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June 2030, 8.08 pm; Emma's thoughts raced at almost the same speed as the wooly dots outside her window. "Luckily, my thoughts aren't going backwards like the sheep outside," she thought, as she hung up her flowery dress. A year ago, she might have had to keep the backward racing sheep in mind for an essay about philosophy. But now her mind slipped back to the daydream that couldn't become true soon enough. Emma had been looking forward to spending time with Daniel again, since their exams had ended and they both left their United World College in a far away land.
Since she booked her tickets and chose her compartment a couple of weeks ago before she had felt that she couldn't wait any longer. Now there were another 14 agonising hours she had to spend rolling towards Valencia. Although eight of these would be spent sleeping, Emma wasn't yet sure that if the rise of ultra-long distance trains and the resulting demise of short-haul planes was a positive trade-off in the present environmentally-driven transport revolution.
A year ago she would still have been able to get a cheap, direct flight from Trondheim to Barcelona. Now the only affordable option would be to hop on a charter flight from the new Southern Scandinavia airport in Gothenburg to Madrid. As the new airport had frequent high speed train connections to most of the region, more and more flights were being rerouted from other airports so that airlines could cut fuel spending and environmental taxes by filling up larger planes.
Although it would have cut the waiting by seven hours, Emma didn't feel comfortable with the idea of spending hours upon hours in company of charter tourists. Scheduled flights would've only saved her four hours, due to several transfers between trains and planes, for a few hundred euros more. All in all, the costs of a few extra hours with Daniel would be ridiculously high, especially when her parents had given upgraded her to first class.
Before she had finished installing herself in her compartment and getting ready for supper, they had already reached their first stop: Oppdal. Once a dormant skiing town whose population multiplied in the winter and Easter breaks, had now become an affluent commuter town and transport hub for the northern fjords of Western Norway, thanks to high speed commuter trains.
Behind an aluminium train that awaited the Aurora Mediterrano to pass, Emma spotted a fleet of electric cars. These had started popping up at railway stations in Norway not long after the first high speed train had begun to run, as businesses found it more cost and time effective to rent green cars at their employees’ destinations than having them driving their own cars. Now electric cars were available for rental at almost all stations. As a result, communities with high speed rail access had seen significant declines in car usage and ownership, as more and more people started to use the scheme privately too.
New also was the Aurora Mediterrano. The daily night train between Trondheim and the Spanish Mediterranean had only been set up two years ago as a part of a scheme to provide fast, frequent, high-capacity, green transportation between Scandinavia and Europe. This was already widespread for travel between the UK and the holiday destinations of the continent, but as the Oslo - Gothenburg – Copenhagen high speed railway was finished a Scandinavian equivalent became viable.
The train was already a hit, helped by the introduction of higher environmental taxes on flights in Europe, a result of the process that began as a result of the failed climate conference in Copenhagen, and the skyrocketing price of oil. Now, the Aurora Mediterrano had several competitors. Between their combined capacity, and price wars flights between Scandinavia and the rest of Europe had almost become a thing of the past. Just 20 years ago, it was seen as impossible to get the Norwegian railway system up to par with the Japanese on punctuality. But that was before annus horriblis in Norwegian transport history. The whole winter trains were severely delayed because of ice and snow, and, in the spring, all flights were grounded because volcano Eyafjällajökull on Iceland erupted.
A few years later the Scandinavian countries decided to construct a proper railway network to replace air traffic in Southern Scandinavia. This treaty soon became the Nordic Infrastructure Backbone where several arterial networks were combined; quadruple high speed fibre communication cables, dual gas pipes and high voltage direct current power transmission line, as well as a double track high speed railway. A rather gigantic undertaking that wouldn't have been possible without the pioneering work that had been done on the Beijing - Shanghai High Speed Railway earlier the same decade.
As a result of the continued improvement of large scale rail projects, mainly in China and the Americas, the Steinkjer - Fehmarnbelt corridor (via Trondheim and Copenhagen) with a branch from Gothenburg to Stockholm had been finished on record time as well as a much lower cost than the high speed railways built in the beginning of the millennium. Bergen and Stockholm were connected with similar success a year later while they expected to reach Helsinki in five years, St. Petersburg in eight. The next project in the pipeline was originally thought to be a Trondheim-Stockholm corridor, but already the three Scandinavian countries had begun discussing if quadruple tracks between the capitals should be prioritised due to the transport demand from both passengers and freight.
Soon after they left Oppdal the supper bell rang for her coach and Emma found her way to the dining car. As she sat down to a lovely lamb roast, a classic of the Trondheim - Oslo railroad, she caught a glimpse of a muskox herd as they sped by at four hundred kilometers per hour. "Isn't it interesting to think that they're actually standing still?" a deep voice asked. Emma had been so deep into her daydream that she hadn't noticed the elderly man she was sharing the table with. "My father used to tell me that when he was young it was the muskox that moved while we waited for the train to refill with water."
Emma fell in love with the adorable, old man she had got as her table mate. As the meal went on, she learned that he, apart from being very interested in the train, was on his way to his ultra-cute grandson in Beijing and had to take the night train to the new intercontinental airport in Gothenburg to connect to his late-night China bound flight. "Isn't it amazing that you now can book your whole journey from, practically, your own doorstep to your destination with the same system now? And you can reserve seats throughout your journey, even on the buses. 20 years ago you could only book planes from one website, train tickets had to be found on different company’s websites while bus tickets almost always had to be bought at the bus. Now it's really, really easy."
When the starter was eaten, the train made its second stop. At Otta, several groups of Chinese, Japanese and Korean tourists were waiting together with the normal load of sun hungry Norwegians. "They've been on a day trip to the Norwegian fjords," the elderly man explained. "And now they're going to take the train back to Oslo while eating supper and enjoying the views in the Gudbrandsdal." The tourists eating supper aboard the train had become important, since they filled up the dining cars before the sun hungry Norwegians started coming aboard in Oslo. The extra revenue from this rolling dinner allowed the Aurora Mediterrano to lower its tourist class fares further.
During the rest of the supper Emma and the old man spoke about his grandson in Beijing and complained that his daughter had married a Chinese man and moved to Beijing; "It's way too far away to have family, but I suppose it's important to follow your dreams and your love as far as possible. Anyway, when they finish the high speed railway to from Europe to Beijing in a few years time, it will be such a nice trip, even though two days on a train must be quite long...
" Emma wasn't really listening to him anymore. Her mind had slipped away to the man's pictures of his grandson. She flipped through them; "I want one too," she thought. When they arrived in Oslo, supper was eaten and as Emma walked back to her compartment she noticed that water was pumped into the train. She though that that was something only for old steam trains. Then she realised that the water must have been for the use of the passengers aboard, as it seemed like wastewater also was drained from the train.
Outside almost chalky white sun hunters changed either to the Aurora Mediterrano from other trains or to the Balkan Fjord to take the train to the Balkans. As Emma felt the train start moving again, she was already in her compartments shower praising her parents that had given her a gift card on an upgrade on the train as a graduation present. As Emma went to bed feeling clean and refreshed she'd started to love the Aurora Mediterrano, such comfort she'd never got on any airplane, even before the age of low cost carriers. And she'd already started to look forward to her supper on the way home, tapas or some other yummy Spanish food.
11.07 pm just before she fell asleep to this lovely thought she noticed the train slowing down, and had a sleepy look at the pop-up on the compartments wireless screen that notified the passengers that they had arrived at the Southern Scandinavia Airport and the third plane to leave the intercontinental terminal was the older man's flight to Beijing. While Emma slept, the train sped through Europe via Copenhagen, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Strasbourg, Lyon, Marseille and under the Pyrenees at four hundred kilometres per hour before she awoke just south of the Spanish border.
As she went to breakfast not long after eight she could see Barcelona station buzzing with commuters outside the train windows. Even as Spain had experienced a couple of rough decades they'd continued their investment in high speed rail and now their geographically huge regions were flourishing with affluent commuter towns in between the amazing landscape and mega-agglomerations of efficient service industries in the larger cities.
As she finished breakfast, the train assistant announced that they would arrive in Valencia in 15 minutes, five minutes before schedule. Even so, Emma wouldn't be able to get Daniel flowers before they met, since he'd almost certainly already be at the station ten minutes early. 10.02 am "Good thing the train isn't in a hurry," Emma thought. "We're holding up everyone that's getting off. The other passengers must be quite annoyed now".
She wouldn't need to worry. Everyone behind her was quite charmed by the two youngsters hugging and kissing on the platform.