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Urban Railways in Buenos Aires

Spatial and Social Alienation in the Documentary Film El tren blanco

Benjamin Fraser

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.

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Stalin's railway to nowhere

'The Dead Road' (1947-1953)

Victor L. Mote

The uncompleted railway across Northern Siberia was one of the most shameful projects of the post-war era, involving many deaths and huge discomforts. Hailed by Stalin himself as a major part of his 'Great Plan for the Transformation of Nature', the scheme was dropped at his death in 1953. By that time, less than 600 kilometres were in working operation, even though up to 300,000 persons had been involved and about a third of them had perished, while more than 40 billion rubles of capital investment had been wasted. Ghostly labour camps, rusting rolling stock and rails, hundreds of bridges remain in what has been called 'an open air museum of human technology', preserved by nature's refrigerator - the tundra. The article describes the reasons for the railway project and the 'Great Plan', the organization involved, and the conditions in which the enslaved workforce struggled for survival and died.

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“Behind the backs of houses”

Landscapes of Englishness in the Postwar Railway Poetry of John Betjeman and Philip Larkin

Heather Joyce

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.

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Ritika Prasad

Focusing on the wide-ranging scholarship on how railway technology, travel, and infrastructure has affected South Asia‚ this article highlights recent interventions and shifts. It discusses how questions about land‚ labor‚ capital‚ and markets are being increasingly integrated with questions about how railways affected society‚ culture‚ and politics. It also stresses the increasing interest in comparative work‚ both in terms of locating railways within wider structures of transport and mobility as well as analyzing how South Asia’s engagement relates to the global impact of this technology.

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Rail Networks, Mobility, and the Cultures of Cities

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.

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J.L. Black

In the debates surrounding the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway, the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway was used as a model. This article traces how eyewitness accounts of Canadian settlement patterns were used by Russian entrepreneurs to argue the case for the financing and organisation of the Trans-Siberian Railway. Given the tense international political climate at the end of the 19th century, the Trans-Siberian also became a focus for imperial rivalry. This article gives a good overview of comparative colonial enterprise in two great continental colonies.

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Dhan Zunino Singh

Considering ‘urban mobility as an important everyday life practice that produces meaning and culture,’ the present review discusses underground railway history in cultural terms. Following Colin Divall and George Revill, culture is understood here as representations and practices, and the underground railway ‘as mediation between the imaginable and the material.’ This review does not cover the prolific literature about this topic, but gathers perspectives from within and beyond transport or mobility history to contribute to a historical and comparative assessment of spatial representations and practices related to the production and uses of this subterranean mode of transport. The sources of these perspectives are Benson Bobrick’s Labyrinths of Iron, Rosalind Williams’s Notes on the Underground, Michael Brooks’s Subway City, David Pike’s Subterranean Cities, and Andrew Jenks’s A Metro of the Mount.

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Robert Lee

Australian railway historiography, like its railway history and indeed like Australia itself, poses a curious paradox. Why is such a fortunate and civil polity so parochial and so divided geographically? It is now more than 230 years since British colonisation began. Ever since, Australia has been prosperous; relatively egalitarian, at least for its white population; generally free from civil strife; and efficiently and effectively governed. The temperature of its debates and conflicts rarely has risen above levels characterised by civil disobedience and strikes, which have been controlled by police and courts within usual legal frameworks.

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Stéphanie Sauget

Though railway stations originated in nineteenth-century Europe, they have inspired renewed interest worldwide since the 1980s. To be convinced of that suggestion, one need only consider major projects such as Washington DC’s Union Station (1988), Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof (2006), St Pancras International (2007), or the complete renovation of Gare du Nord in Paris since 1998.

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Eduardo Oliveira

To introduce recent historical research on railways in Brazil, the case of one of its states makes a useful example. Concentrating on railway history in São Paulo will permit a more historiographical and thematic point of view. The São Paulo state railway is of particular significance in Brazil. At 4,041 km in 1907, it accounted for more than one-fifth of the total extent of all Brazilian railways (17,605 km), well ahead of runners up in the states of Minas Gerais (3,932 km) and Rio de Janeiro (2,422 km).2 The state of São Paulo also led in cargo transportation. The São Paulo Railway Company alone transported 1.9 million tons of cargo. Among the six most profitable transportation companies in Brazil, four were in São Paulo: São Paulo Railway Company, Sorocabana Railway Company, Paulista Railway Company (Companhia Paulista de Estradas de Ferro) and Mogiana Railway Company (Companhia Mogiana de Estradas de Ferro). Doctoral theses and academic papers on the history of Brazilian railways have grown in the last ten years, and studies of São Paulo predominate.