A fascinating history of railroad development on every continent.
At one point railroads were the most important form of transport in the world, responsible for opening up vast areas to settlement and industry. With the threat of global warming and a potential energy crisis looming, rail transportation is experiencing a welcome resurgence.
The Historical Atlas of World Railroads charts the rise, fall and revival of railroads over the past 200 years, from the earliest experiments with wooden rails and horse-drawn wagons, through the rail-building boom of the steam age, to the onset of the modern high-speed lines, diesel-electric locomotives and electric tilting trains of today.
This comprehensive analysis and history covers:
Packed with archival photographs and high-quality color maps, The Historical Atlas of World Railroads brings history to life by revealing all aspects of rail transportation and technology.
John Westwood is an authority on the history of railroad transport worldwide. He is the author of Trains, The Historical Atlas of North American Railroads, World Railways and Great Train Disasters.
The predominating influence of geography led to the growth of railroads, so it is fascinating and worthwhile to study the situation on a worldwide basis, with the aid of maps.
Not so many years ago, there was a widely held opinion in most parts of the world that railroads were relics of the past. For medium-distance travel, the passenger train had been outstripped both in speed and general convenience by the private automobile; in commuter travel, city workers were beginning to prefer road congestion and the difficulties of parking to the gross discomfort, overcrowding and occasional breakdowns in local train services; while for long-distance travel, the airplane enjoyed an immense superiority in speed. Above all, popular opinion had it that rail travel was being outmoded. In the transport of small individual freight consignments, struggling amid antiquated facilities and outmoded legal regulations, railroads could not match the rapidly developing road service provided by fast trucks. Only the handling of heavy freight and bulk minerals remained with the railroads, and that mainly because no one else wanted the business. Nowadays, there is a realization that, apart from heavy-haul, railroads are competitive in intercity passenger service and in fast freights over longer distances, as well as being indispensable for cities with heavy commuter requirements. Their relatively low energy consumption is also a recommendation.
Because the predominating influence of geography led to the growth of railroads in the first place, so, in this critical phase, when so many outside influences are beginning to highlight the importance of railroads in modern society, it is fascinating and immensely worthwhile to study the situation anew, on a worldwide basis, with the aid of maps. Two of the first public railroads in the world, the Stockton & Darlington and the Baltimore & Ohio, were built to convey minerals from inland areas to the sea for shipment. When the merchants of large industrial centers wanted quicker connection with their interests elsewhere, routes were chosen where geography made the going easiest and cheapest from the constructional point of view, and gave prospects of fast transit while minimizing running costs.
The purpose of this book is to show how geography as much as sociology and industry has dictated railroad evolution. That said, it must not be imagined that geography was always on the side of the railroad entrepreneurs and engineers. After the first modest beginnings, often accompanied by phenomenal financial success, business interests demanded the execution of bolder projects and more direct connections. Contentment with roundabout routes, following the contours of river valleys or coastlines (to find easy grades), and with low initial costs began to evaporate, and engineers were faced with calls to cross mountain ranges, span rivers, and traverse wide tracts of level, though unstable, marshland. This last mentioned geographical hazard had been encountered on one of the first railroads, the Liverpool & Manchester, which crossed the notorious Chat Moss peat bog. The methods by which George Stephenson finally conquered this obstacle became the pattern for dealing with similar difficulties in many parts of the world.
Many of the engineering problems were entirely new. The established professional men had built harbors, lighthouses, roads, and canals, but the introduction of the steam locomotive brought new demands. There was a limit to the steepness of the grades it could climb, for while a military road for foot soldiers, pack horses, or even elephants could be taken up a steep mountainside, such a route was impossible for locomotives. Surveys to obtain a practicable grade often had to be made in extremely difficult physical conditions: in the hill country at the foot of mountain ranges or in dense forests, where there were few opportunities for obtaining long sights ahead or for taking levels. Nor could established concepts like the suspension bridge be used for crossing broad valleys or tidal waterways. New ideas for long-span bridges had to be formed.
It is interesting to trace how the principles of construction and early operation, which developed in Great Britain, the USA, and Europe, were gradually extended and adapted to geographical and other conditions around the world. In Britain, conditions and prospects for expansion called for massively built, and relatively straight and level railroads, and there was plenty of capital ready for investment in such enterprises. In the USA, by contrast, railroads were needed to open up the virgin country. Little money was available, however, so tracks had to be built as cheaply as possible with indigenous materials. U.S. heavy industry was in its infancy and could hardly afford large-scale imports. One outcome was the evolution of that masterwork of light civil engineering, the wooden trestle bridge, so skillfully erected across many a deep valley or mountain torrent. Similarly, because of the infrequency of train services and the need to avoid high capital expenditure, engineers developed the system of regulating traffic by telegraphic "train order," in contrast to the more comprehensive system of signaling and interlocking that was essential on the much busier routes of western Europe.
As the railroad networks spread, so the natural geographical resources of the world became part of the overall picture. The conveyance of coal was the first task of railroads in Great Britain and France, and although horses did much of the hauling in the very early days, coal was the locomotive fuel. In the USA, although major deposits of coal had been discovered in certain areas, the vastness of the country made its transport to other parts uneconomic, so the great majority of early American locomotives burned the indigenous fuel of the forests -- wood. Thus environmental considerations were in evidence from the earliest days. Those in Great Britain who opposed railroads on principle, secured the insertion of clauses in Acts of Parliament prohibiting the emission of smoke by steam locomotives. To comply with such limitations, locomotives were fueled with coke in place of coal.
Out of this deeply interesting historical foundation, there emerges the majestic edifice of steady technical development, the evolution of codes of practice to ensure the safe running of trains at speeds that even our own grandfathers would not have thought possible. The replacement of steam traction by diesel and electric power became inevitable in the modern age. In recording this, and in recalling some of the grandest moments of the steam era, tribute is paid to one of the most wonderful and most "human" of machines ever devised and used by man.
This book highlights some of the major engineering achievements and great trains of the past. But there are modern developments, too: the purpose built, high-speed lines in Europe and the Far East, the conveyor-belt functions of heavy-duty mineral lines like the Hammersley Railroad in Australia and the Powder River Basin developments in the USA, and the fast low-cost "doublestack" container trains introduced in the USA. Today, railroads around the world are once again a very important feature on the map.
Table of Contents
The Worldwide Spread of Railroads