all. Changing cars in Mannheim is efficient and soon I pick my way through the track-field on the north side of the freight terminal. The sun is creeping up over the horizon.

We are rid of the heavy car parts, the terrain is flat and we have little time left to clear the line for the day’s regional and IC trains. We do not have clearance for the high-speed tracks but the normal line to the east is well maintained, so regardless of terrain almost constant hundred and forty kilometres an hour it is once more.

Track switches flow into each other as we rush over the blurred railway sleepers and another track joins us from the right. The overhead lines become more complex and the number of signals increases, a widening river of light and steel.

Now that we are closer to the city, I once more see green and yellow signals telling me to slow down. A commuter train full of listless people overtakes us on its way to bring them to their places of work and study.

Five tracks now run in parallel as Frankfurt’s bank towers come into view, their eastern glass facades glowing in the cold morning light. My route branches off to the east before the approach to Frankfurt Central.

A few minutes later we cross the Main River into the industrial estate around Frankfurt’s east station and the container terminal.

It has been seven hours since I left Paris and my head feels heavy as I squint into the light of the daystar. The track switches guide us to a track fairly close to the terminal building. Alright. I park the train, climb out of the driver’s seat and rest my head on the console for a moment.

“Thank you for a fine night,” I say before I switch the engine off and retract the pantograph.

She whispers her agreement with a faint crackle as the metal bar detaches from the overhead line.

I put on my saddlebags, open the door and jump out, opening my wings instantly. It is a manoeuvre I have had to practice a lot. I turn while hovering in mid-air, careful not to drift upwards toward the overhead line. The outside air smells of hot brakes and warm grease. “Goodbye for now,” I tell her and softly close the door.

With a sigh, I turn and glide towards the platform, leaving my train to the shunting engines that will soon arrive. We will see each other again some other night, although I never know when. But I know she will always be happy to traverse the continent with me and so will I.

My hooves touch down on the cracked concrete with a soft clop. I stretch my legs and take the short trot to the rundown freight office to deliver the paperwork and sign off. I would prefer to fly, but I do not have permission to do so. I can accept that, I feel as if I have flown all night even though my stiff wing muscles do not agree.

It is a half hour walk to my apartment but I always take a detour to a little bakery close by that relies on tired railway workers such as me for their main source of income. Bakeries are one of the things where Germany beats all other countries I have visited. It was on the forefront of my mind when I was looking for accommodation here a few years back.

Karl himself is behind the counter today, so I guess one of the girls has quit. It isn’t easy, finding good staff in a good economy. Especially if you are not prepared to pay a decent wage.

That means I am going to go through the whole ‘Oh my god, we have a pony customer!’ routine next time I am back here. Followed by ‘You know that there’s ham in that sandwich?!’

It gets old after a while. Nowadays I just bare my fangs in response - that never fails to make Karl laugh at their confusion. I would appreciate it if he would cut back on the vampire jokes though.

“Morning Nightline, where’ve you been?”

“Hiya. Back and forth between Paris and Bayonne a few times.”

“And, weather over there any good?” He assembles my usual supply package. With two cheese and ham sandwiches. That does not make me a carnivore. Numpties.

“Yeah.” He does not accept cards but I cannot be bothered to try to count cash this late. Besides, there is another customer behind me who most likely is in a hurry. I doubt that he thinks a pony trying to sort coins with her mouth is endearing right now. I toss Karl my purse instead. I trust him.

There is a note from my landlord under my door, asking me again if I please could keep the staircase and entrance clean and tidy in the weeks when it’s my turn. There have been complaints. She will have to increase my rent if she has to get somebody to do it for me.

I have tried to tell her that I am not here all the time and that we need a proper schedule. Also that I am nocturnal as far as possible and that her other tenants will not be happy if I start cleaning around midnight. The doors are not exactly soundproof. I should know.

Maybe I could make a bargain with her. I get the damn door to my flat repaired myself and she pays a cleaner. Maybe try the ‘look at the adorable pony with the fluffy ears and be a good person’ approach? Probably not. You go to Earth to work; you have to keep your standards.

I am this close to bucking the door in when the lock yields at the fifth try.

Finally. It is just one small room and a bathroom but it is mine, and thank Lady Luna I tidied up before I left last time. Nice and clean.

Right. Food. Bath. Bed.

I look at the knackered blue batpony in the mirror and give her a nod and a little smile.

I stretch out on my bed for a good day’s sleep. I think I deserve that.

Next Chapter: Heavy Load Estimated time remaining: 42 Minutes
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