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/