I've for many years fantasized about writing a study of the place of the railway in the modern world, economically, topographically, in town planning, in the creation of space and the idea of time, in movies and literature and so on. I knew some of this stuff in the abstract, but I've learned much more concretely about the astonishing degree to which the railway--literally the railroad, trains, the whole economy it created--changed our world in ways that planes, cars, the Internet, even electricity maybe didn't quite match. The very notion of society existing in terms of classes, in terms of collective life, public and private space, cities and the relationship between city and country; the idea of time, of time as something that organizes us rather than we organizing it--these were all railway creations. If you try to imagine the world that existed before 1830, before the first railway line in England, between Manchester and Liverpool, it's quite literally unimaginable. It takes an effort of will to realize that in Roman times the sense of distance was about the same as it was in 1780, let's say. For most of human history, people never came into contact, or did very rarely, with either someone who was not born where they lived or some artifact that was not made either by them or by someone they knew or in the town in which they were born. But within one generation they are living in a world that makes today's globalization look like nothing in terms of the transformation. That's the work of the railway, much more than anything else in the world, and that's what I want to try to capture in the book.
Tony Judt and the railway
Talking With Tony Judt (The Nation):