‘Rain, Steam and Speed — The Great Western Railway’ (1844) by J.M.W. Turner shows a change — the coming of the railways — that angered and frightened many in the early years of the 19th century. (Photo credit: National Gallery)

‘Rain, Steam and Speed — The Great Western Railway’ (1844) by J.M.W. Turner shows a change — the coming of the railways — that angered and frightened many in the early years of the 19th century. (Photo credit: National Gallery)

The Editor’s Desk: No change, no growth

Change can be frightening, but without it we stagnate

I had never heard of Dr. Richard Beeching before I moved to Britain, and if it were not for one thing then the vast majority of British people would never have heard of him either. Unfortunately, that one thing had to do with a beloved British institution — railways — which Beeching oversaw for a short time as the first chairman of what later became British Rail, a position to which he was appointed in 1961.

If he had imagined that his position was that of a figurehead only, he was sadly mistaken. Not long after becoming chairman, he was tasked with looking at the alarmingly poor financial health and sustainability of the British rail system, and in 1963 the results were published in a report called The Reshaping of British Railways. It was nothing less than a bombshell, calling for the closure of some 6,000 miles of track and one-third of the country’s 7,000 train stations, with an eventual loss of 70,000 jobs.

To say that it caused an uproar would be an understatement. Some 4,000 miles of track were shut down between 1964 and the early 1970s; the equivalent of tearing out two rail lines stretching from Vancouver to Toronto. In a country as small as Britain, the loss of that much rail line was devastating, leaving hundreds of communities without rail service and reliant on sketchy bus transport or expensive automobiles.

The protests over “the Beeching axe” would have been greeted with disbelief 130 years earlier, when Britain’s rail network was in its infancy. The world’s first inter-city passenger railway, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, opened in 1830, but railways were not exactly warmly embraced; far from it.

Companies trying to build rail lines found themselves dealing with legal challenges and protests at every turn. Landowners worried about tumbling property values. Country dwellers worried about peaceful landscapes being blighted. Historians worried about the potential devastation of historic sites. Farmers worried about smoke from trains staining the wool of their sheep. People in general worried about the potential harmful effects on the human body of travelling at the incredible speed of 30 miles per hour. Trains were ugly, smelly, and noisy, and a good many folks didn’t want anything to do with them.

Others, however — and not just the companies building railways — saw the tremendous possibilities of trains. Goods could quickly and easily be transported from one end of the country to the other in hours instead of days. The postal service would be revolutionized. People could easily and inexpensively travel to places that were otherwise inaccessible. The railway was not a threat, or a blight, or a fad: it was transformative.

You can see this in a painting by J.M.W. Turner called “Rain, Steam and Speed — The Great Western Railway”, which was first exhibited in 1844. Like most great works of art — and it is one of the greatest works of one of Britain’s greatest artists — it can be interpreted in different ways, depending on who is looking at it.

Is the train barreling down on the viewer, belching smoke behind it, an iron monster staining and destroying the landscape, or is it the gleaming future, promising prosperity? A man in a boat far below the train gazes up at it: is his look one of fear or wonder? The barely visible figure of a hare can be seen sprinting along the track ahead of the train: is it fleeing in terror, or joyfully competing to see if it can outrun this new animal?

All of which is to say that change — fundamental change, the kind that transforms places, the people in them, the way we live — is often frightening. It can appear ugly, or intrusive, or unnecessary, or all of the above. Without change, however, there is no progress. In the words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Forward, forward let us range / Let the great world spin forever down the ringing grooves of change.”



editorial@accjournal.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Columnist

Just Posted

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

Okanagan Lake (File photo)
Thompson-Okanagan ready to welcome back tourists

The Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association expects this summer to be a busy one

Aerial view of a wildfire at 16 Mile, 11 kilometres northwest of Cache Creek, that started on the afternoon of June 15. (Photo credit: BC Wildfire Service)
Wildfire at 16 Mile now being held

Wildfire started on the afternoon of June 15 at 16 Mile, east of Highway 97

The Desert Daze Music Festival is doggone good fun, as shown in this photo from the 2019 festival, and it will be back in Spences Bridge this September. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)
‘Best Little Fest in the West’ returning to Spences Bridge

Belated 10th anniversary Desert Daze festival going ahead with music, vendors, workshops, and more

Internet speed graphic, no date. Photo credit: Pixabay
Study asks for public input to show actual internet speeds in B.C. communities

Federal maps showing Internet speeds might be inflated, so communities lose out on faster Internet

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
BC Green leader Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

B.C. Premier John Horgan leaves his office for a news conference in the legislature rose garden, June 3, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. premier roasted for office budget, taxing COVID-19 benefits

Youth addiction law that triggered election hasn’t appeared

A vial containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a vaccination site in Marcq en Baroeul, outside Lille, northern France, Saturday, March 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michel Spingler
mRNA vaccines ‘preferred’ for all Canadians, including as 2nd dose after AstraZeneca: NACI

New recommendations prioritizes Pfizer, Moderna in almost all cases

Most Read