57 Irish workers who were hired from Ireland to help build some of the first tracks for the Pennsylvania Railroad, were buried in mass graves by the rail site. These people were virtually unknown and forgotten until a group of scientists uncovered mysteries that did not quite fit the silence or the known stories of death by cholera.
Railroads are built by sweat and blood. Industrialization was not only about bigger and better opportunities, but were also about the social relations and death that ‘bigger and better’ brings about.
The story of the Irish people in general, along with others in the histories of Europe and in the United States, must be told over and over, to understand all that we have and don’t have.
On PBS on Wednesday May 8, at 10:00 Eastern Standard Time, PBS will air another documentary/movie on this topic.
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.
Often, unknowing people only see toy trains and tour trains that travel slowly, making the people of today have unrealistic memories and images of how steam travel was. Although I can say that in Europe, many steam excursion trains run at speed, sometimes, most of the steam trains in Japan and the United States travel at slower speeds than what it would have been like in the days when steam was everyday normal.
These videos give a glimpse of what some of the “at-speed” speeds were like. Most of the express passenger trains pulled by steam locomotives in the 1930s through the early 50s, traveled at speeds exceeding 80 mph and the best of them traveled at over 100 mph.
Today, the fastest electric and magnet-driven trains can go over 300 mph. In the United States, this has not been seen yet. The United States, at the moment, does not seem to care too much about rail travel, even as more and more people are returning to the joys of train travel today, becoming tired of the monopoly of air, bus and car long-distance travel.
Below, from 1995, is a clip from a PSOV DVD, of the Princess Elizabeth #46203 locomotive speeding by at over 60 mph, and at 80 mph at stations.
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 one of those sensual memories for those of us who grew up with steam trains.
Although I grew up in Japan in the 50s and 60s, the sight of a running steam train coming through the crossing while we stopped, heard, felt, smelled—is forever burned in memory, no matter what country.
Below is an example from the UK. User willhayfield has posted this wonderful short video of 34067 Tangmere pulling the Cathedrals Express special through Mottisfont and Dunbridge on October 2011.