An Historical Overview video:
Video Tour of Grand Central:
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 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.
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.
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.
Waiting at Machynlleth Station in Cardiff, Wales UK. Wonderful photo by Taliesin Coombes (railpictures.net) of his father Robin Coombes, at the station. They were kind enough to write to me to correct some the earlier errors in the text. 🙂
The 76079 is one of the wonderful Standard 4-type locomotives built in the UK for Express service. This photo was taken in 2010 but has the feel of the 1920s and 30s–the heyday of train travel in Western Europe and the United States.
(Earlier I had posted that this was a Black 5 locomotive, but was corrected by the photographer. My apologies.)