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(The author describes a journey that he made on the great express train that travels through Russia on its long journey to the heart of China.)

It is exciting to stand on a railway platform beside the great Trans-Siberian express and to know that it is about to take you on eight days of solid travel. The tracks reach out into the distance: those eight days will carry you only to the borders of China. You will have traveled across one mighty continent to another, from West to East.

It is a very different journey from the comparatively short-timed, swift leaps across continents that airplanes make. The airplane lets you see little of the world around you as it speeds high above the earth. On hoard the train you can settle back in your seat while the desert plains sweep past your window or are replaced by great forests that come crowding into the edge of the track. Each day passes in a lazy examination of the land outside. Indeed, you cannot escape from it.

I had made the journey two years before and knew what to expect. As soon as I stepped aboard, familiar details met me. The dust of two continents, of West and East, still clung to the tables in the dining-car. Each table carried two bottles of wine (expensively priced, as always), never opened, it seemed. The menu was still the same and no doubt just as fictitious, even if the prices were real enough. But at least the sleeping berth was comfortable. Soon I would have to settle into an enforced, simple timetable of living.

Breakfast brings you your first encounter with the dining-car, and the struggle to make yourself understood in a foreign language. You want to order a boiled egg; in the end you have to do so in sign-language. The attendants appear to carry out your request with eagerness, but it is nearly an hour before they return, not with an egg, but a whole chicken, crisply roasted. Experienced travelers learn to take essential foods along with them, as well as plenty of books. Time can hang heavily on your hands, especially in the dining-car. And there will be many hours ahead besides, with nothing to distract you, no interruptions.

The further the train takes you on your journey, the more you forget those longings for activity and exercise that usually bother you on other long-distance travel. Perhaps it is the airless atmosphere of the train that makes you feel pleasantly inactive. The windows are always shut, either because it is too cold on the outside or too hot and dusty: you are a prisoner, it seems, enclosed in a narrow compartment, in a completely different world. Somehow the scenery, with all its sameness, hypnotizes you. Even attempts to read are impossible, for you cannot take your eyes away from the window in case there is something outside you might miss. At last evening comes; you peer into the surrounding forests until the window shows you nothing but your face. It is time to try the dining-car again, if only to ask for eggs.

So the journey goes on. It was almost over on that second trip of mine and the train was puffing slowly up towards the great mountain passes of Mongolia. The next day we would be at the Chinese frontier. I settled down for the night, but sleep would not come. I tried reciting all the names of the stations we had passed through with their strangely similar sounds: even their monotony failed to send me off to sleep. My thoughts drifted back to my home: I saw my car outside the window. I suddenly remembered I had an appointment. I was going to be late. I dashed down the stairs. They began to move and twist about and finally flung me off my feet. There was a sound of shrieking metal, followed by a fearful crash.

I sat upright. From high above, my heavy suitcase thundered down, catching me on the legs. The sides of my compartment were at an alarming angle. The window showed mostly sky, with just a small edge of green. I scrambled into my clothes and out of the carriage to find a chaotic scene in front of me. The mail-van and the dining-car lay on their sides at the bottom of a grass slope. Behind them the sleeping-cars formed a zigzag down the embankment, although the last one had managed somehow to remain proudly and firmly on the track. The engine, which had parted from the train, lay some fifty yards ahead, steam snorting from its funnel. It, too, had left the rails and was dug into the grass verge of the track. It looked as though it was trying to keep innocently apart from all confusion.

Gradually I discovered what had happened. The great Trans-Siberian express is not famous for its speed but for once it had excelled itself. It had been encouraged by a long drop downhill to show what it could do, spurred on by a strong wind at its tail. It gathered speed. At the bottom of the hill the single track we were travel- ling on had another, shorter track leading from it. Trains were expected to obey signals, warning them to move into that section to let any train approaching from the opposite direction pass through. The driver noticed too late the warning red gleam of the signals ahead. He applied the brakes: nothing happened. The emergency brakes failed too. Still the train gathered speed.

The man on duty at the signals realized that we were set to go speeding on, right into the path of an approaching train. He threw his lever over, switching our rails, at the last minute, to send us into that little side track; it had been designed no doubt to serve as an emergency escape route also. However, that section of track was ancient. The timbers supporting the rails had largely rotted away and as our train swung into that section it began to rip up the track; the timber supports flew up like so many flimsy matches. The train left the track and went tumbling down the embankment.

All this was a startling end to the eight previously uneventful days. No one was hurt. The mighty Trans-Siberian express lay sprawled in an untidy heap. Perhaps it had paid the penalty for all the annoyances it had imposed upon us: the stuffy, dust-laden dining-car, the tea that its rattling and swaying had spilt into our lap, the windows that refused to open. So we left it there. Another engine was found. The one carriage that had remained on the track was hauled out on to the main line and the more important passengers among us were crowded uncomfortably into it. We were on our way again.

   
  Questions
   
      From paragraph 1 :
  1. (a) Crossing the continent from West to East takes eight days of 'solid travel'.
      (i) What is the usual meaning of 'solid' ?
      (ii) What does it mean here ?
       
      From paragraph 2 :
    (b) (i) According to the author, travel by air 'lets you see little of the world around you'. Give two reasons.
      (ii) The author sees 'forests ... come crowding in to the edge of the track'. Explain what he means.
       
      From paragraph 3 :
    (c) (i) Give one disadvantage of a 'fictitious' menu ?
      (ii) Give the other disadvantage the author finds in having a meal on this train.
      (iii) Why were the details 'familiar' to the author ?
      (iv) What is the one advantage of traveling on the train mentioned by the author ?
       
      From paragraph 4 :
    (d) (i) Why does the author use 'sign-language' to order his meal ?
      (ii) The author's order has been badly misunderstood. What shows us this ?
       
    (e) What does the author mean when he says 'Time can hang heavily on your hands' ?
       
  2. (a) Give one word or short phrase ( of not more than seven words ) which has the same meaning as the word used in the passage.
      (i) settle;   (ii) peer;   (iii) reciting;   (iv) flung;   (v) gathered;   (vi) ancient;   (vii) tumbling;   (viii) annoyances
       
      From paragraph 5 :
    (b) Two reasons are given by the author for forgetting the 'longings for activity'. Quote the two sentences from this paragraph that give those reasons.
       
    (c) The author does not read even though he has a lot of time. Why ?
       
    (d) ' ... the window shows you nothing but your face.' Complete the sentence below with the missing word to give the sense of the original sentence. 'The window shows you only the ... of your face.'
       
    (e) The author decides to go to the dining-car again 'if only to ask for eggs'. The quotation could mean :
      1. He only wanted to order eggs.
      2. He wanted to pass the time somehow.
      3. Only eggs were available on the menu.
      Write down the sentence you think is correct
       
      From paragraph 6 :
  3. (a) The author at first could not sleep during his last night on the train.
      (i) What did he do to help him to get to sleep ? explain why he felt this action would be successful.
      (ii) Give evidence to show that he went to sleep.
      (iii) What caused the stairs in his dream 'to move and twist about' ?
       
      From paragraph
    (b) (i) What was 'alarming' about the angle of the author's compartment ?
      (ii) What was the 'small edge of green' ?
       
    (c) 'had managed somehow to remain proudly ... '
      'was trying to keep innocently apart ...'
      Give the meaning of these two statements, with particular reference to the words in italics. Number your answers 1 and 2.
       
  4.   You are a crash investigator for the railway. You were on duty at a nearby station at the time of the crash. You went to the scene quickly and immediately interviewed the shocked driver.

Write a report of the accident. Your report should include details of the scene you saw on your arrival and the causes and results of the accident. The report must not be longer than 160 words, including the 10 words given below :

The driver said he heard a loud bang and then ...

       
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  Answers
       
  1. (a) (i) heavy/compact
      (ii) continuous
       
    (b) (i) -- It is short-timed and swift. -- It speeds high above the earth.
      (ii) The trees/forest grow very near to the railway line.
       
    (c) (i) Looked more exciting than it really was.
      (ii) The food was expensive.
      (iii) The author had made a similar journey two years ago.
      (iv) The sleeping berth was comfortable.
       
    (d) (i) The author does not know the language of the attendants./There is no common language between him and the attendants.
      (ii) He wants an egg but the attendants bring him a roast chicken.
       
    (e) You have too much time with nothing to do, making you restless and uncomfortable.
       
  2. (a) (i) get used to/get adjusted
      (ii) look/stare/look intently
      (iii) saying aloud/telling one by one/give a list of names
      (iv) threw
      (v) increased/picked up/accelerated/went faster
      (vi) old
      (vii) rolling/falling
      (viii) inconveniences
       
    (b)  -- 'Perhaps it is the airless atmosphere of the train that makes you feel pleasantly inactive.'
       -- ' ... ; you are a prisoner, it seems, enclosed in a narrow compartment, in a completely different world.' or 'Somehow the scenery, with all its sameness, hypnotizes you.'
       
    (c) He was reluctant to take his eyes off from the window for fear of missing some interesting scenery.
       
    (d) reflection
       
    (e) No. 2 -- He wanted to pass the time somehow.
       
  3. (a) (i) -- He tried to recite/recall all the names of the stations the train had passed. -- The names were monotonous sounding.
      (ii) He dreamt of his house and car.
      (iii) The train was shaking and going off the track.
       
    (b) (i) It was upside down.
      (ii) The forest
       
    (c) 1. had remained very stable/intact on the track.
      2. it remained unconnected with the rest.
       
  4.   The driver said he heard a loud bang and then the train crashed. The mail van and dining-car lay on their sides at the bottom of a slope. Behind were the sleeping-cars in a zigzag position. The last coach remained on the track and the detached engine some distance away of the track. the Trans-Siberian was going fast due to the steep slope and strong wind. The driver saw the warning signal too late. He could not stop because the brakes failed. The man on duty saw that the Trans-Siberian was going to crash into an approaching train. He pulled the lever to enable the Trans-Siberian to switch onto a side track. However, the train tore up the old track and rolled down a slope. Nobody was injured. The remaining coach was pulled back tot he main track. Important passengers boarded it. With another engine to pull it, the train continued its journey. ( 158 words )
           
 
 
 
 
 

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Comprehension 1

 

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