After two hours, nine minutes, the train starts moving, but backwards. "Perfect," the lady across the way screeches into a phone. "We're going backwards!" Then we stop again. ("We've stopped again!") Wisely, no SNCF representative makes an appearance, for there is a sharp tang of Great Terror in the air.
But then, on two hours, 23 minutes, we move forwards – and keep going. ("Here's a novelty – a train that's moving bloody forwards." She must be talking to her husband. Anyone else would have hung up ages ago.)
Fionnuala McHugh, en route from Hong Kong to Lhasa, sees the Chinese settle down for the night
I got into my pyjamas, in local fashion, and wandered up and down the corridor, listening to the pre-bedtime chat in Cantonese and Mandarin. There was a six-day-old baby in the compartment next to ours, tightly wrapped in a pink blanket and laid out in the middle of the lower bunk like a delicious offering of dim sum; there was a ring of cardplayers two compartments along, laughing and groaning over piles of yuan; there was a line of teeth-brushers and hawkers and spitters in the washrooms (a sign above the basins said "No sitting or lying"); there were early snorers and late snackers.
On a Chinese train, if you look through any open door, someone inside will be eating, and if you grin widely enough and linger long enough – and especially if you're that object of curiosity, a lone foreign woman with a (shamefully) tiny amount of Mandarin – that someone will probably offer you a share of whatever's going.
Cuba runs a rum sort of railway, says Dervla Murphy
With rucksack on lap, because I couldn't see where to store it, I leant back in my seat and received a small but painful scalp wound; it oozed enough blood to matt my hair. Where a headrest had been, three sharp metal spikes protruded.
My bag contained one tin of Bucanero [beer], for emergencies. I now felt its time had come and quickly drank it – a mistake… In due course those 355ml sought the exit and by the light of a full moon, newly emerged from dispersing clouds, I located the baño – seemingly occupied. Having waited a reasonable time, I tried the door again, pushing hard. It swung open to reveal a vacuum: below was Mother Earth.
At a certain point one ceases to believe in the reality of what's happening – it must all be an illusion – yet somehow one has to go along with it. But for the moon, I would have stepped forward to my death – not exactly a premature death but an unpleasant and rather silly way to go. The door bore a prominent notice – DANGER! DO NOT OPEN! – but some more drastic deterrent is required in an unlit train that travels by night.
Sandi Toksvig recalls the days of railway glamour
Years ago I worked with Evelyn Laye. I was 23 at the time and each evening after the show was commanded to her dressing room, where the still glamorous actress would dispense anecdotes and champagne in equal measure.
She told me about touring the United States by train in the 1930s with Noël Coward. Each of the stars had his or her own railway carriage with name emblazoned on the side, which lit up as they passed through stations. That is glamour. That would be wonderful. Failing that, of course, a little actual beef in the Euston-to-Preston beef sandwiches would be nice.
Stephen McClarence crosses India from west to east
Back on the train, at Wankaner Junction, the fourth passenger joins our compartment: Mr Patel. He spends silent hours totting up figures on his two pocket calculators. I spot the words "Coal Cost Comparison" on one of his pads. We also have a few unanticipated travelling companions. A man perches on one side of Mr Vyas, with a young female paediatrician on the other. An older woman has sat down next to Clare and a mother and her son slump in silence on the side berth.
Above them, on the top bunk, a fat man with three chunky gold rings sits cross-legged and stares down at us like a predatory eagle. Nine people in a space about 10ft by 6ft. We're in no danger of feeling lonely.
Peter Hughes makes a circuit of South Korea
A woman on an electric invalid carriage with a bicycle basket on the front was tracing carefree arabesques on the shining floor. I was so taken with the rapture of her patterns that I failed to spot the mops at either end of her machine. It turned out she was a cleaner. Sometimes we will foreign places to be more foreign than they are.
Train number 1621, the 08:25 Mugunghwa to Gyeongju, was waiting at platform seven. It wore Korail's raspberry-and-white livery and seemed to be compressed beneath the large air-conditioning units on its roof.
Mugunghwa trains are the stopping expresses that complement the hardly stopping high-speed KTX. They are the cheapest of Korea's cross-country trains and take their name from a hibiscus, sometimes known as rose althea or the Rose of Sharon, which is the national flower of Korea. Mugung in Korean also means eternity, which is not such a good name for a train.
Ysenda Maxtone Graham visits a railway research centre
In the little computer room were three brilliant computer scientists. They talked in that mathematical way about n: their n is the smallest number possible to separate all the various conditions in a component's action.
They had made a graph of the opening of an automatic door and had discovered that in the opening of a door, there are 15 features that can be separated into 23 fault conditions, plus the faultless condition called "good door".
"Peak force in first second," said the graph, at a jagged pinnacle. Then: "positive area under force-time curve until door opens". And doors, of course, are child's play compared with engines.
They were a fulfilled and excited bunch in that computer room; they had a sense of humour and a sparkle in their eyes. At five o'clock, everyone went home, many of them by train, and all of them highly sensitive to sounds, bounces, jolts and small time-intervals.