Bombardier's experimental Jet Train
I am obsessed with trains. There, I’ve said it. I would even go so far as to argue that I love trains more than Joe Biden does. When I was young, my father used to take me to the train station to watch trains. This is while I was growing up in Baroda, India. While I cannot recall the specific memories of those visits, I do know that at one point in time I would be able to rattle off all the parts of a train, including the different types of engines, rolling stock, their purposes, and the roles of the different employees involved in the industry. I would even spend countless hours drawing scenes of vibrant train stations and would eventually go through several different model train sets until about the age of 13. There is a magic to a journey aboard trains that is unsurpassed by any other form of transit. It inspires. And a study of its history reveals the powerful impact the technology has had on the growth of nations around the world. On April 16, 1853, the departure of the first passenger train from Mumbai (previously Bombay) to Thane traveling just 34 kilometers signaled the arrival of industrial revolution in India. Today, India boasts the second largest passenger rail network in the world and the Indian Railways is the largest employer with approximately 1.6 million employees.
When my family left India, I did not realize that I would be leaving behind a country with a rich legacy of railways
to come to a country which has all but forgotten its own similar legacy, which served as the very foundations on which it was built. In 1869 the last spike in the transcontinental railroad, the first link between the east and west coasts of the United States, was driven into the ground. With it, a Morse code message was sent across the United States simply stating, “done.” Railways allowed the United States to become truly unified, they allowed for the expansion of cities, for the distribution of resources and information. Without railways, this country would not have been the same. Railway transportation of both freight and passengers was a very lucrative business. Furthermore, America led the world in railway technology innovation through the creation of “streamliners” noted for their speed and comfort. In 1956 President Eisenhower’s signing the Highways Defense Act signaled the slow and steady decline of a once powerful industry. It was also the beginning of a long and painful journey America would undertake to becoming addicted to oil fostered by the growth of a car culture and the rise of a suburban way of life. Rail, a fixed form of transit, ties communities together. Once upon a time, vibrant downtowns were anchored with a central station, surrounded by shops, business, and not far from residences. With the decline of rail, America has witnessed a decline in community. What’s more, our concern for individuality supported by the car culture has jeopardized the safety of the nation through our addiction to fuel sourced from foreign lands. We are prisoners to this curse. Continue reading ‘Rails of Freedom’