There are of course locomotives. And they are of course impressive. It never hurts to remind oneself how to build a steam engine. Might be invaluable when this civilization of ours starts crumbling. Then again, I suspect there are couple of other things that might be helpful before steam engines make a big comeback.Still - the ingenuity of the mechanism, the ability to push things that feel heavy just to look at - fills one with awe.
Also, for anyone even vaguely familiar computers or telecommunication, it’s immediately obvious that railways and the Internet have many things in common.
Computer science inherited plenty of railway terminology and quite a few hacks: routing, semaphores, color coding, payloads. And if you think that CU L8R is a recent invention check out the telegraph operators lingo.Railways and the Internet have a similar quality of bending the space. Places that were far away become much closer when connected by rail (or by net). They are the game changing inventions. And when they start to appear other unexpected but inevitable changes follow. New jobs displace old jobs. New industries appear overnight. Social structures are rebuilt. There is an investment frenzy. People become afraid they won’t be a part of the big change so they try to buy their way into the action. Eventually too many railroads are build, too much fiber is laid. What stays is the game changed but usually in a different way that was envisioned.
We pretend to be wiser today. But are we really?Our problems with network neutrality are not unique. When it became painfully obvious what power can a railway company exert over local economy, American Congress established a special agency - Interstate Commerce Commission to regulate them. It put in place various restrictions on fares, cargo etc. Among other things the railway company could not own the cargo that it was transporting. It could not discriminate against any shipper. ICC survived until 1995: it did many good things but it also nearly killed the very industry it was supposed to regulate. Lack of competition coupled with price controls contributed to the bankrupcy of the railway companies by 1970s.
And there is another thing. Steam engine crews never expected highways. Railroads got passed over by cars and airplanes. Today we have no idea what is going to displace the net, but, paying our respects to the railroads, we should know that something will.
So check out Steamtown. Really cool way to learn some humility.