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Chapter 3 The Imperial Railway

“Is this the station?”

On the following morning, Teruya left the castle for the first time and went to the station. It was located just outside the outer walls of the citadel, and a lot of people had already gathered around the carriages.

“Why didn’t I notice when it was so close? I’m disqualified as a train enthusiast.”

“You would not be able to. It is not visible from Sir Teruya’s room,” replied Sebastian.

The attendant was accompanying Teruya today. The room was located on the southern side of the complex, while the station was in the northwest of the castle grounds. He could not see it as it was hidden behind the tower.

“It couldn’t be helped then. Let’s move on.”

“Y-yes.”

Sebastian did just so with Teruya’s luggage in his hands.

This was the Imperial Railway that was built and operated by the Empire itself. Railways like this one were all the rage at that moment in time within the country and were being laid down all over the place. The Imperial Railway was the largest of them. The Empire was vast, so it had been constantly searching for an inexpensive transport system that was able to connect its interior.

Teruya immediately headed for the place that seemed to be the station building.

“Where are you going, sir?”

“Eh? To the station.”

“That is an office-like place where you can pay the train master your fee.”

“The train master?”

“The owner of the train. They are the people who manufacture or buy the train and put it on the rails after paying the empire a reasonable sum for being allowed to operate.”

“To whom do passengers pay a fare?”

“To the train master. After negotiating the price that then needs to be paid upfront. We ought to get going, however. The train will leave if we do not board now.”

Prompted by Sebastian, Teruya headed for the railway yard.

“Amazing…”

There were all sorts of trains lined up there, from horse-drawn carriage trains to steam locomotives with a chimney affixed. There were passenger cars, some fitted with window panes. There were wagons, some with a canopy, some without…

A whole array of multicolored train carriages was laid out on the tracks.

“Where do we buy a ticket or something of the kind?”

“What is a ticket?”

Being asked that by Sebastian astonished Teruya.

“Uhm… I mean… How do you usually pay for the fare?”

That’s when Teruya finally came to the realization that this was a different world and they had no concept of tickets.

“To each respective train master, after negotiations. Our destination is St. Bernard, which costs roughly thirty drachmas.”

“Is that expensive?”

“One drachma, or one imperial copper coin, can pay for for a decent meal.—”

From what Sebastian had said, Teruya inferred that it was indeed expensive.

“—But since we shall be traveling in a private cabin, it will be ninety drachmas.”

“…Is that okay?”

“Having a private cabin is safer. It gets rather crowded come the boarding time and it being parted with your luggage is not uncommon.”

“I see.”

Actually, he wanted to pry a bit more, but he wanted to take a ride too, so he had to do as he was told.

“We are here.”

“A steam locomotive1?”

He was led to a locomotive with a chimney that had three carriages connected to it.

“There seems to be no coal in the tender2, how is it fueled?”

“Coal? I have never heard of such a thing being used before.”

“Huh? How does that thing run then?”

“With a salamander. The salamander heats up the water in the boiler.”

“That’s so fantasy…”

Only now did Teruya notice a red, dragon-like creature through a gap in the cab3. It was breathing an intense flame onto the furnace.

“Well then, let us proceed to the passenger car.”

“Right.”

They headed for a carriage with multiple doors right behind the engine. The second passenger car was a wagon with a canopy, and beyond that was a wagon without a canopy.

“I see the passenger cabins are separated from each other.”

“Yes, sir. That way, other people cannot intrude on you.”

“I see. That’s reassuring.”

Teruya smiled wryly. He didn’t really care that much about privacy, he was just curious as to why the carriage was structured like that. The one the two of them boarded had the passenger compartments completely separated from each other making it impossible to move between them without exiting the train. It seemed the design was based on a horse carriage and, most likely, had the same idea in mind.

“Let us hop on board early.”

“Alrighty.”

Without further delay, they opened the door and went inside. Their luggage was brought inside as well and stored in a designated area. The compartment had sofas the width of the carriage facing forward and backwards. They seemed like they would be comfortable to sit on.

“How long do we have until we depart?”

“Not long, I think. Would you like to eat something, sir?”

“Yup.”

He was presented with a sandwich in reply. It was a bacon and egg sandwich that was well-seasoned and delicious. Teruya savoured the taste and followed it up with some tea not leaving even a crumb once he was done.

“It’s been a while,” he noted, “but other passengers are yet to board?”

“…The departure time has not been decided yet.”

“What do you mean by that?” Teruya questioned. “Doesn’t the train depart at a fixed time?”

“Well, it does depart in the morning, but it is normal to wait for the passengers to gather first.”

“Ah.”

Fair enough, it would indeed be most profitable to wait until after the passenger and cargo wagons were full. Teruya opened the door and tried to look into the carriage behind him. It was a bit difficult to see, but it seemed that there actually were people inside now. He was more surprised to see that two people were sitting far back in the last wagon.

“Do people also board the carriage in the back?”

“It is also meant for passengers. The carriage behind us is for second-class passengers, and the last one is for the third class.”

“What kind of cargo or merchandise do they tend to carry on board?”

“Wealthy merchants usually operate their own cargo trains. It would be too good to be true to see them allow unrelated people on board, would it not?”

“Wait a minute, this is the Imperial Railway, right? Is it not managed by the Empire?”

“It is, but the Empire only constructed the infrastructure which is why the train owners have to pay the fees.”

Which meant that the Empire laid the rails, but the trains on it were operated by individuals. Should it be considered a Category 3 Railway Business4? But then, it was more like a highway, so maybe it was rather something like the Japanese Expressway in practice? A system where the state builds and manages the rail, but the trains running on it are owned by an individual or a company. The railway system here really was in its initial stages of development.

While Teruya was mulling over the problem, a whistle sounded.

“Oh, we are about to depart.”

Immediately after, the carriage shook and began to move slowly. The initial jolt caused Teruya to fall onto the sofa, but the feeling of inertia disappeared right after. The train stopped accelerating once it reached a certain speed and began to cruise on. A constant chugging could be heard coming from the engine as it made its way through the countryside.

“It’s surprisingly fast.”

“Indeed. The speed is impressive when there is nothing ahead.”

“Hm? What do you mean by that?”

Right at this moment, the train slowed down a notch, so Teruya added another question.

“What happened?”

At first, he suspected an accident, but the train kept going at a steady speed.

“Oh, there is probably a horse-drawn carriage ahead. That is why we are going slower.”

“Huh? Those can also run on the tracks?”

“Of course. This is the railway. Everyone can use it, as long as the fee is paid.”

I see, so it really is using the same idea as a highway then?

“Can’t we overtake it?”

“This will be possible at the next station, unless there are a lot of carriages and all the tracks are full. It should be fine on this occasion, however, since we departed earlier than usual.”

Teruya opened the window and looked ahead. Indeed, a carriage could be seen ahead on a curve. And it was certainly one pulled by a horse. As there was only a single track, there was no means of overtaking the slower vehicle.

“Isn’t it bad if a rail user cannot match the speed of a train behind them?”

“I agree.”

“Aren’t you annoyed then?”

“It is just one of those things.”

“Why are horse-powered vehicles being allowed?”

“While steam engines are undoubtedly very efficient, they are also expensive. Moreover, salamanders are rare, not many people can boast of owning one. Horse carriages might be slow, but a team of horses can be prepared immediately as they can be found everywhere.”

“Makes sense.”

Since raw materials, or in this case the number of salamanders, were very scarce, mass-producing the engines was out of the question. Therefore, to make up the number of vehicles on the rail, the Empire allowed horse-drawn carriages to operate within the system.

“Well, I guess there’s no helping that…”

But because of that, the swiftness of the railway could not be fully demonstrated.

“Are there any complaints though?” he added after a while.

“Far from it. The passengers are very pleased, in fact. When it rains, the highways turn muddy and become impossible to travel on, but the railway does not. It is also much faster.”

“No doubt.”

When compared to an unpaved highway, the railway was definitely superior. And while the people here might not have been complaining, Teruya, accustomed to how modern rail worked, had plenty to gripe about.

The train passed the carriage when it parked at the next station. Teruya didn’t have much else to do, so he spent the long journey watching the scenery outside. The vast plains of the countryside generally remained the same, however. Occasionally, when they passed through a station, he could see rows of horse-drawn carriages and steam locomotives queued up. One time, at noon, Teruya spotted a train that looked a cut above the others, but he couldn’t investigate it as his train didn’t stop until later on in the evening.

“We shall be stopping here for the day. The journey to St. Bernard will resume the day after tomorrow.”

“That’s quite slow, no?”

“Quite the opposite actually. In the olden days, the fastest you could make the journey was about a week.”

“Yes, yes, I see. Very fast. Anyway, what do we have planned for the rest of the day?”

“We will lodge at the station’s inn. It would be fine to pass the time next to the train as well, and some people do just that.”

“Hmm, the inn sounds interesting. Let’s give it a try.”

“It’s awful,” muttered Teruya with a blank expression, who made his way back to the train the morning after.

“Absolutely awful…” muttered Teruya with a blank expression, having made his way back to the train the morning after. “What was up with that dish? Cold, unpalatable, and served in tiny portions – the unholy trinity of bad cooking in one terrible package.”

“Exactly why I suggested to eat somewhere with a higher standard, sir.”

“But I wanted to know what the food the common folk buy tastes like.”

Teruya purposefully chose an inn an ordinary merchant would stay in and not one catering to nobles. The fact that he was of common origins played a role but, as a train enthusiast, he simply wanted to know what the general passengers were dealing with.

“Their service was awful too,” he kept complaining, —

In perfect harmony with the meal, the beds were also terrible. The ‘mattress’ was pure straw. There were no signs of the sheets being changed either. And to top it off, the walls were also pretty thin allowing Teruya to clearly hear both the bar downstairs and the rooms nearby.

— “Also isn’t the whole thing just too expensive? A single meal for two drachmas? Didn’t you say that you can get a decent meal with one drachma before?” and complaining.

“Of course, you can even have decent meals in the royal capital for that. Still, the inns do want their piece of flesh.”

“So they only have profit in mind?”

Teruya wasn’t impressed.

“When are we departing?” he asked, changing the subject.

“Oh, no. The train is not going today.”

“Come again?”

“The service only operates every other day.”

“… Is that acceptable?”

“This is not a choice really. There is only one rail track, so the onward and return journeys alternate every other day. Today the line is reserved for the return services and we cannot proceed until tomorrow.”

“And nobody complains?”

“Not to my knowledge. Besides, operating every other day is a practical solution since the horses and salamanders need to get some rest.”

“Okay, that does sound quite reasonable. Aren’t there people who want to travel quicker though?”

“Of course there are, but since it became possible to carry more than ten times the usual load at more than twice the previous speed, nobody would dare to complain in public. Wanting any more than that would be outrageous neediness.”

“Would it now?”

Certainly, not many people would be complaining about a new thing that already greatly improved the convenience of their life.

Many trains passed in front of the two of them while they had this discussion. Occasionally, one of them would stop at the station to switch horses before embarking again, possibly because the existing team was exhausted. However, nobody could be seen to embark or disembark at the station. At most, the passengers just bought food or went to the toilet.

“I’ve been wondering for a while… The locals don’t use the trains, do they?”

“No, they do not. The fare is not cheap, so most people do not travel often.”

“But why?”

“The amount is not something a farmer can spend freely. The highways are much better value for money to people who baulk at the expense.”

“Don’t they sell their produce in the capital though?”

Teruya pressed the subject, recalling the vegetables that were fetching a high price back in the city.

“Well… It is cheaper to source fresh food from the farmland around the royal capital, and more convenient too. Not to mention that it can be ferried along the river. The pickled vegetables are cheaper coming from Empire.”

“Aren’t those pickled vegetables inexpensive to produce?”

“In theory. The vegetables themselves are indeed easily obtainable, but the sources of the salt, vinegar, and oil are quite distant and thus expensive. This is what makes the imperial pickles cheaper in the end.”

“Oh… Alright.”

The imperial manufacturers could make better use of the well-developed rail network thereby sourcing the ingredients from the provinces where they were cheap.

“Were my answers helpful, sir?”

“Yes. Very.”

The full extent of the Kingdom’s problems slowly unfolded before Teruya’s eyes. His brooding over the subject, however, was interrupted by a grumble from the stomach.

“Is it not breakfast yet?” he asked.

Though almost at the same moment he recalled the catastrophe that was yesterday’s meal and his mood turned sour. So he added a follow-up question.

“Do we have to keep eating garbage for the next two days as well?”

“Be at ease, sir. I have stocked up on ingredients in preparation for the trip. I have also brought cooking utensils, so if we buy some firewood, I am perfectly capable of making simple dishes like, say, stew.”

“What a lifesaver. Is that what other people do too?”

“Indeed. Ever since the trip no longer takes weeks, people started to bring their own food with them.”

“Won’t that add bulk to the luggage?”

“That is not a problem as long as you only travel on the train. And when the alternative is traveling on foot…”

“Yeah…”

Although people in Teruya’s past had used to walk a lot, that was only in places with poor infrastructure.

Regardless, the following night passed smoothly. They had only stew and crackers for supper, but it was still delicious due to how the flavours of dried vegetables and meat interacted with spices in the dish. Moreover, the crackers held their own, and once they soaked through with the stew, they elevated the meal to the next level. Eating bad food took effort, eating a good meal gave you energy. Until now Teruya had never really appreciated that fact and the hearty meals he had been getting. And St. Bernard would soon fire up his train-otaku spirit.

Footnotes

A type of railway locomotive that produces its pulling power through a steam engine.
Tender — Container holding both water for the boiler and fuel such as wood, coal or oil for the fire box.
Cab — Compartment where the engineer and fireman control the engine and tend the firebox.

The business of constructing railway tracks for the purpose of assigning them to a Category 1 Railway Business operator and the business of constructing railway tracks to have a Category 2 Railway Business operator use them exclusively.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rail_transport_in_Japan#Categories_of_railway

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