Continuous disruption

Trains were once seen as icons of freedom. They freed riders from the dust and bumps of horse or stagecoach travel, and dramatically shortened travel times. But that view of trains as agents of freedom changed with the development of the automobile—and the way it shifted control of routes and schedules from the railroad to the driver.

This isn’t about transportation policy1, it’s about how previously novel solutions become subject to disruption once they become the baseline against which alternatives are compared. Railroads didn’t realize they were competing against automobiles until it was too late.

Who are you competing against?

This is a revision of something I originally posted ten years ago.

Photo CC NC-ND by Schnitzel_bank.

  1. If you do want to explore the policy side of this, consider this comparison of transit volume, part of the broader question of whether cars take up too much space, and this inquiry into why public transport works better outside the US↩︎