Throughout the novel, trains symbolize the main characters’ collective desire for escape—from societal expectations, from the drudgery of their lives, and from increasingly dangerous relationships and situations. For Rachel, riding the train to and from London each day is both a burden and a release. Broke, constantly inebriated, and adrift in the wake of divorce and unemployment, Rachel is a veritable wreck at the start of the novel. She takes the train to the city every day—even though she has no job to commute to—in order to mask the depths of her failure from her roommate, Cathy. But as Rachel rides the rails, she begins watching the occupants of houses in her former neighborhood and spinning elaborate fantasies about their lives. The train Rachel rides each day takes her directly past the home she used to share with her now-ex-husband, Tom—a house that he now shares with his new wife, Anna, and their infant daughter, Evie. Rachel’s train journeys each day symbolize her competing desires to escape from her present circumstances and to retreat into the stifling life she lived with Tom: a life defined by scarcity, loss, and pain.
For Megan and Anna, who live just a few houses apart from each other on Blenheim Road, the train tracks that run through their backyards serve as a constant reminder of how badly both women want to escape domesticity, motherhood, and their abusive relationships. Megan spends her time dreaming of more, imagining how she might escape from the stifling drudgery and repetitiveness of suburban domesticity. Thus, for Megan, the trains outside her window represent an escape from the neighborhood where she feels trapped. Anna, meanwhile, finds herself frightened and disturbed by the constant back-and-forth of trains throughout the day. Anna knows that something is off in her relationship with Tom—but she is too frightened to stand up to him or uncover the truth about who he is. She’s also afraid to admit that being a wife and mother, which she always dreamed of, isn’t enough for her. Anna’s fear of the trains parallels her fear of confronting the ways in which her life is insufficient. She doesn’t even like looking at the trains—she is too perturbed by the collection of bodies hurtling through space, moving to-and-fro while she stays rooted in the same place.
Trains Quotes in The Girl on the Train
I know that on warm summer evenings, the occupants of this house, Jason and Jess, sometimes climb out of the large sash window to sit on the makeshift terrace on top of the kitchen-extension roof. They are a perfect, golden couple. […] While we're stuck at the red signal, I look for them. Jess is often out there in the mornings, especially in the summer, drinking her coffee. Sometimes, when I see her there, I feel as though she sees me, too, I feel as though she looks right back at me, and I want to wave.
Sometimes I don't even watch the trains go past, I just listen. Sitting here in the morning, eyes closed and the hot sun orange on my eyelids, I could be anywhere.
I don't have words to describe what I felt that day, but now, sitting on the train, I am furious, nails digging into my palms, tears stinging my eyes. I feel a flash of intense anger. I feel as though something has been taken away from me. How could she? How could Jess do this? What is wrong with her? Look at the life they have, look at how beautiful it is!
Maybe it was then. Maybe that was the moment when things started to go wrong, the moment when I imagined us no longer a couple, but a family; and after that, once I had that picture in my head, just the two of us could never be enough. Was it then that Tom started to look at me differently, his disappointment mirroring my own? After all he gave up for me, for the two of us to be together, I let him think that he wasn't enough.
On the train on the way home, as I dissect all the ways that today went wrong, I'm surprised by the fact that I don't feel as awful as I might. Thinking about it, I know why that is: I didn't have a drink last night, and I have no desire to have one now. I am interested, for the first time in ages, in something other than my own misery. I have purpose. Or at least, I have a distraction.
Who's to say that once I run, I'll find that isn't enough? Who's to say I won't end up feeling exactly the way I do right now—not safe, but stifled? Maybe I'll want to run again, and again, and eventually I'll end up back by those old tracks, because there's nowhere left to go.
"Honestly, Rachel, I don't understand how you could have kept this up for so long."
I shrug. "ln the morning, I take the 8:04, and in the evening, I come back on the 5:55. That's my train. It's the one I take. That's the way it is."
I'm just turning to walk to the station when a man comes running along the pavement, earphones on, head down. He's heading straight for me, and as I step back, trying to get out of the way, I slip off the edge of the pavement and fall.
The man doesn't apologize, he doesn't even look back at me, and I'm too shocked to cry out. I get to my feet and stand there, leaning against a car, trying to catch my breath.
Tom's lips are moving, he's saying something to me, but I can't hear him. I watch him come, I watch him, and I don't move until he's almost upon me, and then I swing. I jam the vicious twist of the corkscrew into his neck.
His eyes widen as he falls without a sound. He raises his hands to his throat, his eyes on mine. He looks as though he's crying. I watch until I can't look any longer, then I turn my back on him. As the train goes past I can see faces in brightly lit windows, heads bent over books and phones, travellers warm and safe on their way home.