Trains vs. planes vs. automobiles

Colin Ross is intrigued to find railway transportation being overtaken by automobiles in New Zealand and Australia and speculates on air traffic changing transportation even more fundamentally.

What do readers of a Berlin illustrated newspaper care about Australasia’s infrastructure of transportation? They should, Colin Ross argues, claiming that “the looming crises of our civilization can be discerned more clearly on the periphery than in the center.” [p. 135] Such a crisis, he informs is readers, is afflicting the established 19th-century railway grid. In New Zealand old lines are being substituted by buses and trucks, while  new projects are being canceled in mid-construction. Australia is moving in the same direction, Ross argues.

The accompanying photographs try hard to personalize the issue (showing Ross’s daughter Renate next to a railway advertisement placard, for instance), while Ross digs surprisingly deep into an asymmetrical and politically contested competition. Automotive transportation picks and chooses the most lucrative jobs in goods traffic, he observes, thus making railway transportation less profitable and boosting its prices.

Taking this one step further, Ross believes that air transportation will supersede car traffic in the near future in Australasia. Like the entire  article, this point demonstrates Australasia’s appeal to Ross as a test lab of future developments (see Playing gods with insufficient means). With less investment in older modes of transportation they can move more swiftly to modern technology than Europe, something of considerable interest to the technocratic side of Ross (See Engineering).

Joachim Schätz








Colin Ross. Endkampf der Eisenbahn in Australien. Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung: 1930 Jan 26; 39 (4); 135, 137–8.


Topic: Weltverkehr
Case: Oceania-Asia trip 1928-30


See also




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