Commentary on the passage, “Traveller’s Check

Traveller’s check

The passage below describes the writer’s journey on the North Borneo Railway.

Task: Comment on the style and language of the passage.

Travel, as we know today, had its roots with the appearance of trains. The train opened up the countryside and people could head off for a day’s outing away from the city.

Thomas Cook was the first travel agent who organised groups of travelers to head off into England’s Lake District for some rest and creation. Since, then, we haven’t looked back and now there are few areas on the planet where people haven’t left their mark.

Some of us still seek out a ‘puffin billy’ experience as part of our travels. The North Borneo Railway in Sabah, East Malaysia, is the only rail trunk on the island of Borneo… these few hundred kilometers of track are a paradise for those who dream of trains. There are two choices – the daily train to the small settlement of Temon or the twice-weekly tourist train to Papar. ‘Trainheads’ won’t need any convincing to do both trips at least once.

The renovated North Borneo Railway operates a journey south from Tanjung Aru in Kota Kinabalu along a narrow rickety train line to Papar some 66 kilometres away. Looking around the train, it’s easy to see that some of the passengers fall into the ‘lunatic fringe, fanatical steam train devotees’  category while others appear to have only a passing interest in the nostalgia of a mode of transport that has slipped into near oblivion….the train accommodates 180 passengers in fully renovated colonial-style train carriages… The railway recreates the experience of a bygone era in the land once known as British North Borneo. It’s like a time capsule transporting passengers along what was once the lifeline for people living here.

Sample commentary plan

Writer’s purpose and audience

This is to persuade readers of the attraction of travel on this railway. The audience is the general public and those interested in travel.


Tone is persuasive


Think about ‘head off’, ‘puffin billy’, ‘trainheads’, ‘rickety’. ‘lunatic fringe’, ‘fanatical’, ‘nostalgia’ and ‘oblivion’.

Figures of speech

Think about ‘traveller’s check’, ‘opened up’, ‘paradise’, ‘devotees’, ‘time capsule’. Think also about pun, metaphor, simile, hyperbole, idiom and contrast.


Think about paragraphing.

Sample commentary

The writer’s purpose is to give information about the renovated North Borneo Railway and to persuade readers to try it. The tone is persuasive and relatively light-hearted. The pun in the title establishes light-heartedness: ‘traveller’s check’ is both the possible means of paying one’s way in travel and the link with the information to follow about the railway.

The attraction of train travel is outlined in the opening paragraph; the metaphor of ‘opened up the countryside’ makes train travel attractive by suggesting new discoveries or the revelation of something concealed until now. ‘Head off is light-hearted and gives the idea that travel is relaxing and freedom-giving. The mention of Thomas Cook in the second paragraph gives historical accuracy and therefore credibility to train travel as something tried  and tested.

The idiom ‘puffin billy’ in the third paragraph is informal; the informality gives the passage an easy feel to it, a user-friendly approach. Train travel is for everyone. The metaphor ‘paradise’ to describe the railway in North Borneo makes the countryside through which it passes seem idyllic., the most beautiful place on earth, or even a beauty which transcends earth. The structure of the rest of the paragraph makes it easy to follow the rest of the passage, because the writer outlines the two options for travel on the railway, which then makes it possible to devote a paragraph to one of them. The idiom ‘trainheads’ must mean those who love train travel; again, the informal tone makes train travel seem accessible to ordinary people, and the newness of the idiom makes train travel seem modern and possibly an attraction for the young, who are the kind of people to invent new language or slang.

In the fourth paragraph the vocabulary ‘narrow rickety’ is used to describe the train. Normally, these adjectives would not enhance an overall description, but in this case the train is made to seem attractively old-fashioned, as if the privilege of having such a historical experience makes the discomfort of ‘narrow’ and ‘rickety’ more of a pleasure than a pain. The ’lunatic fringe’, fanatical steam train devotees’ adds a note of humour to the passage; ‘devotees’ raises train travel to an almost religious level which is clearly exaggeration or hyperbole. ‘Lunatic fringe’ is humorous because it suggests that those who like train travel are in some way mentally deranged. Contrast is established when the writer goes on to describe the other, completely different type of travelers (those with only a passing interest):  therefore it can be seen that train travel is for all, and so every reader is included as a possible traveller, adding to the persuasive tone of the passage. The vocabulary captures the history and therefore the credibility of train travel in words such as ‘nostalgia’ and ‘oblivion’ with their connotations of long time scales. A simile describing the train as being ‘like a capsule’ makes the train seem old-fashioned, by suggesting that a trip on it is not only through this part of Malaysia but back through history to a time pre-dating our own modern trains. The metaphor ‘lifeline’ comes from the literal idea of throwing a drowning person a rope with which to be pulled ashore; thus, the vital importance of the railway to people’s way of life is underpinned.



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