Tag Archives: Chicago

The ‘Foreign Dimension’ in Transport Geography

By Benjamin Sacks

‘A platitude is that which every one admits and no one remembers’, W L Grant surmised in May, 1911, ‘[t]he platitude with which I begin is that Canada is a large country…a great truth’. In the aftermath of the American Civil War, British and Canadian officials scrambled to strengthen Canada’s authority from the relatively urbanised Atlantic and Great Lakes regions to the sparsely populated West. They undertook construction of one of the longest railroads in the world, a line traveling west from the rivers and inlets of Québec, across the expansive Alberta prairie, and through the Rocky Mountains to British Columbia. Today, Canadian National Railways (CN) stands as one of Canada’s most important assets, a symbol of the Dominion and Canadian pride, and an economic lifeline stretching the length of the North American continent (p. 598). But its name, Canadian National, is perhaps misleading, for CN’s network, through corporate acquisition, now extends south, through the Midwest and down the length of the Mississippi River, through the heartland of the United States (see image).

Julie Cidell’s (University of Illinois) analysis in the most recent edition of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers both acknowledges resurgent interest in transport geography and explores a contentious recent episode in CN’s expansion into the United States. In late 2007, CN approached US Steel with an offer to purchase Elgin, Joliet, and Eastern (EJ&E), a vital connector railroad network in Chicago. Similar in scope to Boston’s (in)famous ‘Big Dig’, the EJ&E was constructed to increase transport efficiency in one of the United States’s busiest railroad centres. As is often the case in densely populated areas, local residents protested against CN’s plans to increase railroad traffic from an estimated five trains per day to nearly thirty trains per day (pp. 598-601).

Cidell’s article is an excellent definitional source, explicating how planning officials understand ‘sky’, ‘airspace’, and Cidell’s own variant: ‘trainspace’ – the legal, safety, and geographical environment surrounding the trains, railroad tracks, and properties. The author seeks to explore how trainspaces interact with other spaces, including (perhaps most notably) national space.

Although the United States and Canada are traditionally extraordinarily close allies, CN’s ambitious proposal catalysed highly defensive reactions from US residents. Although those affected by the suggested changes cited noise, smog, and other intrusions, a principal concern was that a foreign corporation wanted to manage a vital American trainspace. Although CN officials were quick to point out that US employees could benefit from the company’s proposal, legitimate concerns were repeatedly raised over how the acquisition of US railroads by a Canadian firm would benefit any actors other than Canadian interests. Ciddell’s article provides an exciting framework to model other air- and trainspace conflicts throughout the world.


W L Grant, 1911, Geographical Conditions Affecting the Development of Canada, The Geographical Journal 38 362-74.

Julie Cidell, 2012, Fear of a Foreign Railroad: Transnationalism, Trainspace, and (Im)mobility in the Chicago Suburbs, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 37 593-608.

Also see: Benjamin J Sacks, 2010, Rethinking Transport Geography, Geography Directions, 25 August 2010.

Trainspaces: Shaping Transnational Spaces

by Fiona Ferbrache

High speed train Cisalpino (Source: Eurail Group G.I.E.)

This week I write from Germany and a media event to mark the 40th anniversary of the InterRail pass: a rail ticket allowing passengers to travel (up to one month) on roughly 250,000km of rail track across 30 European countries.

Launched in 1972, the InterRail pass enabled young people (aged 21 and under) to explore Europe. Forty years later and the pass is available for all ages. During this time the European map (its territories and borders) has changed: the fall of the Berlin Wall, dismemberment of the Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia, and the expansion of the European Union and Schengen zone, which have created a borderless space for mobility. As I am learning here in Leipzig, InterRail enables a unique cross-border perspective on the changing nature of Europe – a trainspace, perhaps.

Trainspace is an analytic concept proposed by Cidell (2012:3) to evoke “the space(s) constructed or maintained by the (im)mobility of trains, in both discursive and material forms”. The concept is introduced through Cidell’s exploration of freight transportation in Chicago’s suburbs. The case study explores the proposed purchase of a beltline railroad around Chicago by Canadian National Railroad, and the opposition raised by local American communities. While concerns over safety and risk were significant, Cidell shows how these were expressed in terms of disruption caused by a foreign railroad. This conflict, Cidell argues, revealed underlying fears of national control being eroded by a new transnational space (in terms of railroad ownership and the global flows of goods it could engender in Chicago’s suburbs).

Cidell’s trainspace encourages us to think about the effects of transport infrastructure beyond the site of the infrastructure itself. Applying this to InterRail, I am led to think in terms of the connected (rail)routes through which people flow and come to know a Europe: a significant component of transnational processes in a changing world.

  Cidell, J. (2012) Fear of a foreign railroad: transnationalism, trainspace, (im)mobility in the Chicago suburbs. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00491.x

  InterRail Celebrates its 40th Anniversary

Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers Content Alert: Volume 37, Issue 1 (January 2012)

The latest issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers is available on Wiley Online Library.

Click past the break to view the full table of contents.

Continue reading