By Ken Withers, September 12, 2021

This month's edition of Hollywood Trainspotting leaves Hollywood entirely and heads to Europe. We also leave behind the usual Hollywood movies that happen to involve trains. These are movies that have no plot, no dialogue, no story line - just trains!

There is a whole genre of videos created by people who set up a camera pointing out the window of a moving train. These videos consist of nothing but hour after hour of clattery tracks, engine noise, the occasional whistle or horn, and very rarely some crew conversation, while every-changing scenery whizzes by. The genre has several names: cab rides, cab view, driver view, etc. But they boil down to three basic types. At the high end are polished, professional, high-def videos taken from the front cab of a train (obviously with crew support) travelling through spectacular scenery. Below that are more amateur videos looking out passenger car windows. They may not be as polished, but you really feel like you're on the train. The third type are ambient videos, which may or may not have any visuals of the train or scenery, but great soundtracks to play while working on your layout or drifting off to sleep.

In the early months of the pandemic, I found lots of high-quality North American cab ride videos available free with Amazon Prime. But one by one, they disappeared from Prime only to resurface behind paywalls. I figured that if I paid for Prime already, I should not have to buy an additional subscription or pay an additional $3.99 to watch these videos. I thought I'd just see what was available free (albeit sometimes with annoying ads) on YouTube. What I found was a gold mine, and now I'm hooked - mainlining, so to speak - on these quirky but fascinating videos. Here are a half-dozen of my favorites.

St. Moritz (Switzerland) to Tirano (Italy) via the Berninabahn. This is a high-definition, two-hour video taken in early autumn in the sunny and green Alps, along a stretch of the railway that has been designated an Unesco heritage site, for good reason.


St. Moritz (Switzerland) to Tirano (Italy), this time in winter. This is another high-quality 4K video along the same route but is not for the fainthearted. Filmed in the dead of winter (with the occasional snow squall to drive the point home), you'll be at the edge of your couch as the locomotive negotiates hairpin turns on precipitous mountainsides through sound-muffling snowdrifts that completely obscure the tracks. You keep telling yourself that the train can't fall off the mountainside, because, after all, you're watching this video that has somehow made it through to Tirano. But still. . .


Bar to Bijelo Polje (Montenegro). This three-and-a-half-hour video includes 102 tunnels and 96 bridges, stretching from the Adriatic seacoast up into the Montenegrin highlands. The Solzina tunnel alone is 6171 meters (3.8 miles) long and takes 18 minutes to get through. You can either enjoy the subterranean engineering or use this time to make a snack to have during the remaining three hours. It's well worth it.


Capljina to Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina). This is a two-hour, 45-minute trek from near the Adriatic, up the Neretva River Canyon, to Sarajevo. Like the roughly parallel Montenegrin route, it has 99 tunnels and 65 bridges, with some incredible feats of railroad engineering on display. But also on display are rusty tracks, non-functioning signals, and unguarded crossings, which give the viewers a sense of unease until they realize that it's just a video, and the train won't crash.


Moscow to Alder (Russia). This is an eleven-hour, 40-minute tribute to post-Soviet industrial decline. This video quality is second tier, shot out the window of a passenger car instead of the front cab. So the images are a bit fuzzy at best, and long stretches are absolutely dark. The second half, after you are well clear of greater Moscow and into the countryside, is much more pleasant than the first. The real standout feature of this video is the sound quality. A slick 21st century Swiss train makes almost no sound, but this clunky Russian train sounds almost like the 19th century.


Trondhein to Bodo (Norway) via Nordlandsbanen. This is a ten-hour rail journey from the university center of Trondhein on the Norwegian coast to the cathedral town of Bodo, just north of the Arctic Circle, with lots of bridges, tunnels, and fjords along the way. It takes place in winter, in almost dead silence except for subtle engine and track sound. Mile after mile, the train plows through the snow towards the North Pole, passing small towns, farms, and forests along the way. The ride is incredible smooth (judging by the clarity of the video and complete lack of any shakiness) and absolutely hypnotic. You can't take your eyes off the tracks in front of you, as your eyelids become heavier. . . and heavier. . .

Millions of people enjoy these cab ride videos, and YouTube power users are creating and curating more for the growing audience. If you want to fall down this enjoyable rabbit hole and discover more for yourself, I suggest starting out with a couple of interesting You Tube "channels": Dulevoz specializes in Eastern Europe trains and Western Railways specializes in high-speed diesel on the Indian subcontinent. No passports, vaccinations, or airline tickets are required for these stay-at-home railfan vacations!