John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
Sure, it could kill you, but there's no thrill quite like riding on the roof of a 125 mph commuter train.
Clinging to the top of a commuter train as it whistles at 125 m.p.h past metal trestles and low-hanging power lines could get you killed. But it may also just land you a fine of about €2.5, as was the case with the surfer above who this month rode the Moscow-St. Petersburg crazy train. (Turn down the volume before playing the video or CRANK THAT NOISE, depending on your affinity for high-energy techno music.) That's cheaper than an actual train ticket and the view is much better, at least when the rushing wind isn't forcing gnats into your tear-seeping eyes.
Insane Russians have apparently been surfing the rails for years now. Some do it rather carelessly as a way to kill a few hours with friends, whereas others, like our man above, are consummate professionals who work alone and bring their own anchoring tools and straps. A popular tactic is to huddle in the gap between cars where the wind's not so strong and townsfolk can't see and report you. If train operators hear there's a stowaway aboard, they can make an emergency stop or phone ahead to the next station to summon a police welcoming committee.
The Moscow News rightly describes this loco leisure activity as a "dangerous game," writing in April:
Last Saturday a 14-year-old boy was found injured near Tsaritsyno. He is thought to have been traveling on top of a train and must have been hit by a power line and received serious electrical burns.
In February last year, two train-surfing teenagers were found dead. They had been riding hanging from the sides of the trains, but did not take into account that on the Filyevskaya metro line tunnels are so narrow that there is no space left between them and the carriages.
But the ones who do survive leave behind good tape. This French news report shows the heart-clenching vistas an open-air ride offers:
Here are kids partaking in completely safe train behavior:
Even the Russian Spider-Man's getting in on the action, leaping from a train into the river (presumably he checked beforehand to make sure it wasn't frozen):