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.
One of the largest and strongest railroad conglomerates in the United States, from 1838 through the Golden Age of Railroads in the US, was the Norfolk & Western Railroad (NW or N&W).
Through the years, as all large and powerful corporations do, the company bought out smaller and medium-sized rail companies as they all began losing business to the ever-increasing airline business and the automobile industries in the US. Unlike Europe and Asian, where rail companies continued to play an important role in community lives and transportation, the US chose to relegate rail to the carrying of freight. The NW merged with Southern Railway in 1982, to form the Norfolk Southern.
After the demise of steam in the late 1950s, certain rail companies continued to run excursion trips with steam locomotives, which were a large part of the steam and rail preservation consciousness. The Norfolk Southern steam excursion program was one of the most beloved by fans. Its main locomotives included the N&W 611 and the N&W 1218 which are now displayed in museums but not running. The excursion program ran its final steam excursion in 1994 . . . . . . . . until NOW!!
In 2010, the Norfolk Southern announced its plans to run steam excursions to celebrate its 30th Anniversary, working closely with the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.
In August-September 2011, the Southern Railway (SR) 630 was the first steam locomotive to kick-off the program, called: 21st Century Steam.
The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society announced that is big and popular locomotive, Nickel Plate (NKP) 765 is also slated to run (photo above, and last video). The NKP 765 video is of an earlier trip for you to enjoy, anticipating the upcoming excursion.
The trains carry the most number of tourists from around the world and also serves as a community system linking various mountain communities. It was built before the splitting of Germany into two, and today, serves as a most scenic and interesting system for locals and for tourists.
Railway stations, especially in the Golden Age of railroad travel from around the 1920s to 1950, were the centerpieces of location and identity. Most often, the rail station was the center of a town’s activity which housed all things having to do with everyday postal mail, links to other transportation, and were noted for some of the finest hotel and dining experiences.
The architecture of the rail station was a thoughtful project that reflected the city, town, or village’s personality and showcased themselves to the world’s passengers that came to and through.
This photo is the face of the famous railroad station in Paris, the Gare du Nord, meaning “North Station,” which is one of the six largest railway terminals of Paris and is the busiest station in Europe today.
In Germany, for either a weekend or one week, several counties and regions run regular, yes: REGULAR steam trains on their main and branch lines. These are not “special” or tourist or excursion trains, but running regular scheduled runs.
Thousands of fans from around the world, visit the Plandampf to experience true steam.
This photo is one glance at the Gerolstein Plandampf. Photo by Peters.