Mixing transportation studies, film analysis, and urban geography, this article looks at El tren blanco (The white train), a documentary film from 2003 by directors Nahuel García, Sheila Pérez Giménez, and Ramiro García. In light of work by train theorist Wolfgang Schivelbusch and urban geographer Henri Lefebvre, the documentary's interviews with cartoneros—cardboard workers who ride daily into central Buenos Aires to pick up recyclable goods—speak to the alienation and spatialization of class that characterize the contemporary urban experience. Following an urban cultural studies approach, attention is balanced between the social context of Buenos Aires itself and the film as an item of aesthetic value. In the end, it is important to pay attention both to the train car as a space in itself and to the historical and contemporary positioning of the train in larger-scale urban shifts.
Spatial and Social Alienation in the Documentary Film El tren blanco
Landscapes of Englishness in the Postwar Railway Poetry of John Betjeman and Philip Larkin
Railways in John Betjeman's and Philip Larkin's poems of the 1950s and 1960s function as provocative signifiers that interrogate and encourage definition of what constitutes the modern English landscape. Through their works, which recognize how railways have been held to register the cultural health of the nation from their inception, it becomes clear that the panoramic perception that railways make possible aptly represents the self-conscious cultural gaze filtered through crisis that critics argue prevails in the postwar context. Betjeman's and Larkin's speakers reveal the capacity for railway travel to disrupt the settled vision of nationhood at the heart of heritage-based Englishness; at the same time, railways – and they themselves – are not outside of this discourse. For Betjeman and, to a greater extent, Larkin, it is the possibility of double return embodied by the railway system that perhaps proffers a desirable mode of inhabiting the modern English nation.
Introduction to the Special Section
Steven D. Spalding
Scholars writing about railway mobility have pointed to the rails' impact on the culture of cities, while urban theorists and critics have cited the crucial importance of movement and mobility to how cities are lived. A truly interdisciplinary approach, which balances the priorities of mobility studies and urban studies, and informs itself through compelling cultural artifacts (including visual, literary, or other media) offers insight into the processes of urban cultural production and their close link to the discursive valences of urban rail mobility.
Circulation as History in East Asia under Empire
Histories of modern mobility often assume that modern forms of movement arrived in East Asia as part of a universal process of historical development. This article shows that the valorization of modern mobility in East Asia emerged out of the specific context of Euro-American imperial encroachment and Japanese imperial expansion. Through an examination of the tropes of opening and connecting, the article argues that the mobility of the modern can be understood as an “imperial” mobility in two senses: one, as a key component in European, American, and Japanese arguments for the legitimacy of empire; and two, as a global theory of history that constituted circulation as a measure of historical difference.
Review of the Railway Museum in Saitama City, Japan
Jessamyn R. Abel
The Railway Museum, Ōnari 3-47, Ōmiya Ward, Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture, Japan Admission: ¥1000/500/200 http://www.railway-museum.jp/en/index.html
The Language of Paris Railways, 1870–1914
By tracking railway language through periodicals and poetry, this article examines the words and images used to make sense of Paris's new subway and streetcars between 1870 and 1914. It proposes a new threefold approach to understanding the appropriation of technology, which reworks its agents, sites, and chronologies. It maintains that appropriation takes both material and symbolic forms, and that appropriation processes transform both appropriated objects and their cultural contexts. Language anchors appropriation as it operates through circulating texts. For Paris, railways were both transportation technologies and versatile tools for making meaning. Railways set spaces, customs, identities, and images adrift, which traditionalists found threatening, progressives found promising, and avant-gardists found inspiring. Fitting Paris with railways required both reimagining and rebuilding the city, and reshaping what railways could be. The article concludes that appropriation is neither linear nor complete, but rather an ongoing and unfinished negotiation of the meaning of technologies.
God created the Earth, but the Dutch created the Netherlands, albeit with only a limited role for the railway. Any railway museum in this country invented by and dependent on hydraulic engineering must creatively solve the problem of portraying a technology of mobility which was not central to the Waterstaat (hydro-engineering) identity and the nation’s sociotechnological construction, but one which initially was secondary and subsidiary and, above all, delayed. On the face of it, the story to be told here appears to be that of how, in a northwestern part of Europe where thorough industrialization was late to come, railway-based mobility established itself against the omnipresence of shipping and evolved from seaport-catering surface logistics into an integral element of everyday transportation in twentieth-century Netherlands. The Utrecht Spoorwegmuseum (railway museum) impressively shows that this is not even half the truth, behind which might be, at best, the grumbling resentment of an 1890 boatman.
As the articles in this special section show, railways mark out urban experience in very distinctive ways. In the introduction, Steven D. Spalding makes plain there is no clear relationship between railway development and the shape and size of cities. For many cities, suburban rail travel has been either substantially insignificant or a relative latecomer as a factor in urban growth and suburbanization. Walking, tramways and the omnibus may indeed have had a much greater impact on built form, yet the cultural impact of railways on the city life should not be minimized. Iconic city stations are both objects of civic pride and socially heterogeneous gateways to the promise of a better urban life. The physical presence of substantial tracts of infrastructure, viaducts, freight yards and warehousing, divide and segregate residential districts encouraging and reinforcing status differentials between communities. Subways, metros, and suburban railways open on to the often grubby quotidian underbelly of city life whilst marking out a psychic divide between work and domesticity, city and suburb. Railways not only produced new forms of personal mobility but by defining the contours, parameters, and possibilities of this experience, they have come to help shape how we think about ourselves as urbanized individuals and societies. The chapters in this special section mark out some of this territory in terms of, for example: suburbanization, landscape, and nationhood (Joyce); the abstractions of urban form implicit in the metro map (Schwetman); the underground as a metaphor for the topologically enfolded interconnections of urban process (Masterson-Algar); and the competing lay and professional interests freighting urban railway development (Soppelsa). In the introduction Spalding is right to stress both the multiple ways that railways shape urban experience and the complex processes that continuously shape and re-shape urban cultures as sites of contest and sometimes conflict. As Richter suggests, in the nineteenth century only rail travel demanded the constant and simultaneous negotiation of both urban social disorder and the systematic ordering associated with large technological systems and corporate business. Thus “the railroad stood squarely at the crossroad of the major social, business, cultural and technological changes remaking national life during the second half of the nineteenth century.”
Dutch Transport Policy during the Interwar Years
During the interwar period, the emergence of the bus industry presented many governments with a dilemma: should they intervene in the market to establish a level playing field for fair competition between the buses and rail transport, should they protect the loss-making railways or should they take a laissez-faire approach to the developments?
At first glance, promoting fair competition or, as it was called during those days, a "co-ordination policy" seems relatively simple. The government could impose conditions on the bus industry, which regulated safety, quality, services, and allocation of the infrastructure costs in a similar way as the railways. However, an analysis of the developments in The Netherlands reveals a number of obstacles that complicated policy implementation.
Therefore, this article focuses on two questions: how did bus transport develop in The Netherlands? And what obstacles made it so difficult for the Dutch government to implement fair competition?
Koos Fransen, Sean Peacock, Peter Wood, and Jie Zhang
Karel Martens, Transport Justice: Designing Fair Transportation Systems (New York: Routledge, 2017), 240 pp., 27 illustrations, $47.45
Nancy Cook and David Butz, eds., Mobilities, Mobility Justice and Social Justice (London: Routledge, 2019), 270 pp., 15 black-and-white illustrations, £115
Cosmin Popan, Bicycle Utopias: Imagining fast and slow bicycle futures (London: Routledge, 2019), 201 pp., £92.
Carlos López Galviz, Cities, Railways, Modernities: London, Paris, and the Nineteenth Century (New York: Routledge, 2019), 294 pp., 37 illus., £92