Blood, Iron, and Gold: How the Railways Transformed the World
The following is the concluding paragraph in Christian Woolmar's excellent book, 'Blood, Iron and Gold. How the Railways Transformed the World'. Whilst it's a little cautious and too backwards looking, and irrationally foresees a future role for buses, in most respects I think it says everything we've been trying to say!
Railways may have lost out to the car and the lorry, and in America and other big countries, to the aeroplane. But the fact that they survived and now thrive shows their resilience and flexibility. Trains may be of the past, but they are still the future. They will improve, not just on high speed lines, but elsewhere too as technology makes them more efficient, comfortable and faster. And there is the rather delicious prospect that they might conceivably outlive the car. It may be a fanciful idea, but then not even Stephenson realized quite what an impact his Liverpool and Manchester Railway would have. While in most places today, rail's modal share of travel is tiny compared with road transport, that situation could easily change. All this personalized mobility has not necessarily delivered any overall benefit to society. Are the Chinese better off now with their traffic jams and ring roads than they were twenty years ago when bicycles and buses were the dominant form of urban transport, and trains took them between the cities? Would it have been better if transport technology had atrophied at the turn of the century and the car had never come to dominate the world? With every town or village within a few miles of a station or tram stop, and buses for shorter journeys, a far more rational system of transport and land use would have been developed. Imagine a world without car parks, motorways or service stations. Sure, there might have been eight- or ten-track railways connecting major cities with huge termini and massive bus stations at each end, but it is an alternative vision that has many attractions. Think of all those delightful towns and cities not blighted by the permanent gridlock that affects them today. And all those horrible housing estates, accessible only by car, that would never have been built. We all know that the oil will run out at some point and as it starts to become too expensive and governments recognize it should be rationed carefully, trains may regain their place at the centre of the trasport system. Now there's a prospect to warm the heart.