“…Through them we pass out into adventure and sunshine, to them, alas! we return.” once said E.M.Forster and he was right: the invention of rail transport really changed the world and influenced modern transportation. The railways’ ancestors were carts pulled by animals (horses or bulls) used by ancient civilizations in Egypt, Babylon and Greece who also build roads with pre-built constraints for wheels when they realized that the cart could go faster if it could travel on predetermined paths. These were the world’s first railway tracks and archeological remains of them can still be found in Italy and Greece. With the fall of the Roman Empire the wagonways went out of use until early industrial efforts of European Renaissance.
By the 18th century, every mine in Great Britain had its own simple railway network, with horses pulling carts from mines to factories. Changes to this kind of transport came in 1774 after the world found out about James Watt incredible discovery meaning stationary steam engine, later on several inventors started working on improving Watt’s design. In 1804 first steam engines and rail tracks started working, lots of people tried to improve them but the first one to succeed was Matthew Murray who showcased his simple locomotive; however Richard Trevithick received more attention with his “Penydarren” locomotive that could hold up 25 tons and 70 people during its first ride. Train networks appeared in late 1820s thanks to George Stephenson (an English inventor) who wanted to find out which steam locomotive design was easier to use, powerful and reliable; he later demonstrated it with his “Rocket.” Designs of such locomotives soon traveled to United States, where they began their rapid expansion across newly acquired lands. Trains’ development also led to inter-city railway tracks and underground tunnels, the most famous one The London Underground began in 1863 and continued growing until 1890 when the entire city started using electrical engines. Surely, this marked the beginning of urban rapid transit systems and underground “metros” (the word came from Paris underground) that started appearing everywhere in the world. The introduction of Diesel engines accelerated the end of steam locomotives: they were much faster, easier to mantain and reliable diesel fuel engines; they were even associated with electrical engines. Trains are one of the most remarkable ways of travelling, people and big cities cannot work without the mas they carry on millions of people everyday as well as objects and food.
In 1895 the Lumière brothers delivered a 50-second silent film (shot in black and white) showing the entrance of a train pulled by a steam locomotive and coming to the French station called La Ciotat where lots of people are watching the scene. The movie in question is called L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat, it represents a scene of everyday life and it marks the beginning of a new era characterized by movies and cinema itself. The Lumières depicted the railways’ impact on society at that time and how it changed their perspective on travels, moreover they created a movie that is now associated with an urban legend. It seems that when the film was first shown, the audience run away, scared and surprised by moving image of a life-sized train coming directly at them. Even the German Railway’s customer magazine commented the event by saying: “The spectators ran out of the hall in terror because the locomotive headed right for them. They feared that it could plunge off the screen and onto them.” Nowadays it’s not clear if the story is completely true, however there is no doubt that L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat impressed people in strong and positive way, promoting the railways’ development and cinema’s rise.
Written by Ludovica Buda