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Are Railways in Peril?

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National Rail Networks :: A Look Back in Time

The world’s first national rail networks were constructed in Britain, with the first inter-city line connecting the industrial midland city Manchester with the port of Liverpool in 1830.

So, are you wondering, which country forged a national rail network next?  France? Sweden, the United States?

It was Egypt. The Egyptian rail system connected ports on the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea until the Suez Canal was opened in 1869. Egypt’s rolling stock is still on track.  A recent issue of Future Rail magazine reports on Egypt’s recent purchase of 1,300 new carriages.

 

U.S.A.

In the 21st century some countries like the United States of America are not keeping up a commitment to passenger rail systems.

That’s a shame because rail travel offers faster, more efficient and ecologically favorable long distance travel than commercial airlines or private vehicles. Assuming, of course, the nation-state or region maintains and supports its railway systems.

A close look at an inventory of Amtrak rolling stock looks like an old used carriage auction block.  Check out the fancy Amtrak advertising videos promising sleek, fast locomotives in the northeast corridor of the country, the most reliable profit center. Don’t wait in line or online for a ticket because it’s fantasy at this point. Why aren’t the U.S. leaders embarrassed by their poor showing compared to the lightning speed trains of Japan, France, Germany and other European countries?

USA Civil War Era Rail Lines

Compare the dense network of railways in Northern states with sparse unconnected railways in the South. Image: etc.usf.edu

Back in the mists of time, the northern states of the U.S. had established a robust network of rail lines that connected with existing waterway transport and ports before the American Civil War.  The southern states also built railways, but the lines dead-headed inland rather than featuring radiating lines that used hubs to interconnect with other railways.  The absence of a connected rail network in the south was a factor in  defeat.

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act into law on July 1, 1862.  This progressive action authorized construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.  American continental railroads, built by immigrant laborers, usually under cruel and dangerous conditions, were instrumental in opening the western wilderness to travel and trade.

 

FRANCE

I’ve spent more time and kilometers riding the SNCF railway system in France than any other country.  My first rail trip there was in 1966 on the boat-train from Calais (or was it Boulogne?) to Paris.  The wider-gauge British trains left passengers at the ferry dock and after the Channel crossing, you’d walk to the French carriages for outward bound destinations.  In the past I would ink my train travel routes on a map of France but the lines crossed and recrossed over the years to the point of obliterating the journeys and connections.

 

French rail network in the 19th c.

Image from Wikipedia.

France built short rail lines to serve the mining industry. Agricultural communities resisted rail development arguing it would infringe on France’s well-organized transport network of canals and other waterways.  Construction of long distance rail systems for commercial and consumer use started after 1842 with a network that could move goods for long distances overland.

RUSSIA

Russia, with distances far greater than the U.S.,  opened a single railway line from Moscow to St. Petersburg in 1851. With more land distance than the U.S. to cover, and few or no western and southern ports, Russia understood the value of connecting the capital and to ports in the Far East. Russia opened the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1916, though portions of the railway were functioning as early as 1903.

MEXICO

My experience with Mexico’s Railway Network  is limited. During the early 1980’s, possibly 1981, my friend Don Tito and I boarded the Mexican railway by taking a Greyhound or Trailways bus from San Diego to El Centro, California and walking across the frontier to a train station in Mexico. I should consult a travel diary from that year to report the distances and ticket cost. I do not recall seeing a border wall at that time. The Pacific and Southwest Railway Museum in Campo, California owns carriages and locomotives of the San Diego and Arizona Railway that resemble the historic rolling stock we rode south through Mexico in 1981.

planetware.com-mexico-long-distance-routes-by-road-rail-and-ferry-map.jpg

We boarded the Mexican long distance train at a town just steps across the border that took us all the way south to Mazatlan, a gritty seaport opposite the tip of Baja.  I do not need to see again.  The train ride took two days and nights.  Or maybe it just seemed that long. It slowed to a long halt at towns so locals boarded to sell tamales, soft drinks and chiclets out of plastic buckets lined with heated towels to keep the food warm.

Source-_Alamy stock_north-america-mexico-guanajuato-state-guanajuato-woman-buying-hot-CYKCD0

Decades later, I lived in Mexico City and wanted to explore the country by train, but during the 1990s, the government had consolidated or terminated most passenger rail systems. Apart from a couple of tourist trains that run limited, scenic routes and a commuter rail system serving the capital city, Mexico’s passenger rail service is a distant memory.

Occasionally, proposals arise to create new passenger rail lines or high-speed rail links between major cities. But proposals are not reality.  Until some future date, the inter-city express bus service is adequate, sometimes stellar, but environmentally inefficient.

Ride on, rail enthusiasts!

 

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Mapping Party :: Congressional Cemetery Washington DC

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OpenStreetMap.org holds a mapping party at Congressional Cemetery on Sunday, July 15 10 a.m. to 3 pm.

OpenStreetMap (OSM) is a collaborative project to create a free editable map of the world. Two major driving forces behind the establishment and growth of OSM have been restrictions on use or availability of map information across much of the world and the advent of inexpensive portable satellite navigation devices.

I heard about this project at Wikimania 2012 which is going on this week at George Washington University and other venues around town including  Tech@State events.

Written by patwa

14/07/2012 at 7:09 pm

Sydney Botanic Gardens

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Met marvelous painter Charlotte Thodey at the pyramid that houses tropical plants in Sydney’s botanical  gardens

Weird chattering flying foxes shelter in the botanic garden trees, considered a nuisance by some.

Heliconias, orchids of miniscule to generous size, rubber trees, ferns, jasmine displayed in several glassed spaces.

The gardens extend to the harbour area, a vast miracle of downtown oasis in a city where real estateis premium.

Maps of Antarctica and the history of exploration of Australia’s “Down Under” — the southern polar continent was on view at  the State Library of New South Wales across from the gardens, so that’s where I spent the rest of the afternoon.

Written by patwa

07/02/2012 at 2:15 am

Posted in Art, Australia, Cartography, Gardens, Travel

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Melbourne in the State of Victoria

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Through countryside that resembles eastern Oregon or northern California without the mountains, I rode the CountryLink train South, South West from Sydney to Melbourne, an all-day ride.  Only sour moment was receiving a packet of imitation espresso powder and a cup of hot water when I expected brewed coffee at least.

After 10 days in Sydney, which felt like the world testosterone capitol, I’m chipper to be in laid back Melbourne where the air is sweet and art spaces outnumber rugby pitches.

Sydney ferries offered entertainment and respite.  The Parramatta river tides caused that long route to turn around at Rydalmere where passengers headed to the end of the line completed their trip by bus. Even through the days of rain and grey skies, I boarded a Rivercat or ferry every day, as passage is included in the weekly transport pass.  The return from Manly to Sydney at night provided a neon lit, nearly full moon arrival at Circular Quay, the primary ferry dock.

Melbourne is a major port city too, and I’ll be boarding the Spirit of Tasmania on 12 February for passage to the island that captured my imagination when I was age 6 or 7 and just starting to collect stamps.

In Melbourne, I spent most of my first morning at the Old Treasury Building, an elegant Italianate building where all the gold was once vaulted.  Exhibits featured local history, the founding of Melbourne, jailhouse photographs of late 19th c. Chinese miscreants and audio renditions of commentaries by the rough and tumble gold miners.   Today I’m at the State Library and will soon look at some old maps of Tasmania.  Art museums and archives have surprising collections.

I’m currently in the State Library’s chess room (with tables set up for play) using the free wi-fi which my hotel offers for hire.  See: Vintage 1975 images of Queen’s Hall and Chess Room.

Friday, I’m headed down the Mornington Peninsula where new friends have offered to drive me around to see a bit of the south coast.  They are an Aussie couple about my age who emigrated from So. Africa and run a real estate  promotion business here.  We met last night on the Southbank River promenade as we watched the passing scene and sipped wine.  They had gallantly protected my Greek salad from scavenger birds while I returned to the food court to fetch a glass of a bright, dry  Semillon Chardonnay blend.

Written by patwa

07/02/2012 at 2:14 am

My Geographical Life

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People often ask me about my travels and experiences in remote places.  My travels are indeed varied —  driving in an ancient Citroen across North Africa, camping out in scrubland or near the sea; climbing volcanos in Sumatra, Lombok, and the Moluccas; trekking in New Zealand; kayaking on Lake Biwa, Japan; and rafting and hiking in Kamchatka.

It all started with a passion for maps.  

Some of those adventures became travel articles or were anthologized in travel books.  One solo journey is recorded in detail in my book Pyrenees Pilgrimage, published in 2010.

I walked across France alone through the Pyrenees Mts. and foothills from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, a difficult and strengthening experience. I’ve planned other cross-country walking journeys which I plan to do in the coming years.

During the 1970s, I wandered North America extensively on multiple cross country trips by car, train, bus and occasionally, thumb. During one marathon drive, my siblings and father covered more than 9,000 miles in  less than 10 days.  We must have been driving night and day. I lived briefly in Missoula, MT, and for much longer periods in Santa Cruz, CA, San Francisco, CA and St. Petersburg, FL.  During the 1970s and 1980s, I spent time in every lower 48 U.S. state and camped in National or State Parks in many of the central, southern and western states. I also visited Mexico and travelled across Canada by land a couple of times.

It wasn’t until 1992 that I visited Hawai’i and I’ve returned several times. Moloki’i and Big Island are my favorites, and Kaua’i is perfect.  In 1993 I traveled along the southern area of Alaska, by sea on the state-run inland passage ferry on my way to Anchorage.  On that trip, I was headed for a month- long stay on Kamchatka across the Bering Sea.  That was when Alaska Airlines ran regular flights from Anchorage to the Russian Far East.

Other places I visited during the pre Reagan years include Sardinia, Sicily and Elba.  With my companion, I traveled by bus or train and camped out on beaches or occasionally stayed in pensions or with friends.  We traveled through Costa Rica for 2 months in the winter of 1982 and I visited   South West France many times.

After I  started working for the Washington Post and began writing travel articles for the paper and other periodicals (and later on, websites),  my travel ramped up because a few short trips were at the invitation of foreign governments (such as Yugoslavia before their civil wars) or occasionally, I would have an assignment that included travel expenses paid by magazines.

Though most people assume the bulk of my travel costs were paid for by the Washington Post, that was never the case. I worked for the Post Travel section in a freelance capacity.  Freelance writers know that magazines and newspapers usually don’t cover travel expenses.

I arranged my own long adventures with unpaid leaves of absence from work for long Asian trips during the 1980s and 1990s.  Just as I had saved for my first solo trip in 1966, I habitually worked at two or  three jobs  to support my thirst for travel.  I explored Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in Central Asian on a trek with an outfitter in 1998, rather than going solo.

In all, I’ve spent time in more than 90 countries.  I’ve lived (had an address, cooked my own meals, my own library cards and/or driving permits) in China, France, Mexico, Canada and Italy.  During the years when I was living in Mexico and China, I was an employee of the US government.  I paid for my travel within those countries.

In sum, the travel writer’s lifestyle requires economic prudence and that usually means the writer needs a job.  Writing contracts that include travel expenses are infrequent.  When the urge to travel is strong, a resourceful individual will find a way.

 

Written by patwa

30/07/2011 at 7:51 pm

This Mountain :: That Border

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Llivia is a town under Basque Spanish jurisdiction yet  it is completely surrounded by France.

Andorra is another Pyrénées Mountain region divided between France and Spain during 1276, as part of feudal settlement by the Bishop of Urgell and the Count of Foix. Their political descendants were the Kings of France and in current times, the President of the Republic of France.

Border specifics might not always be clear to the people, herds and horsemen in the area.  Thousands of French troops migrated into Spain from the early decades of the 1800’s onward, starting but not limited to Napoleon’s invasion.  Warning shouts and, if not heeded, shots, kept the traders and contraband runners inside the border lines of their respective countries.

19th c. Royalist France was trying to shut out disease (cholera) and liberal ideas.  Earlier,  Napoleon was bent on keeping France free of English colonial resources and soldiers. The area remained a hot spot, disputed particularly because surveyors and political forces didn’t know where one mountain range left off and the next began.  What appeared to some observers as the northerly edge of  the Pyrenees was actually the Corbieres range running from Narbonne on the Mediterranean coast, south west towards the Ariege.  Constant battling and raiding caused village administrative and legal records or archives to be looted and burned.  Sometimes there was intentional looting of church ledgers and records during anti-clerical phases, where many demographic records were recorded.

Written by patwa

26/05/2011 at 6:02 pm

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