Lake Baikal, southern shore. Image: wikimedia commons.
Lake Baikal, world’s deepest lake, contains 23% of the world’s freshwater reserves. The size of Switzerland, Lake Baikal posed an almost insurmountable challenge to builders of Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway. At first, travelers traversed the 250-meter (400-mile) lake by boat; during winter, traditional sleighs were used. Finally, 200 bridges and 33 tunnels completed the rail route, hugging the Baikal’s southern shore. The Trans-Siberian Railway inspired Wallace Hickel, twice governor of Alaska, and Mead Treadwell, current lieutenant governor, to visit Russia to consider development of a link across the Bering Strait. In 2012, Ernst Frankel described the potential of such a route. How can the environmental integrity of lakes, rivers, and oceans be preserved while exploring transport options?
Why not build a train route linking Canada, United States, and Mexico? Image: wikimedia commons.
When the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed, Montreal suddenly became married to Vancouver. The Canadian Pacific Railway employed 3.5 million workers, another benefit. Should Nafta encourage a vac-train line linking Canada, United States, and Mexico? Might the route include a Sportsway? North America could found a Center for the Study of Trains, patterned after the Russian Railway Service Corps, via universities of Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Education and employment might combine in a rethink of the medieval guilds, helping to achieve what Christopher Wilson of the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars terms “globally literate workforces.”
What is the destiny of train transport? The Trans-Siberian Railway set a model not only for rail, but also social, engineering. When the Russian line, completed in 1904, needed upgrading in 1917, Russia and the United States entered into a cooperative agreement. George Emerson, an executive in the American rail industry, was called to Washington with an urgent mission: recruit a corps of 300 Americans from leading U.S. railway companies to join the Russian Railway Service Corps. Executives left Chicago and New York, moving to Russia for eight years to work side-by-side with their engineering colleagues. One might imagine there was toasting, as well as technology transfer. For more on the Russian Railway Service Corps, visit http://www.indianahistory.org/our-collections/collection-guides/warren-f-hockaday-collection-ca-1899-ca-1934.pdf. Should today’s transport engineers found an International Railway Corps to design regional and global systems? Will Mead Treadwell’s proposal for rail across the Bering Strait be built via Nafta/Alena/Tlcan? Might Svetlana Kuzmichenko’s report on extending the Trans-Siberian to Japan for a Tokyo-Moscow-London line or to South Korea via North Korea for a Seoul-Moscow-London line become reality, perhaps studied at a station/university like the venerable Baltic Rail Terminal?
SFOT Red Train 4 by James Murray from Wikimedia Commons, at wikimedia.org.
Haunting whistle in the night, hypnotic rhythm of wheels on rail, panting acceleration of uphill runs breathed heavily by a 2860 engine, sigh of brakes — these were sounds quite new in the landscapes of the world until rather recently. The business of constructing rails was introduced in England in the seventeenth century. British mapmaker and engineer Captain John Montressor built the first American railway in Lewiston, New York in 1764. Nearly a century later, the Golden Spike was driven, completing the Transcontinental Railroad; it was now possible to traverse the country in 10 days instead of six months. The Transcontinental Railroad (1869), Canadian Pacific Railway (1885) and the Trans-Siberian Railway (1904) introduced soundscape to the landscape — the train whistle. Japan’s Shinkansen(1964) added a new note: each commuter station is announced by an electronic tune, composed to reflect the culture of the district. For a train soundscape, enjoy a listen (and look) via YouTube “Sound of Royal Hudson steam engine with O Canada horn ‘Good Times Express'” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQNQbuXjF2M). Finding music in the midst of urban sound, George Gershwin who included in “American in Paris” the blare of French taxi horns, might agree with Mozart: “Music is continuous, listening is intermittent.” As new trains, and cars, are developed, should musicians be on the team to create the ideal soundscape?
Although travelling across the vast continent of Asia by train may not be the most convenient means of doing so, it is a trip many choose to make in order to see those parts of the world they cannot experience by plane, and likely could/would not get to otherwise. In the 2008 film, Transsiberian, the characters played by Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer try to do just that, but get caught in some unwelcome business. Below is the trailer: