The Essential Railway: A lateral interpretation of the functions of urban railways

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Debate about the future of public transport is sometimes terminated by an apparently unchallengeableopinion that the automobile is omnipotent. There is also a view that a natural progression of technologiesfavours modes of transport other than rail. This paper is an attempt to lay a foundation for a perspective onrail-based urban transport which points towards the human system functions which railways fulfil and thereasons why certain essential features of railways have been 'functional' for societies and economies.Railways historically serve a range of intended purposes, including creation of wealth, protection andadvancement of political interests and maintenance of government administrative systems. In addition tothese intended effects, railways have created functionality beyond transport systems. Perhaps the bestknownwould be the establishment of common standard time. Many cities and industries now would losesignificant functionality as systems were their railways to close. This functionality is detectable in quantitativeterms as system characteristics like employment, but it is also theoretically identifiable in more human,almost but not quite individualistic, terms as human need for socialisation, certainty and security: conceptswhich have broad application. The paper proposes that the notion of system functionality at the human levelis worth addressing. With the help of some socio-cultural theory, this analysis might be extended towardsconsideration of externalities in transport planning.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRail
Subtitle of host publicationRejuvenation and Renaissance
EditorsRobert Patterson
Place of PublicationWellington, NZ
PublisherRailway Technical Society
Number of pages7
ISBN (Electronic)9780908960552
Publication statusPublished - 2010
EventConference on Railway Engineering - Wellington, NZ, New Zealand
Duration: 12 Sep 201015 Sep 2010


ConferenceConference on Railway Engineering
Country/TerritoryNew Zealand


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