Princess Luna and Princess Celestia were wrapping up the final moments of the massive, town-wide party celebrating Luna’s return from madness. Together, for the first time in over a thousand years, they were finally sisters again. Shaking hooves with the Mayor for the last time, Celestia led her sister off to the train station, their real duties were awaiting them at Canterlot.
Luna couldn't shake a thought that had been troubling her. At the party, the ponies she saw were far better off than what she was familiar with, except for nobility. In her absence, the gulf between classes must have grown to the point where the rich would live in their own villages, like Ponyville, and be completely insulated from those who suffer to support them. "Tia, why, after dissolving the nobility, why are there still ponies living so decadently?"
Celestia looked at Luna in confusion for a moment before realization dawned, "Lulu, they aren't living indulgently at the cost of others, their way of life is normal by today's standards. Things have improved greatly under my rule."
Luna tried to recall her old memories. Peasants lived in crowded, vermin infested longhouses and worked farms nonstop just so they would be able to eat. Hygiene was the least of their concerns. The ponies she saw today had lived their entire lives in prosperity, well grown from a lifetime of plentiful food, even their teeth were perfect. Each family had their own house full of finery. The market had exotic perishable goods that that must have been imported from all corners of Equestria.
Things just didn't add up. The princesses had everything running near perfectly a thousand years ago, there was no way life could have improved by such a degree. Tia was probably just too proud to let Luna see the real Equestria. The night diarch gave her sister a sympathetic look. "Thou knowest, I am going to investigate the citizens thou sayest art living well."
Celestia gave that peaceful smile she used when hiding a prank, not betraying even a hint of concern. "And here we are." They had arrived at a platform of ponies waiting next to what looked like a road. "We're going to take the train back to Canterlot." They joined the other citizens already waiting on the platform. The roaring of the train could be made out in the distance.
The road in front of the platform was interesting looking, Luna stepped down to inspect it more closely. Tia called for her to get back, but Luna just wanted a quick look. Two parallel steel rails were held in place by planks that they have been nailed into. Back on the platform ponies looked aghast for some reason and one mother was covering the eye's of her foal. Tia quickly dove down and pulled Luna back up.
Celestia was panting heavily. "What were you thinking? Do have any idea how dangerous what you just did was? You're supposed to stay off the tracks!" Luna faltered, unsure why what she did was so wrong. Celestia sighed, exasperated. "Just stay close." She smiled lightly, "Things that have power to help often have the power to do harm if used improperly." Her smile broadened. "I can't wait for you to see it."
The younger princess's ears pricked as the roar in the distance grew in volume. Something large appeared on the horizon and was running rapidly down the road.
As the creature approached, Luna could see it more clearly. It looked like a large steel behemoth pulling a long string of brightly colored carriages. The creature heaved in labored breathes as it expelled overwhelming amounts of steam. Luna stared, dumbfounded, as it pulled up beside them. "By Faust, Tia, what is that?"
Celestia gloated. "That, my dear sister, is what's going to take us to Canterlot."
Luna stared at it, still awestruck. "Is it alive? How much doth it eat?"
"Yes. See the other ponies waiting with us? They are here to be fed to it in exchange for it's service."
Luna gaped at Celestia. "S-sister, what hast thee..."
Celestia burst out laughing before Luna could finish. "Just kidding! Oh, I'm so sorry. It's just the idea of it being alive, it never occurred to me. It was such a clever inference, I just had to feed it. I just can't believe you actually thought I'd feed the train ponies!"
Luna looked away, her sister could be so annoying sometimes.
Celestia looked over the train with pride. "That is a train. It's actually just a machine that we've built. It's powered by the burning of wood and those rails allow it to move very efficiently. Remember how boiling steam could cause an aeolipile to spin? This has a steam engine that turns heat into motion too, only much more efficiently. The motion goes through metal gears we've shaped to mesh smoothly. The entire power of the train moves through them without any trouble."
As Luna listened to her sister and surveyed the 'train', she finally comprehended just how much things had truly changed. Maybe prosperity for all ponies had been achieved? The sheer power of the artifice before her, forever toiling to aid ponies, was only a small part of this yet unfamiliar kingdom. Her mind raced with the implications.
She grasped how having trains could improve ponies' lives. The items in the market she thought were exotic were actually only a stone's throw away. Cities could more easily work together and communicate their needs. Not only that, but ponies could specialize in skills and still support themselves with trade. Back when they first had roads built there was a giant leap in the economy, and these trains dwarfed them in speed, volume, and efficiency!
Even then, the good trains could do was just the surface of something deeper. The research, ingenuity, and metalworking that must have gone into making them must have been incredible. In her absence, Equestria's small population had advanced beyond anything she could have imagined. How many other inventions aid these ponies? How much further could they advance with the labor that freed up?
Luna looked up at her big sister, filled to the brim with excitement. She couldn't wait to see all the other things these ponies made. Celestia had every right to be proud of how Equestria grew.
Celestia had been watching Luna's expression as understanding and excitement spread across her face. Celestia smiled broadly, filled with smug pride. She nudged Luna. "Come on, I'll give you a tour."
Luna was bouncing with excitement as Tia showed her around. They were transporting cargo from as far away as Los Pegasus! Luna was intrigued by the steam engine, it roaring with its cranks and gears as it gobbled up wood. She wanted to see each little part and understand how it worked. Each little bit was a great achievement for the ponies that worked on it.
What really excited Luna, though, was the speed the train was going! It was faster than any pony could ever run. She stuck her head out the window and felt the full force of the wind. "Heyday! This is astonishing!" It wasn't, however, the best place to appreciate it from.
Celestia was still sporting that self-satisfied grin. "Come on Luna, sit, relax, enjoy the ride." Luna smirked at her overprotective sister and ran off in the opposite direction, easily slipping through the crowded cars that hampered her larger sister. Once Tia was out of sight, Luna flew out the door.
The powerful train careened down it's path through the mountainous terrain. It's railway was a sight to behold, with lofty bridges over forested valleys and winding paths dug into the mountainside. The cabforward locomotive chugged resolutely through the dizzying heights with the long chain of cars following behind it.
The night alicorn clung to the roof of the locomotive's cab, at the very front of the train. The steam from the shallow smoke stack billowed out behind her. The powerful wind ripped through her mane as she stared straight ahead, her eyes wide despite how the wind dried them. Throughout the mountains, a phrase echoed:
"Bwahahaha! This contraption is such a delight! Aaaaaaaaaah!"
The mountains and valleys whizzed past Luna as she was carried over bridges and along the sides of mountains. Oddly enough, the railway didn't turn from the mountain ahead, but went right through it.
"Amazing! Thine workers hath carved through the very mountains themselves!" She stared ahead, excited and frightened by the dark abyss. "Here we go!"
The tunnel didn't have enough clearance for the alicorn riding on top of the train.
Luna awoke three days later in the hospital, her entire body encased in a thick cast.
The doctor shook his head in front of a very concerned Celestia. "It's amazing how tough you alicorns are, but even still, I doubt she'll be up and about until at least season 2."