Some of the most beautiful scenes of vintage European steam in film were crafted in French filmmaker Jean Renoir’s 1938 film entitled La Bête humaine (English: The Human Beast; and in the UK released also as Judas Was a Woman).
The film centers on an express train engineer who discovers his wife was seduced by a wealthy godfather and plots their murder. This murder is witnessed by a co-railway worker. The plot complexifies further with the ramifications of this murderous path.
The express steam train pulled by French steam type 231 plays a major star role in the movie throughout, representing and symbolizing the human journeys, with beautiful photography and atmosphere.
Read more here:
Here are some clips:
Below is a short, great overview video from Vimeo, of a discussion held in New York, with Christopher Brown, author of the excellent book: Still Standing: A Century of Urban Train Station Design regarding the notion of what civic life is in a democratically-inspired region/nation and its relationship to public life, transit, and political power.
As High-speed rail is on peoples’ minds in the United States, catching up with Europe and Asia, and South America as far as attention to railroads, is an interesting development. Most decidedly, it is about politics, money, and power. The way the people of power see themselves on the global stage, from the 16th century forward, has become an important aspect of how we are all, as citizens of the phenomenon of nationhood, see ourselves.
Ultimately, it is, as the video states, about how people may move between places in comfort, safety, speed, and enjoyment.
This is a great music video recently loaded onto YouTube by the young man “The Action Effect.” This is of American trains of the 40s to the 50s.
It’s a nice montage of Vintage Train action put to the music of Bruce Springstein’s “Land of Hopes and Dreams.”
From the 1920s through the 1960s, the railroads played a huge part in the imagination of the American people. While the rest of the world continued their respect for trains, the United States concentrated on planes and cars. But in the U.S., there was the “Golden Age” and “revival.”
From its inception through the Golden Age of Passenger travel, trains were a strong part of American cultural identity due to its major role in the movement of goods and people, connecting lands and cultures and dreams as well as the violence and destruction and isolation that comes with these dreams.
Railroads leaders were usually ruthless, crushing smaller opponents and collecting their power to rule the land to lay the rails and rule the movements of food, shelter, clothing, oil, coal, stone. Moving mountains and shaping the lands to mold as well as adjusting to the lands, the rails created and destroyed lives, like dreams.
Young boys and girls stole away in the middle of the night to escape, perhaps, a boring and heavy life, or perhaps abuse and confinement, poverty and despair. Taking what little they had in bags, meeting a friend or two, perhaps, at a pre-arranged meeting at midnight, jumping onto the trains, yearning for adventure and a “better life.”
African-American and Asian-American workers, searching for work and perhaps dignity in those days of a more emboldened and accepted dominant racist society, sought to work on the railroads to have livable wages and to be respected. Porters and waiters and some of the best chefs of the lands, sought to work on the fancy and comfortable railroads, upon the trains that company executives, sports and entertainment stars and presidents often traveled. To wear the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad or the Pennsylvania, or the New York Central, or the Santa Fe or Northern Pacific and the countless other ‘Name-train” railroads were a mark of pride. Young boys and some girls, dreamed of becoming engineers and agents on these railroads.
Promises of distant lands and different lives, promises of living wages and being looked at with dignity. Back-breaking grimy work in track-laying and oil-loading and tunnel-making, marked sources of pride as well as resentment.
Love, hate, beauty, grime, political intrigue, assassination, assimilation and resistance– like life, are all present in the beautiful and grimy trains that passed in the day and the night.
Today, the workers and trains still work in America, albeit no longer in the mainstream cultural imagination. But perhaps those days are slowly returning, in new forms. The train is an important part of human consciousness and life. It cannot be forgotten.
Enjoy this video put together and loaded by “The Action Effect.” Song is by Bruce Springstein.
This posting is about dominant passenger rail travel around the world today–primarily, high-speed. Magnetic and other forms of path-making lead the way in the future of of a more ecologically-conscious, more swift, and beautiful ways of traveling on land.
Because of the recent rumblings of air travel and troubles with the automobile industry and frustration with the almost extreme levels of discomfort and stress associated with car driving, as well as the relative discomforts of air travel, train travel has always been the mainstay of the public consciousness around travel.
In Europe, Asia and South American, trains remain a heavy favorite and main way of travel. Recent billions put into the incredible railway terminals in Europe and China, as well as the more aesthetically pleasing designs for high-speed trains, continues to be normal and enjoyed by people. Not so in the United States.
I have, through recent years, met youth who have never “seen a train” or do not know or pay attention to anything except for, perhaps, the downtown trolley cars and subways in the city. In San Francisco, where I live at present, there are youth who know of trains to be only the city transit system (MUNI) or the high-speed underground (Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART).
Even though these youth may cross railroad tracks of the huge Union Pacific Railroad yards in Oakland on their trip on the BART, they do not notice. I, as one who loves trains and pays attention, have only seen five moving trains moving on that yard that we cross. Most of the time, you see the freight cars and their loads, and old locomotives sitting idle.
I think that those youth see those trains as museum pieces, even though they are out in the open. And since they are freight engines, there is not much relationship between them and those trains, even though the many things they use everyday in life, are transported to them, through the Union Pacific and other railways in the United States.
In Japan, where I grew up, it is a bit different. Trains are a main way to commute and travel. Cars and buses are secondary. In the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands where I recently traveled for research, trains are still a main way of moving and enjoying life. Because people have a relationship with trains, the governments, both national and local, pay attention to that relationship, with top-notch comforts, safety, speed, and beauty.
It may get that way in the US, back to a bit of how it was in the Golden Age, or at least through the 1950s and 60s, when rail travel was still a bit more respected. Thanks to railfans, model railroaders, and historians, railroads sustain a huge following of fans in the United States, but almost as artifact. Recently, however, local trains have seen a bit of a revival because of the state of the world.
I grew up with wonderful trains in Japan, when we can walk around and enjoy eating at the counter or at a table like we were at home. Traveling overnight on sleeper roomettes was something I experienced once.
When our family moved from the US to the US in 1962 (I was 7 years old), my father respected my love of trains. So he arranged that from the airport, we toured Los Angeles, then rode the famous Santa Fe (ATSF, or Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe) Railroad’s El Capitan, complete with their wonderful warbonnet design. The trains were spectacular and so comfortable. It wasn’t the cramped sitting experience of airline travel. It was more social, more open, more aesthetically pleasing. The train was swift (although nothing like high speed rail).
Those days seem gone forever, but perhaps not. Rail travel will revive to a much stronger position in the United States in the future, I feel.
In Europe and Asia, steam trains are also very well respected and cared for by their governments. In Germany, the monthly ‘Plandampf” is a government-sponsored weekend of full-steam regular service in many locations across Germany. In Poland and Slovakia and all around Europe, steam has has a strong revival and has even saved economies, because of their public’s interest in them.
In the US, private people have to raise money against the rising costs of insurance and over-regulation. It is truly depressing, even when it is clear that in the US, there is a strong love of steam trains as well.
In the mean time, I enjoy what I can here in the US, while I can perhaps get to Europe and Asia to experience the beauty of rail experience in those countries that still continue to respect and put energy into rail as an important aspect of movement and culture. Slideshow below.
In the United States, in 1926, rail passenger travel was in its glory years. That year, the New York Central Railroad, one of the most prestigious, powerful, and largest railroad corporations in the world at the time, wanted a faster and stronger locomotive to pull the longer and heavier passenger trains required by the increase in passenger travel in the United States.
That year, although the elegant and mightily Pacific steam locomotives had been handling the bulk of the fastest and longest passenger lines in the United States by most of the first world national railroad companies, the New York Central ordered the mighty 4-6-4 wheel arrangement “Hudson” locomotives, as they were to be called by the New York Central Railroads.
The Hudsons were popularized in the US American public via an intense publicity campaign. Television ads, new movies, billboard signs and magazine articles abound. Model trains pushed the “Hudson” as the epitome of the beautiful, grimy, energetic and powerful passenger steam locomotive that was constructed in the social imaginary during these times.
Later, the Hudson locomotive was re-designed on the exterior with a silver and gray streamlined body, which were assigned to the famous passenger trains: The 20th Century Limited and the Empire State Express.
Even later, as Diesel locomotives began erasing steam locomotives off their roster and into their garbage heaps, a stronger, faster and more efficient locomotive was to enter the New York Central Railroad’s roster–the Niagara. I will cover this locomotive more in detail later.
If I were to be asked what is my most favorite of favorite locomotives of all time and I had to begrudgingly decide, it would have to be the NIAGARA. But i am off-topic here. Here I cover the Hudson locomotive, which dutifully and proudly served the New York Central from 1927 to the demise of steam in the mid-to-late 50s in the US. Versions of the Hudson remained popular throughout the world however, into the 70s.
More reading: http://www.steamlocomotive.com/hudson/
Photo by Steven M. Welch at Rail pictures.net
On July 2 -3, 2011, the Southern Pacific 4449 pulled trains from Portland, Oregon to Wishram, Washington.
This is a great video of “Chasing” the locomotive on its trip. The Photographer rides to shoot the video, while the famous steam chasing driver “Rich” shows his skills at providing ample and exciting distance and speed in order to capture the beauty and power of steam and the environs.
Video is posted by gregudolph.
The SP 4449 was called “The Most Beautiful Locomotive in the World” at the Height of Steam train popularity in the 1940s and 50s. It is now housed, along with one of my all-time favorite steam locomotives of the US, the SP&S (Spokane, Portland & Seattle) 700.
The Swansea-Mumbles Railway, 1804 – 1960
Slideshow and Video
Although technical industrial know-how is often named and known by rail enthusiasts the world over, such as the invention of the steam locomotive, and speed record marvels, which are wonderful, of course–little known is the fact of the Swansea-Mumbles Railway line, the world’s first passenger rail service.
On March 25, 1807–the same day that the British Parliament passed the law outlawing the Transatlantic Slave Trade, Swansea opened the first passenger train in the world, charging a fee for passengers to be pulled on a rail line. At this time, the passenger carriages were pulled by horses. Then more carriages were added for form a multi-carriage horse-drawn rail train along the beautiful Wales coast line between Swansea and the charming town of Mumbles.
The line was closed and was derelict for a while, and various wealthy proprietors refurbished and re-established the line.
In 1877, steam locomotives were introduced to the line and pulled the train from that year to 1929, when trams took over. Steam locomotives of the wheel arrangement 0-4-0 and 0-6-0 steam locomotives, of various “tank” types, were used the pull the trains in the heyday of steam. The line began electrifying its motive power in 1928.
In 1960, after closing a couple of more times, the line was closed officially by the government, even though there were an overwhelming amount of signatures protesting the closure. The new owners at the time wanted to make busses the main way of travel, regardless of what the majority of local people wanted.
Golden Swansea website: http://www.welshwales.co.uk/mumbles_railway_swansea.htm
BBC: Early Mumbles Railway: Early Mumbles Railway
Swansea-Mumbles – Wikipedia
History – Video Clip from BBC Wales 1998:
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Reminiscences of Swansea-Mumbles. circa 1960 – by AceMovieCo:
The Old Penn Station, which was completed in 1910 in New York City, was the grand masterpiece of train stations, named after Pennsylvania Railroad Company, competing toe-to-toe with the famed New York Central Railroad’s Grand Central Station, another magnificent monument of architectural and technological marvel, that stood for both the imperial power of some of the wealthiest and powerful capitalist magnates who ran these railroad stations from the beginnings of the heyday of American railroad travel, through its demise and loss to the more isolating and privatized way of travel: the automobile industry.
Penn Station began demolition in 1963, replaced by Madison Square Garden and its shopping plaza and transit facility. In the video below, I love the quote about being in the old days, coming into New York City via one of its glorious passenger trains, people felt like gods. But now, we come into New York like rats. The video below is a segment on modernism and its impact on the priorities of being new as better, which is the dominant ideology of that period in the 50s and 60s, that brought Penn Station down. From a wonderful documentary on New York.
This is one of my favorite YouTube videos edited and mixed by 4101950 on Youtube.
US Jazz music artist Pat Metheny’s piece: “Last Train Home” is put to a great montage of some of the world’s most beautiful steam locomotives, most of them still in operation today.
This is one of the most famous express passenger trains that ran in the United States. In its various stages, it was pulled by many of the most famous steam locomotives such as the Hudson, the Niagara, and the streamlined Hudsons.
Here are vintage clips, where you can see these locomotives hauling at full speeds of between 80 to 100 miles per hour, unlike these days, where insurance and track mechanics, as well as wanting photographers to get good photos, have kept speeds of excursion steam between 20 and 70 miles per hour at best. The best and strongest steam were most often running between 60 to over 100 miles per hour (160.93 km/h).
Below are PoathTV’s commentary (from YouTube) on the 20th Century Limited:
The 20th Century Limited was an express passenger train operated by the New York Central Railroad from 1902 to 1967. The train travelled between Grand Central Terminal in New York City and LaSalle Street Station in Chicago, Illinois along the railroad’s famed “Water Level Route”. The NYC inaugurated this train as direct competition to the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Broadway Limited, both lines intended for upper class as well as business travellers between the two cities. Making few station stops along the way and utilizing track pans along the route to take water at speed, the train completed the 960.7 miles (1,546 km) journey in 16 hours, departing New York City westbound at 6:00 P.M. Eastern Time and arriving at Chicago’s LaSalle St. Station the following morning at 9:00 A.M. Central Time., averaging 60 miles per hour (97 km/h).
This collection of clips shows The 20th Century Limited in it’s heyday being hauled by classic NYC streamlined steam locomotives including the famous Hudsons.
The clip below is from the Great Vintage Video company: HERRON Rail, from their video entitled: Trains at Speed.
On July 3rd, 1938, in Great Britain, the A-4 class locomotive “Mallard” broke the world train speed record for steam, at 125mph. It was in the family of other elegant ‘streamlined’ locomotives that were popular for a short period around the world, then losing favor to the more ‘traditional’ design of the steam locomotive with boilers and other parts in plain view, giving them the grittier feel.
Before that record, the Empire State Express in New York, with the Locomotive #999, still proudly and beatufiully standing in the Museum in New York, was the first engine in the world to break the 100mph barrier, so it is said.
The Niagara locomotive, of the famous New York Central Railroad, was the most powerful, efficient, and fast locomotive in the late 1950s, before all were completely destroyed. In Time trials with the up-and-coming Diesel locomotives, the Niagara class locomotive was equal. It made the diesel engine promoters quite uncomfortable. But alas, they were working with the oil companies and the demise of steam was certain. Not one glorious ‘Niagara’ class locomotive is alive today. However, its earlier cousin, the ‘Mohawk’ locomotive, as of this day, is being talked about as being revived for later excursion trains.