Saturday, 8 December 2012

From Trains to Trailers

      Up until WWII, trains had been the most popular mode of transportation within the United States. Railways that ran directly from station to station transported freight and passengers to and from city centers. Prior to the 1950s, nearly everyone lived along a railway, if not within the vicinity of a railway station – consequently, this method of travel worked exceptionally well for the needs of that era. During WWII, passenger rail even reached its all-time peak of 98 billion passenger-miles (the sum of all the miles travelled by each individual passenger) when there was a gasoline and tire rationing.  Much like Airstream owners, passengers could transform their respective train compartments into dwellings for the duration of the train trip. Why is it, then, that railway transportation saw a sudden decline in the 1950s following the World War?

      To put it simply, the Interstate Highway System.  Once the Interstate was formed, most Americans took to the roads instead. The highways allowed for something that the railway tracks didn’t: freedom. While the railways ran along strict routes strung between several of stations scattered across the country, highways provided for the privacy and mobility to venture throughout the country alone. Suddenly, everyone had the option to travel long distances whenever and wherever they wanted, provided that they had an automobile.  While there were endless debates regarding the cost differences between the two modes of transportation, it really all came down to which provided a greater ease of mobility. Traveling on the Interstates had become a symbol of the American dream of individual liberty. Along with religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition, 'toll-free' travel virtually became America's 'Sixth Freedom'. Quite evidently, the car was ruled out as the victor. When both the schedule and destination of a trip could be conveniently determined by the traveler, passenger trains had a hard time maintaining their dominance over motorized vehicles. 

"Whether we like it or not, any fool can see that this Earth is gradually becoming one world. Nobody knows what the form of the 'one' will be, but it's going to be one or none."

                                                                                                              - Wally Byam, 1960

An overlay of the interstate system on the railway system. It becomes apparent that while the major highways parallel the railway routes, the highways offer more mobility and freedom to travel in different ways.

"The Economic Impact of the Interstate Highway System." Interstate 50 Years. Ed. Andrew C. Lemer. N.P., 2006. Web.
      8 Dec. 2012
McCrary, Lewis. "A Nation Derailed." The American Conservative. N.P., 3 Aug 2011. Web. 3 Dec. 2012. <http://www.>.

No comments:

Post a Comment