TRANS–ATLANTIC, Part I: Amsterdam

This week we begin our serialization of “Trans-Atlantic” written by the author of the Star Frontiers series, Hamish Spiers. We’ll be running a new installment each week through summer so be sure to pop back each week.


By Hamish Spiers

Part I: Amsterdam

I didn’t always live here in New York. When the oil dried up and the old airlines went belly up along with the petroleum industry, my grandparents on my father’s side were in the Netherlands and neither of them could afford a ticket on the next cruise ship home. So, because that’s where my father was raised and where he met my mother, that’s where I grew up too.

I was always intrigued by America since large tracts of it had been unaffected by the big freeze when melting Arctic ice choked up the Gulf Stream and another ice age hit Europe. Now, I wasn’t living in one of Amsterdam’s underground neighborhoods thankfully. I lived in one of the city’s climate controlled domes so I could see the sky and be warm at the same time. But the idea of not even having a dome overhead had its attractions.

Then eventually the oceanic tunnels had come into play and intercontinental travel was no longer a privilege exclusive to those rich enough to ride on the cruise ships. Regular people got interested in traveling again and I began to think about seeing America for myself. And then one bad day at the office decided the matter.

A new manager had joined the company, one of those guys who thought the whole point of management was to make changes and leave a mark. And nothing makes a more lasting impression than the widespread anarchy that follows a heap of useless and poorly thought–out departmental policies.

It was time to get out. And the next day I entered Amsterdam’s Trans–Atlantic station.

It was huge and going down all the escalators was a trip in itself. Growing up a European, I was no stranger to being underground. I knew a few friends who lived down below because they couldn’t get a place in a dome. But I had never been so far underground before. Still, the escalators did come to an end and I soon found the check–in desk.

After getting my ticket, I went down more escalators and through even more checkpoints before stepping into a cavern so large that its ceiling was lost in the dappled light of thousands of gigantic bulbs far above me. I was on the platform and stretching out before me was the train, the biggest I had ever seen.

The carriages were all bi–level, like the Dutch DD–ARs that were still in use back in the city, except twice as high and four times as wide. They all had restrooms, shower facilities and sleeper compartments and there were multiple dining cars. And apparently, somewhere amongst the massive line of cars and carriages that would be undergoing this six thousand kilometer trip were two cinema cars and three casino cars. I was impressed.

I then looked at the various fluorescent numbers shining out in the distance to guide passengers to the right carriages. I was in car thirteen.

I jumped on a travelator which took me most of the way to the edge of the platform and then it was a short walk to the doorway. An attendant checked my ticket and then I stepped into the carriage and looked for my compartment. I found it on the second level, a generous three by two meter room with a comfy couch that folded out into a bed.

There was also a drawer underneath it where I put my carry–on. And across the room, there was a power switch, along with a wash basin and a screen that doubled as a TV and a computer monitor. Underneath it was a small fold–out table with a pull–out tablet PC. All in all, it looked very comfortable.

I then looked out the window at the cavern outside. Then I wondered why there was a window. After a while, I got out a book. Then, a little a while after that, there was an announcement that we would be departing in forty minutes and that the journey would take approximately thirty hours, depending on power flow.

I pondered that for a moment. Then I flung aside my book and pulled out the passenger information manual in the magazine holder under the window. From a quick perusal of the leaflet, I learned that the tunnel trains traveled at an average speed of two hundred kilometers per hour. And while this was not as fast as some of the bullet trains on land were capable of reaching, it was still very fast. Especially for trains so large and heavy.

However, occasionally, there were power problems. These were an obvious risk with supply cables that stretched thousands of kilometers through tunnels under the ocean floor. And the solar powered generators they were hooked up to were based on land; there were no back–up generators in the middle of the ocean. However, the leaflet assured passengers that there were local back–up generators on board the trains. Still, I couldn’t help worrying about things like being trapped for weeks or the tunnel being flooded.

However, once the train pulled away, most of my misgivings subsided. And my initial impressions were quite good. Better than my initial feelings on my first plane trip two years later, when commercial flight got off the ground again. There was no business class and economy class division on the train, and all the passengers paid the same amount. It wasn’t cheap but it didn’t break the vault. And nobody got squashed up like sardines in a tin. You see, the train didn’t need to get off the ground – quite the contrary – so all that stuff about weight and space wasn’t an issue.

And it wasn’t pitch black outside as I’d expected. It was bright. For a while, I wondered why the tunnel was lit, just as I had wondered why a train traveling under the ocean floor had windows. The train was on a track, after all, so it wasn’t as though the driver could get lost. But I supposed if there were any obstructions, like fallen slabs of concrete or the rushing water of the Atlantic Ocean, it’d be a good idea if the driver could see them.

Then I noticed that there were maintenance roads running alongside the track as well. And then after a little while longer, I saw a maintenance station. A large self–sustaining underground bunker where a group of workers were sitting around drinking coffee. An hour later, I saw another one.

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