Edited by Matthias Finger and Pierre Messulam
Chapter 2: Railways and demographic change
An attempt to understand the interactions between the spread of railways and the dynamics of settlement, demographic change and urban growth is part of a body of research that has a long history. Few researchers have summarised this research in terms as straightforward as those of the geographer Pierre George, who wrote, in 1968: ‘The layout of the railway network determines the rates of growth of cities’ (p. 233). This statement, while obviously simplistic, provides us with a possible starting point as it refers to the more or less general belief that a technological system such as the train encourages the population to group together and, hence, provides an impetus for trade flows, and hence business activities and wealth (Ribeill, 1986, 1989). As George’s idea has determined the nature of this field of research, and is part of a long intellectual tradition, the first part of this chapter sets out to highlight not the truth of the statement, but rather its continual presence during different phases of history or, to use David Banister’s expression, during the different ages of the train (Banister and Hall, 1993). We will then present the mechanisms of interaction between the rail network and demographic dynamics, before explaining how demographic changes have affected the overall performance of the European rail system.
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