The Girl on the Train

by

Paula Hawkins

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Trains Symbol Icon

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

The The Girl on the Train quotes below all refer to the symbol of Trains. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Women and Society Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Riverhead edition of The Girl on the Train published in 2015.
Rachel: One Quotes

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.

Related Symbols: Trains
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
Megan: One Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Megan Hipwell / “Jess” (speaker)
Related Symbols: Trains
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:
Rachel: Two Quotes

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!

Related Characters: Rachel Watson (speaker), Megan Hipwell / “Jess”
Related Symbols: Trains
Page Number: 30-31
Explanation and Analysis:
Rachel: Three Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Rachel Watson (speaker), Tom Watson
Related Symbols: Trains
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:
Rachel: Four Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Rachel Watson (speaker), Megan Hipwell / “Jess”
Related Symbols: Trains
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:
Megan: Four Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Megan Hipwell / “Jess” (speaker)
Related Symbols: Trains
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:
Rachel: Eight Quotes

"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."

Related Characters: Cathy (speaker), Rachel Watson (speaker)
Related Symbols: Trains
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:
Megan: Seven Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Megan Hipwell / “Jess” (speaker), Dr. Kamal Abdic
Related Symbols: Trains
Page Number: 214-215
Explanation and Analysis:
Rachel: Nineteen Quotes

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.

Related Symbols: Trains
Page Number: 317
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Girl on the Train LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Girl on the Train PDF

Trains Symbol Timeline in The Girl on the Train

The timeline below shows where the symbol Trains appears in The Girl on the Train. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Rachel: One
Women and Society Theme Icon
Gaslighting, Memory, Repression, and the Self  Theme Icon
Secrets and Lies Theme Icon
Friday, July 5, 2013. As Rachel Watson rides the morning train into London, she spots a pile of clothes by the tracks, which disturbs her. Her... (full context)
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Addiction, Dependency, and Abuse Theme Icon
That evening, on the train back to Ashbury, Rachel opens a canned gin and tonic. As she takes her first... (full context)
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Secrets and Lies Theme Icon
...8:04—but she wishes that rather than going into London, she could stay in the comfortable train seat all day. About halfway through her journey each day, there is a signal stop... (full context)
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That evening, on the train back to Ashbury, Rachel opens a bottle of wine and pours it into a plastic... (full context)
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Motherhood, Duty, and Care Theme Icon
...is still lying on the tracks; she remembers reading somewhere that being hit by a train can rip one’s clothes off. At the signal stop, Rachel sees Jess standing on the... (full context)
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Gaslighting, Memory, Repression, and the Self  Theme Icon
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That evening, on the 5:56 back to Ashbury—a slower train than the morning one—Rachel dreads returning home. Rachel is a lodger, or sub-letter, who lives... (full context)
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Gaslighting, Memory, Repression, and the Self  Theme Icon
Wednesday, July 10, 2013. It is a stifling hot morning on the train. Rachel looks out the window for Jason or Jess during the signal stop, but she... (full context)
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Gaslighting, Memory, Repression, and the Self  Theme Icon
Addiction, Dependency, and Abuse Theme Icon
That evening, Rachel is sweaty and uncomfortable as she rides the train home. She anxiously watches an expensively dressed man sitting across from her type on his... (full context)
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Gaslighting, Memory, Repression, and the Self  Theme Icon
Addiction, Dependency, and Abuse Theme Icon
Thursday, July 11, 2013. On the morning train, Rachel picks at a bandage on her finger. Last night, after drinking a bottle of... (full context)
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Gaslighting, Memory, Repression, and the Self  Theme Icon
Addiction, Dependency, and Abuse Theme Icon
As the train comes to the signal, Rachel spots Jess on the patio and notices that Jess seems... (full context)
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Gaslighting, Memory, Repression, and the Self  Theme Icon
Addiction, Dependency, and Abuse Theme Icon
That night, on the train home, Rachel finds that she has been unable to stop thinking about Jess all day.... (full context)
Megan: One
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Secrets and Lies Theme Icon
...earlier. Megan Hipwell—whom Rachel knows as Jess—sits on her patio drinking coffee as the morning train stops just below her garden. Megan is annoyed by the train—it interrupts her fantasy of... (full context)
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Secrets and Lies Theme Icon
...for another walk down the street. As she approaches the underpass again, she hears the train run overhead. As she comes through the other side, she sees a man she knows... (full context)
Rachel: Two
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Secrets and Lies Theme Icon
Friday, July 12, 2013. Rachel, hungover and exhausted, rides the train to London. As the train stops at the signal, Rachel looks out the window for... (full context)
Addiction, Dependency, and Abuse Theme Icon
That evening, the 5:56 train is twice as full as it usually is. Rachel feels hot and sick. She reflects... (full context)
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Addiction, Dependency, and Abuse Theme Icon
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...her bedroom, Rachel gets slightly buzzed in the evening and goes out to take the train to London and back just so she can try to spot Jason. As she passes... (full context)
Megan: Two
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Secrets and Lies Theme Icon
...she walked past a motorbike revving its engine on the street. She ran down the train tracks all the way home from the center of town, hoping to feel the rattle... (full context)
Rachel: Three
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Gaslighting, Memory, Repression, and the Self  Theme Icon
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Motherhood, Duty, and Care Theme Icon
...gives her a big, sad hug. Rachel waits to cry until she is on the train. She tries to think about where she took a wrong turn in life—she feels it... (full context)
Megan: Three
Gaslighting, Memory, Repression, and the Self  Theme Icon
Secrets and Lies Theme Icon
...by the house, and sometimes Megan would wake in the night thinking she could hear trains. Megan tells Kamal that she stayed with Mac until she was 19. Kamal asks what... (full context)
Rachel: Four
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Addiction, Dependency, and Abuse Theme Icon
Later that day, as Rachel settles into her train seat to head on to London from Witney, she realizes that she has a voicemail... (full context)
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Addiction, Dependency, and Abuse Theme Icon
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Motherhood, Duty, and Care Theme Icon
...a female officer, Detective Sergeant Riley. Rachel described the redheaded man she saw at the train station and reported that he helped her up after she slipped on her way out... (full context)
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Addiction, Dependency, and Abuse Theme Icon
Now, on the train home, Rachel feels excited. She has no desire to return home and pour herself a... (full context)
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That evening, Rachel is back on the train. She was caught in a rainstorm on the way to the station, and her clothes... (full context)
Megan: Four
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Secrets and Lies Theme Icon
...the restlessness that fills her days—she worries one day she’ll “end up […] by [the train] tracks, because there’s nowhere left to go.” As Scott heads to work, he tells Megan... (full context)
Rachel: Five
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Addiction, Dependency, and Abuse Theme Icon
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Friday, July 19, 2013. Rachel rides the quiet 8:04 train feeling light, refreshed, and more like her old self than she has in a long... (full context)
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Addiction, Dependency, and Abuse Theme Icon
Motherhood, Duty, and Care Theme Icon
...Tom and Anna’s and took their baby, Evie, out into the garden, down near the train tracks. She was drunk but not blacked out—and she knows she did not intend to... (full context)
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That evening, Rachel takes the train to Witney to meet with Scott. As she approaches the suburb, she feels as if... (full context)
Anna: One
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Motherhood, Duty, and Care Theme Icon
...until Tom falls back asleep. Anna takes Evie downstairs to the patio to watch the trains go by. As Anna gets dressed and takes Evie out to the shops to buy... (full context)
Rachel: Six
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Secrets and Lies Theme Icon
...and reflects on her meeting with Scott the day before. Yesterday, after getting off the train at Witney and making her way to Blenheim Road, Rachel rang Scott’s doorbell, and he... (full context)
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...up feeling hot and stuffy in the warm morning air. She is sitting on the train when a man gets on and takes the seat next to her. He reads an... (full context)
Rachel: Eight
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Monday, July 29, 2013. Rachel is on the train to London once again. Megan’s disappearance has all but disappeared from the news. When the... (full context)
Rachel: Nine
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Rachel has a drink before she gets on the train to go into London. Once on the train, she sees pictures of Megan on discarded... (full context)
Rachel: Ten
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...feeling afraid. Scott begs Rachel to let him know if she remembers anything. On the train home, Rachel realizes that perhaps with the help of a therapist—like Kamal Abdic—she could recover... (full context)
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Later, as Rachel prepares to board the train home, she reflects on her afternoon at Abdic’s office. She recalls the fear and anxiety... (full context)
Anna: Four
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...gets home, Anna confronts him angrily about needing to leave Blenheim Road. Between the passing trains, Rachel snooping around, and Megan’s disappearance, Anna has had enough. She gives Tom an ultimatum:... (full context)
Rachel: Eleven
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Friday, August 9, 2013. The next evening, Rachel is drinking on the train on her way to see Scott—he has asked her to come over. Last night, authorities... (full context)
Megan: Seven
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Gaslighting, Memory, Repression, and the Self  Theme Icon
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Motherhood, Duty, and Care Theme Icon
...to the house. The next morning, the two of them buried Libby near the abandoned train tracks and marked the grave with some stones. That night, Mac went out—and never came... (full context)
Rachel: Twelve
Addiction, Dependency, and Abuse Theme Icon
Secrets and Lies Theme Icon
...recall the previous night: the two of them got drunk on the patio and watched trains go by. She remembers Scott touching her hair and smiling—she realizes that last night, the... (full context)
Rachel: Thirteen
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The nightmare bothers Rachel all morning as she rides the train into Witney for her appointment with Abdic. Rachel wishes that she could tell him about... (full context)
Rachel: Fifteen
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...up again. Rachel is sure that no one will believe her. She hurries to the train and, as she stands on the platform waiting, continues to go over the memory of... (full context)
Anna: Eight
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Anna hurls the cell phone over the fence, down toward the train tracks, and heads back up to the house. She meets Tom at the bottom of... (full context)
Anna: Nine
Women and Society Theme Icon
Gaslighting, Memory, Repression, and the Self  Theme Icon
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...Anna just hurries Evie inside to feed her a snack. Rachel stays outside, watching the trains go by. Soon, Anna rejoins her. The two of them begin going over the many... (full context)
Megan: Eight
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...outside to the terrace, and Kamal brings her a coffee and kisses her as a train rumbles up to the signal. Megan asks if they can run away together, but Kamal... (full context)
Rachel: Nineteen
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Rachel runs for the fence separating the yard from the train tracks, but she slips and falls. Tom follows her and throws his weight on her.... (full context)
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Tuesday, September 10, 2013. As Rachel rides the train into London, she notices that she’s not the only one looking at number 15 and... (full context)
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Rachel’s train ride takes her from London to a coastal town. Tomorrow, she plans to ride farther... (full context)
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...try to fall asleep. She has to get up early in the morning—she has a train to catch. (full context)