Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Taking to the Rails

I love traveling by train in England and have been up and down the country several times this way. It always puts me in mind of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh: "So we passed / The liberal open country and the close, / And shot through tunnels, like a lightning-wedge / By great Thor-hammers driven through the rock," even though tunnels are few and far between and AL was traveling through France. So the following caught my eye, from the 14 February issue of The Engineer.

"When it's not overcrowded and/or broken and doesn't cost the same price as a flight on Richard Branson's spaceship, UK rail travel is, occasionally, an enjoyable, relaxing, and romantic experience.

"But it is still hamstrung by one glaring restriction that has dogged our railways since the golden age of steam — trains will only stop at stations, and most passengers have to find some other way of completing their journey. Readers will agree that in these sedentary days to ask anyone to walk anywhere is clearly unacceptable.

"Fortunately, a quick scan of The Engineer archives provides a ready-made solution to rail's limitations: simply attach a rotating piece of railway track to each of your vehicle's wheels, and the romance of rail will follow you all the way to your front door.

"In its description of Cambridge's portable railway [July 24, 1857], the magazine outlines a design for 'portable or endless railways' that can be 'applied to the wheels of engines and carriages, for the purpose of facilitating their movement over loose ground and irregular surfaces.' . . . The invention is, essentially, one of a number of early forerunners of the caterpillar track."
--- end of The Engineer article ---

Shown here: A Victorian-era steam train passing the fourteenth-century Bodiam Castle in East Sussex.

Related links:
Kent and East Sussex Steam Railway
UK Heritage Railways


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