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Electricity Underground: the politics of a new technology in London and Paris at the turn of the twentieth century

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Going Underground: Travel Beneath the Metropolis 1863-2013
18 January 2013
Carlos López Galviz
Electricity Underground: the politics of a new technology in London and Paris at the turn of the twentieth century

800px-Electric_railway_train

Abstract: Using electricity in railway operation became a real option towards the end of the nineteenth century. Cities were, generally, the main recipients and instigators of its introduction as the new technology was to help alleviate the often insufficient provision of means of urban transport. A clear contrast would emerge between London and Paris in terms of how the new technology was introduced around this time. In Paris, electric traction was a structural part of the conception and construction of the Métropolitain. To a large extent the city railway network was the result of the possibilities the new technology provided. In London, the introduction of electricity was also a matter of whether and how to transfer from one technology to another as the steam-operated lines of the Metropolitan and District had been open to passenger services since the 1860s. By the 1890s, when the City and South London (later part of the Northern Line) began operating the first section of its line, electric traction demonstrated the possibilities but also the difficulties inherent in the adoption of the new technology. The transformation was gradual, irregular, and subject to conditions which obstructed rather than facilitated the design of a system such as the one built in Paris. The introduction of electric traction in the operation of city railways was largely the result of the political and business cultures inherent in two different contexts: whereas competition and the business interests seemed to predominate in London, the definition of the public interest would become the most significant condition prior to the execution of any plan in Paris.

 

Biography: Carlos is an architect and historian with experience conducting academic and applied research in urban and rural sustainable planning, comparative metropolitan history and the sociology of everyday life. His DPhil thesis (University of London, 2009) looked at the transformation of London and Paris between c.1830 and 1910 through the lens of the Underground and the Métro. The monograph Cities, Railways, Modernities: London, Paris and the Nineteenth Century (in preparation) draws partly on this and expands on the issues around traffic congestion and liberal governmentality. He is Adjunct Lecturer at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, Dartmouth College and the University of Southern California.

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