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Russian Train Blast Leaves Reporter Uneasy

The news of Friday's deadly bombing of a Moscow-to-St. Petersburg train hit me hard. At least 26 people are dead and 95 injured, and the figures continue to climb. As I reported in my recent blog post, I had traveled that same train route exactly three weeks earlier to the day.

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I took this picture with my Blackberry just before boarding train 024A, the Yunost or "Youth Express." The Yunost leaves Leningradsky Station at 12:30 p.m., just in time for the rudimentary lunch that is wrapped in plastic and placed on your seat before boarding. The targeted train, the Nevsky Express, follows the same route as the Yunost, leaving at 6:30 p.m. and arriving at 11 p.m., a far shorter journey than the Yunost's unimpressive travel time of 7 hours and 40 minutes. There's not much to see out the windows on the Nevsky at this time of year because it's pitch black by then, which must have made the terrorist blast all the more harrowing.

The Nevsky Express is somewhat more luxurious than the Yunost, but anyone who has traveled in Russia knows that luxury is a word with a loose definition in that part of the world. Both trains have only simple seating, no sleeping berths. Both serve the same bland sandwiches and chips. People on the Yunost as well as the Nevsky doze against the bundles of heavy coats ballooning from hooks by the windows. Both trains pass the same broad stretches of farmland edged by pine forest. Both edge past the same obscure sleepy villages and towns—Spirovo, Vyshny Volochek, and Uglovko, where the bombing took place.

On the Yunost I sat next to a soldier on leave. My conductor limped, and his hat was too big for his head. The car attendant, who sat in a private cabin near the samovar, looked at me suspiciously whenever I refilled my teacup. Two very pretty young women a few rows ahead of me giggled almost the entire trip. I don't know anything about the people who died on the Nevsky Express on Friday, but they can't have been much different from those on my train. Eager to visit family. Excited about touring the Hermitage Museum. Heading home on leave. Simply living their lives. Until they lost theirs.

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