The Railroad’s Effect on Time and Distance

“Salamanca” The Salamanca locomotive, built in 1812 by Matthew Murray, was the first commercially successful steam locomotive. Source: Hapesoft; 2009
“Salamanca” The Salamanca locomotive, built in 1812 by Matthew Murray, was the first commercially successful steam locomotive. Source: Hapesoft; 2009

The advent of the railways in Europe drastically changed time and distance during the Industrial Revolution. Before the invention of railways, people relied on other means of transportation such as walking and using horses. Some railway tracks had already been placed for minecarts and hand cars, but the steam engine and other coal-powered locomotives were not yet invented. All produced goods had to be transported using alternative transportation methods..

Before the railroad, workers had to walk farther distances to work, which took a long time and anything that needed to be transported or traded took a while to be sent and received. With the invention of the railway, that all changed. Now most people had faster means to get to and from work, transport goods, as well as travel for vacations or business trips. Unfortunately, lower class families could not afford to use the train so they had to live closer to their work. Less transportation time meant businesses could push for a greater output of goods, which maximized profit. Altogether, railways brought a whole new perspective to the industrial revolution. Throughout this page railways will be explained through time, distance, and how time and distance is connected.

 

 

How did people get from place to place before the invention of railroads?

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How did the invention of the railway help people keep track of time instead of just using the sun?

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Time:

“London Bridge Viaduct” (1836) The London and Greenwich Railway terminus in London was one of the earliest used elevated railway line. Source: Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle; 30 October 1836
“London Bridge Viaduct” (1836) The London and Greenwich Railway terminus in London was one of the earliest used elevated railway line. Source: Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle; 30 October 1836

The advent of the railroads had a major impact on people’s perspective of time. With railroads came the ability to travel and transport goods faster than ever before, along with the creation of time zones in order to track departure and arrival times from station-to-station. These innovations made it possible for passengers to travel more efficiently and for the producers of goods to distribute their product on a larger scale.1

The creation of the regional time zones was due to the necessity to plan for the arrival and departure of trains from station to station, and so the powerful railroad companies of the time created the time zone system to replace the current local time zone system. 2  The need for these time zones was due to the need to remedy the scheduling nightmare that was created by a lack of a universal scheduling system for the railroads. 3  For the first time, geographic zones were divided up and assigned times in order for the railroad companies to properly organize travel schedules, forever changing the dynamic of time.

Before railroads, travel on land was only as fast as you could travel on foot or by animal. The increase in efficiency for travellers upon the advent of railroads was substantial. For instance, “travel time between major European cities was reduced by four-fifths between 1750 and 1830, and decreased by one-half between 1770 and 1830.” Also for example, a trip from London to Edinburgh that took 10 days in the 1750’s, only took forty-five and one-half hours in 1836. 4  These examples show the vast reduction in travel time due to the railroads.

 

 

What did the railroads have a major impact on?

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How did the railroads aid the local farmers with transporting their produce?

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Distance:

S_england_railways_1840
“Railways in the South East of England” (1840) Railways in England in use and/or under construction in 1840. Source: Whishaw, F, (1840) The Railways of Great Britain and Ireland: Practically described and illustrated London: Simpkin, Marshall and Co.

During the early 19th century, railways were spreading rapidly throughout Europe. In 1825, Britain had about 27 miles of railway. Over the span of 45 years that increased to about 10,433 miles of railway. 5  With the rapid expansion of railways, travel became faster and more easily accessible. The early locomotive traveled around 20-30 miles per hour, which was greatly faster than any other common means of transportation at the time. The fastest mode of transportation people used prior to the locomotive was the stagecoach, which traveled one-third the speed of the locomotive. In addition, the horses had to be cared for and fed. This new form of transportation meant that passengers could cover the same amount of distance in one-third of the time, which many people interpreted as a shrinking of space.6 

The actual distance never changed but many people described it as a disappearance of the landscape. An article by the Quarterly Review in 1839 describes how distances were perceived in this new form of transportation. “As distances were thus annihilated, the surface of our country would, as it were, shrivel in size until it became not much bigger than one immense city”.7

Space seemed to diminish in some cases and expand in others. Along with the shrinking of transport time, which appeared to shrink distances between two destinations, areas that were previously difficult to access were opened up with the railway. People could travel further to new destinations that before would have taken days, even weeks, to access. This faster mode of transportation greatly reduced travel times, which many people explained by a shrinking of distances between the two destinations. 8 

 

 

Why was the invention of the locomotive important to people when having to travel long distances?

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Time and Distance:

Time and distance were brought together when their relationship to one another changed. Time was seen as something that not a lot of middle class workers had; and if the trip was a long distance, it wasn’t even considered as a place you could travel to. This all changed when the locomotive was popularized. Time seemed accelerated and distance seemed expanded. People could now travel a further distance away in less time that it traditionally would.

Thanks to locomotives, travel between cities evolved from being a rough, multiple day journey, to being a luxurious means of travel. The distance between the departure and destination stayed the same, but the perception of time was reduced. Some people call this time perception “duration,” which is “the time spent getting from one place to another on a road.” 9  An entire nation could now be connected by these railroads, so traditional conception of space and time was annihilated. Whereas previously, pathways needed to be altered to accommodate for terrain, locomotives allowed for a shortening of the pathways through the terrain. For example, tunnels were made through mountains and bridges allowed for crossing valleys and rivers. It was a straight shot from point A to point B. 10 

 

 

How were people able to cut time from point A to point B by using the railroads?

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How did the invention of the locomotive diminish time and expand distance?

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As you can see, railways drastically changed the Industrial Revolution in Europe. Not only did it change the perspective of time, it also changed the perspective of distance. The time zones were created allowing people to run on time rather than sunrise to sunset. Time was not faster than ever. People had shorter time going places to places and waiting for deliveries etc. Manufacturers benefited with being able to ship their goods farther places in shorter amounts of time because the distance didn’t decrease by the time it took decreased. The railway allowed people to flock to cities and allowed people to travel newer places as well.11  Business boomed due to the railway with the mass increase of people and goods. All in all, the railway was a major success in all aspects of the Industrial Revolution especially in time and distance.

 

How do you think life would be if the railroads were never invented and time and distance never became a universal measurement?

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1. Jonathon Matusitz, “The Impact of the Railroad on American Society: A Communication Perspective of Technology,” Pasos Online, 2009, Accessed March 3, 2016. http://www.pasosonline.org/Publicados/7309special/PS0309_9.pdf 

2. History.com staff, “Railroads Create the First Time Zones,” History.com, 2009, Acessed April 13, 2016. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/railroads-create-the-first-time-zones

3. Matusitz, “The Impact of the Railroad on American Society” 

4. Wolfgang Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey: Trains and Travel in the 19th Century. (New York, Urizen Books, 1979), 33.

5. Marjie Bloy, “Railway Expansion”, History Home, Accessed April 14. 2016. http://www.historyhome.co.uk/peel/railways/expans.htm 

6. Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey

7. John Murray, “Reports of the Commissioners appointed to consider and recommend a General System of Railways for Ireland,” The Quarterly Review 63, (1839): 22.

8. Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey

9. Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, Inc., 1986), 115.

10. Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey

11. Davis, Evan, and Jackson Collins, “The Impact and Effect,” The Steam Locomotive, Accessed April 14. 2016. http://railraodandsteamengine.weebly.com/impact.html 

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