Projectiles

When the railroad made its quick and widespread appearance in the middle of the 19th century, it changed the traveler’s sense of landscape and geography. Space was no longer passed through but rushed over. The railroad train was then widely described as a projectile, its thrust compared to that of a piece of artillery.

The speed was beyond contemporary imagination, and the lack of the voyager’s control--the idea of the rider as passenger--became threatening considerations. The man on horseback manipulated the horse; the person aboard the train could only hope the train would safely reach its destination.

I recently reread much of this in Wolfgang Schvielbush’s “Railway Journey,” a book I first encountered over two decades ago.

But the second reading, done just after the fifth anniversary of 9/11, gave dreadful new meaning to Schivelbush’s assertion that: “The train was experienced as a projectile and traveling on it, as being shot through the landscape…” As we now know, the jet aircraft, not the train, became the horrendously experienced projectile.

Ray Betts