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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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Railway Museum in Cairo Reopened

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Egyptian Railway Museum renovation construction. May, 2013.

Egyptian Railway Museum renovation construction zone. May, 2013.

 

 

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Track #1 Ramses Station, Cairo. May, 2013

In March, 2016 the Egyptian Railway Museum reopened.

Photo Gallery of the renovated museum.

 

 

 

 

Nearly three years ago, during May 2013, while visiting Cairo, I planned to see the Egyptian Railway Museum which occupies a portion of Ramses Station on the edge of a vast area of traffic flyovers, market stalls and vehicle congestion.

Ramses Square, Cairo. Mosque in background.

Ramses Square, Cairo. Mosque in background.

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Elevated roadways in Cairo.

A colossal statue of Ramses in the busy plaza is a visual landmark if you arrive by taxi.

 

 

 

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Historic locomotive at Ramses Station rail museum. May 2013

 

At the time I visited, an antique locomotive, part of the Egyptian rail network built by Scotsman Robert Stephenson, was displayed in front of the train station.   The Stephenson family produced notable civil engineers, designers of railroads and bridges. The other Stevenson family — of writer Robert Louis Stevenson —  were lighthouse designers and engineers.

Signs in the plaza pointed to the museum inside the station.  As I walked closer, I saw the railway museum was in a state of deplorable ruin with massive piles of rubble outside, windows broken out, and an abandoned dozer tilting on piles of broken stones and tile.   The museum building was a wrecked shell.  Was a renovation project placed on hold because of the disruption caused by deep-seated unrest back in early 2011? Or was the building destroyed as a byproduct of cultural editing and property destruction undertaken during the “Year of Morsi” ?   I could only wonder.

Fast forward a few years.  A follower of this blog named Davy posted a comment with the photos of the reopened museum.  I haven’t had the opportunity to return to Cairo since 2013, but the freshly opened railway museum offers an incentive.

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Street vendor in Cairo. May 2013

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Train platforms at Ramses Station, Cairo. May 2013

Interior Ramses Train Station, Cairo. May 2013

Interior Ramses Train Station, Cairo. May 2013

 

 

Pedestrians cross tracks at Ramses Station platform.

Pedestrians cross tracks at Ramses Station platform.

 

 

 

 

 

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

Egypt forged a national rail network next. France had short rail lines in place, but not an network that could move goods long distance overland. Egypt’s rail system connected ports on the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea until the Suez Canal was opened in 1869.

Egypt’s initial railway track was built between Cairo and Alexandria. By 1856-1858, Egypt had a functioning railway network, which fitted the British interest in keeping the region stable and to secure faster communications and transport routes to India, the crown jewel of British colonial resources.

Britain tended to support the Ottoman Empire (which in theory ruled Egypt at the time) against all challengers, while British merchants nosed out commercial opportunities in the Nile Valley and Suez.  An overland route opened between the port of Alexandria and the Gulf of Suez and the rolling stock and engine designed by Stephenson improved the route.

Plaque describing historic Stephenson locomotive.

Plaque describing historic Stephenson locomotive.

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Train platforms at Ramses Station Cairo. May 2013

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2013 Renovation construction of Egyptian Railway Museum.

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Stephenson locomotive at Ramses Station, Cairo.

Plaque states this is the original 19th c. locomotive of the Egyptian rail system.

Plaque states this is the original 19th c. locomotive of the Egyptian rail system.

Written by patwa

14/10/2016 at 9:37 pm

Posted in Egypt, Museum, Train Travel

Tagged with ,

Rail Link from China to Germany :: Silk Road Revived

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Update: China’s Grand Project, The Economist August 5, 2017 p. 49-50.

In 2013, Zhengzhou, a business and logistics center in Central China, became the starting point for rail transport service to Hamburg, Germany and other European ports.  The trip is a 6,436 mile (10,214-kilometer) run taking 15 to 18 days — twice as fast as shipping goods by sea.

China manufactures products for the world.  We all know that.  And it imports tons of materials and mineral resources. Trade connections between China and the major markets of Europe and North America are essential for global economic prosperity.

No one can overlook the importance of railroad infrastructure and the challenges of distance in historical economic advancement. If a country can’t get its goods to a robust marketplace with money, the economy doesn’t grow. Ship, truck and airplane transport are all part of the modern trade and transport equation, but rail is often the cheapest way to ship goods overland.

 

China was slow to build its rail system, but it is now third largest in the world.  During the past few decades, China has made lightening strides to improve its rail networks for passengers and freight. Some analysts believe the extensive new rail infrastructure may have been built too fast, given the problems along the Beijing to Tibet line.

The Mag-Lev rail connecter from Shanghai airport to the city’s terrific subway is a marvel, priced for tourists from the western hemisphere and wealthy Chinese. I also traveled on other Chinese railroads promoted as high speed, which were not.

Why Ship by Rail? Why Now?

Global Shipping Routes by GPS. Map: http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/smart-takes/infographic-global-shipping-routes-mapped-using-gps-data/3605

Global Shipping Routes by GPS.
Map: Smart Planet.com

Maritime routes from Central China to Northern Europe go through the Suez Canal, because despite global warming and climate change, shipping on a great circle route over the North Pole isn’t a viable option yet. According to the information graphic, the China to Northern Europe sea route is one of the heaviest travelled routes in the world. It also goes right through pirate zone near the Horn of Africa. The Suez Canal and eastern Mediterranean, last time I checked, have issues of potential instability.

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Rail link between China and Germany.
Map: DB Schenker

This land route from China to Northern Europe saves potentially 80 % of the cost compared with air shipments, and it’s about $489 cheaper on average, compared with road transportation. DB Schenker manages the transportation and logistics.

Nicknamed the New Silk Road, the route goes through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus and Poland. Zhengzhou International Inland Port Development Co Ltd is responsible for cooperating with partner rail companies in each country.

Variables affecting international rail transport include:
1) Rail loading gauge — how much weight can be tolerated on given carriers and track.
2) Track gauge — the width between the tracks.

There is broad gauge, standard or international gauge and narrow gauge. Further complicated by an array of different widths for broad gauge.

Loading gauges, couplings, container markings, and much more are encoded by the International Union of Railways, an organization created in 1922 to standardize rail transport industry practices. There are 82 active members including from Europe, Russia, China, Kazakhstan and others. The U.S. is an associate member.

With a route that travels through five or more countries, there are challenges along the route. The railroad containers have to be shifted by crane twice:

  • From Chinese rolling stock to the Russian style broad gauge line at the Kazakhstan-China border at Alashankou, in northeastern China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.
  • Second transfer to standard gauge at the Polish-Belarusian border.

US Customers

Hewlett Packard was an early customer of the new rail connection. They booked the route for a major shipment of H-P computers manufactured in China destined to ship from Holland across the Atlantic Ocean to the US.

Here is a video of train route that the H-P computers traveled to Rotterdam, including crane transfer of containers from one railway track to a different gauge rail track.

I’m looking forward to the day passenger trains run the route!

Written by patwa

02/10/2013 at 1:29 am

Ceret :: On the Mediterranean Coast

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Colors of Catalonia
by Virginie Raguenaud

My friend Virginie Raguenaud is publishing this wonderful book about the artists who painted in    Catalonia.  I can’t wait to read it!

At the end of my trek across France through the Pyrénées Mountains, I rested in Ceret and sketched the fishing boats and old seaside buildings.  When I left town, I boarded a train in Ceret and transferred to another heading east across Provence.  During the interlude waiting for the long distance train, I marveled at the scenes around the  train station in  Perpignan which Salvador Dali dubbed the center of the world.

Written by patwa

26/06/2012 at 4:15 pm

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

Riff on Silence

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Train on my way to Savannah, Gee A.  Mix of people new to train travel and old timers who know the routines. Pervasive rings of mobile phones display the only creativity modern AmeriCan-Bandana allows: What is your ring-tone?

While most want to fill the space with sound, the rest of us are struggling to empty the sound from our space.

What is the next killer app people asked, back in the 1990s after Netscape, after Red Hat, after Af-Ta.  The next one will be the one that silences everything. I don’t mean replacing ambient noise with an iPod generated music mask.  My sound neutralizer is  a variation of Baby Quiet ®, the helmet that prevents your attention deficient youngster from bashing its brains out against the cement wall in the day care center that wasn’t your first choice but will do the job.

Silence is more than golden. More precious than diamonds and not easy to obtain. When what is most precious is gone, the restoration costs more in terms of energy and effort.

Will Bose ®, the quiet headphones company sponsor a competion to improve and expand silence?

I found this quote:  “Don’t speak unless you improve silence .” (Jesus Nebot) from this website Speaker Net News.

Written by patwa

15/04/2011 at 3:01 am

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