Friday, November 20, 2015

railroaded


Am I alone in thinking that all times past were more innocent? Even this time a week ago appears to be much more naive a period than now. Then there are those much earlier eras in my life when the world was fresh and alive with possibility in every moment. One of the great delights of the few short years I lived in England was making journeys away from London. While I spent some months in Paris at the latter part of that time, in general, my lack of fluency in any language other than English made long stays in European cities difficult. It may be hard to imagine now but tourism in the mid-60s was mostly limited to the well off who could afford high fares and to stay in places that catered to their needs - including mono-linguists. Not to say there weren't already lots of students adventuring in groups, but I wasn't one of their number and hitchiking to India by myself didn't seem wise.

So, instead, I often travelled to out of the way places in England by train, sitting in little private compartments like this one whose door would open onto the platform and an inner door to the corridor where you could stand at the windows to watch the other side of the countryside pass by. As a fan of Alfred Hitchcock movies that weren't very old at the time, the confined space on board heightened the feeling of drama, intrigue, romance and adventure - all played out at high speed as the train made it's relaxing kacunkachunk rattle over the sleepers. Being a witness to the world and yet remote from its troubles was a boon to maturing - a little, at least.



It turns out I did all that at a very good time because within a few more years most of those railway lines between idyllic country towns had been torn up and sold in order that highways could be built instead. A very similar thing happened in North America with the promotion of the interstate highways and airline travel. It could be argued now that high speed rail lines in Europe and Japan have done much to destroy a more relaxed and humane way of getting from one place to another. Then again, I'll admit to always giving equal merit to the journey as well as the destination.

“My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I'll not be knowing,
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,
No matter where it's going.”
~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

8 comments:

Tom said...

Sorry Susan, I did comment in some depth, but the comment got wiped, and was too long to retrieve from my biological memory. I will therefore, without discussing them again, list some points.

1. Whether former times were more innocent than present day is difficult, or perhaps impossible to answer.
2. Knowledge removes innocence, and generates new technologies, and places more possibilities into our hands. What we can do, we will do.
3. The article you referred to has too many inaccuracies, not to mention other objections.
4. Dr. Beeching recommended the closure of certain railway lines, because they were deemed unprofitable, not in order to build motorways, even though the transport minister at the time was keen to build much-needed new roads.

susan said...

Hi Tom,
I'm sorry to read the original comment you made has been lost as it would have provided more substance for my response. Having experienced the frustration of losing lengthy text myself I downloaded a form recovery program called lazarus that works very well. Cutting and pasting from a text editor program works well too.

Anyway, for your points:
1. Of course it's impossible to say former times were more innocent. If you were lucky, though, you got a king who let you mind your own business.
2. Human cleverness and ingenuity generates new technologies. Knowledge should generate wisdom about how the technologies are likely to be used.
3. I'm sorry if you feel offended by Craig Murray's post (I'm assuming that's the link you mean) as that wasn't my intention at all. I don't think it's inaccurate to point out the fact that governments don't always act in ways that are beneficial to their populations. European colonialism had some extremely ugly aspects and US hegemony has been disastrous.
4. I know that Railway Mania in the early 19th Century was the cause of much overbuilding and that some lines were never profitable. However, railways are a better mode for heavy goods transport than highways. It was very interesting to note that Ernest Marples who was the Minister of Transportation at that time was the major owner of a construction company involved in road works. When rich and powerful people see a means of enriching and empowering themselves even more there is always a story to convince the populace.

marja-leena said...

I love your drawing, as always, Susan, with all the details you are known for.

Good discussion! Rail travel sounds so romantic. I recently revisited that film with David Suchet riding the refurbished Orient Express. Train travel in Canada, as you know, is not as popular with our huge distances. Freight is fraught, especially if oil and other dangerous goods, but certainly better for all the goods from China. We see millions of freighter trucks in our clogged ports then heading east. What to do? Stop buying and throwing our so much STUFF!

susan said...

Thanks, Marja-Leena! A compliment from you means a lot to me.

Oh yes, I've seen enough gorgeous pictures of the new Orient Express I can't help but envy anyone who gets to travel on it now. Still and all, the real romance of railway travel comes through in old black and white movies, wouldn't you agree?

Canada's confederation came about with the last spike of the cross country railroad in BC. It was CN that took us from Montreal to Vancouver all those years ago - a wonderful journey (first class sleepers, dining car, and a fair amount of time spent visiting our dogs in the baggage car with the big doors open) - but it still wasn't as enjoyable as chugging along between old villages.

You're right about the long distance trucks. We've driven across No. America four times and it can be terrifying having them as road companions - especially in the mountains as I'm sure you've experienced. As for the sheer waste of transporting junk around the world, I guess the only answer is what you've suggested. It would also help if products were designed and made to last longer.

Should Fish More said...

My main memory of train travel is here in the US; Cary and I once took Amtrak from Portland to Chicago, the northern route, at Christmas 1970. I remember being in the observation car going through eastern Montana at night, a full moon illuminating the prarie covered with snow. Might have helped that I do believe I'd just smoked a joint, dunno.

Yes, wouldn't it have been remarkable if we (the US) had expanded our railways system instead of falling in love with New Technology (cars).

And you are spot on in your response above about US hegemony. How sickening that that is our apparent legacy.

Cheers,
Mike

susan said...

Ahh, you got to travel on the Empire Builder, did you? That must have been very nice. It was 1972 when we traveled by rail across Canada from Montreal to Vancouver that I got to sit in the observation car through the Rockies. I don't think we had any grass at the time.

Yeah, see the USA in your Chevrolet. :) It really is a shame that the US decided on the Federal Hwy system rather than expanding rail. The subsidies provided for maintaining inefficient highways far outweigh money spent to support Amtrak.

The 'Empire of Chaos' shames all of us who love what is best about America.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan,
As you said Railways do conjure up stories of intrigue as in Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the orient express” or of childhood memories of journeys complemented with your lovely drawing.
Here is a little poem I attempted about it
Susan the intrepid train traveller
OF childhood innocence when all seemed bright,
To ride with the mighty iron maiden then
In the tiny carriage, with just one side view
In changing hue, meadows, streams – dotted woods .
What danger lies in store, she thought
What tales to tell, as whistles heralds each new stop
Until the journeys over and Homewood bound
To store as treasure troves in minds sublime
That iron lady.


susan said...

Hi Lindsay,
Another wonderful thing about solitary railway journeys is that feeling of being at liberty in the world. Safe in the midst of a journey, we're free of past and future.
Your poem has caught the essence of how I remember those long ago days.
Many thanks and all best wishes.