Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Most Terrible Thing To Be Seen

Edit: Two things to add. First, a fun fact that I overlooked until after this article had been published: The years of 1879 and 2014 have an identical calendar. The 18th of December occurred on a Sunday in both years. Second, several commenters have corrected one of the captions below. The locomotive involved in this incident was, eventually, documented going over the new Tay Bridge.

The night of December 28, 1879, might have been notable in meteorological history even if no other bad events had solidified their hold on that date. The storm that blew into the Firth of Forth area on that day was one for the record books, terrifying and destructive even by the normal standards the  residents of Wormit and Dundee used to measure the regions’ frequent storms and gales.

This date, though, would come to hold more tragic significance. Despite winds strong enough to uproot trees and topple stone chimneys from rooftops, passenger rail service operated by the North British Railway had not been halted or delayed as a result of the storm. At approximately seven fifteen o’clock, a lone train left Wormit for Dundee and began a slow trek across the Tay Rail Bridge.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Incredible Shrinking Crew

At this point in the year, I’m working ungodly hours staffing Christmas trains. A good proportion of the people reading this are probably in the same boat. Free time is at a premium, so for this article, we’ll return to something that has been an underlying theme in a number of previous articles: How technological changes and politics have, over time, dramatically reduced the number of people working for the railroads.
One of those factoids that every person takes away from history class is that Industrial Revolutionized virtually turned every aspect of human life and culture on its head. During the early 19th century, the ability to mass produce consumer goods triggered  a complete rethinking of how material commodities were produced and moved from place to place. The human workforce also underwent a fundamental change, as the world economy transitioned from one based on skilled craftsmanship to mechanical fabrication.