Squeezing Railroads into Cities: Creating Variable Solutions in Britain and the United States, 1820–1900
Time and technological change challenge cities to adapt at every turn. New modes of operation, new machines, new behaviors all put pressure on the physical fabric of the city to make way for rising necessities and to lose attachment to multiplying redundancies. This is nowhere more graphically illustrated than with the transport equipment of metropolitan areas. The advent of the steam railroad in the first half of the nineteenth century confronted existing cities of any size with usually significant crises of adjustment. Railroads required large, costly terminal spaces and wide curves on a scale not easily created in already dense environments, so the task of squeezing out space to permit steam trains to enter built-up areas could be daunting. For small places, the prospect was rarely difficult; merely placing railroad tracks at the urban fringe of a compact town solved the dilemma. Incorporating rail lines in newly established towns was even easier; they could be simply embedded within the plan from the outset. However, retrofitting rail facilities through dense and often serpentine street systems, across complex property holding patterns, and sometimes over uncompromising terrain raised unique and pressing problems. Given their potential for mass transport of both goods and people, steam railroads needed to reach close to-if not directly into-the core business centers of large cities. How was this done and with what consequences for the inevitable transformation of the spatial morphology of the built environment?