Thursday, February 4, 2010

Wondering About Rails

We watched The Railway Children last night, a Masterpiece Theatre production that originally aired in November 2000. We got our copy from Netflix. In the introduction to this rather charming story, Russell Baker, the columnist, who was for some time the host of Masterpiece Theater, sketched the history of rail. His account touched upon the so-called robber barons who caused the railroads to span the American continent—and in the process remembered the neglect of safety, the exploitation of labor, and the other wondrous concomitants that seemingly always accompany the tale of industrial development. This made me wonder. Had the development of railways in Continental Europe followed a different course? I say continental Europe because, it seems to me that England not only experienced but led what I think of as the dark kind of industrialization. I always think of satanic mills and Dickens’ London. Europe adopted these ways later. And, it seems, in continental Europe, much more centralized forms of government muted the brutalities of development, not least in the development of rails. The exception was Russia, where industrialization under communism managed to be as soul-less an enterprise as under the sway of capital. Rails absolutely dominated consciousness in Europe in my childhood. But neither then, nor later, did I ever hear either sagas of triumphant successes or tales of brutality as fixed in collective memory. Maybe we were simply sheltered from the truth… In any case, I’m disinclined to trade the boredom of backwardness for the excitements of constant innovation and limitless “enterprise.”


  1. Interesting thoughts. But, did you mean to say, in the last sentence, that you are inclined to trade or that you are disinclined to trade?

    If you meant what you said, than I'm sure I'm misunderstanding what you mean in that sentence!

  2. Disinclined, of course. Made the correcion.

  3. Even the best of editors will make a wrong word choice now and then. In this family of editors, however, one of us usually will find and correct such (rare) failing.