IRJ was the first railway magazine to circulate throughout the world and to report on rail developments globally. I am impressed by my predecessors' ability to cover world events, particularly in the early years, when jet travel was in its infancy and mail was the only effective means of communication. And yet IRJ's intrepid reporters travelled the globe, frequently venturing behind the iron curtain, to interview the senior managers and engineers of the world's railways and metro systems. The mission was - and still is - to enable the railway community to exchange ideas, share experience, and solve problems for the betterment of rail transport.
Scanning 600 issues of IRJ to produce our six-page timeline of world events revealed a number of recurring but contrasting themes. In the 1960s and 1970s, the rapid expansion of road and air travel was having a devastating impact on rail. Railways were slow to respond, and governments failed to recognise that railways had quickly ceased to be monopolies and therefore should have been released from state tariff controls and their common carrier obligations. The result was a rapid slide into the red, and in some cases bankruptcy, often leading to drastic surgery with little thought of future needs, such as closing urban rail networks. Unfortunately similar mistakes are still being made in Eastern Europe.
It has taken the best part of 50 years to put railway finances on a sound footing. Measures taken range from freeing North American railways from the burden of operating loss-making passenger trains and allowing them to compete freely, to privatisation in South America and Japan, and in Europe the separation of infrastructure from operations and the introduction of open-access and concessioning, plus huge gains in productivity.
Despite the worsening financial performance of railways, there was still considerable vision. IRJ reported on plans to link up the disparate networks in South America, Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and build a high-speed rail network in Europe. While little has happened in South America and Africa to plug the gaps, moves are finally being made to build Trans-Asian and Gulf railways, and Europe's high-speed network is making rapid progress. Nevertheless, many new lines were built, from heavy-haul railways in Australia and Brazil to BAM in the former Soviet Union, landmark metro projects were completed, and trams made a comeback in the form of light rail.
The opening of the world's first high-speed railway - the Tokaido Shinkansen - in October 1964, captured the railway world's imagination, and many issues of IRJ in subsequent years were devoted to high-speed, albeit how to raise speeds to the 160-200km/h range. A lot of experimentation took place with new types of traction, in particular gas turbines, and new train designs. But it was not until the early 1980s that the real high-speed revolution started with the opening of the first lines in Europe.
IRJ charted the switch from steam to diesel traction in the 1960s and 1970s, and the rapid expansion of electric traction in Europe following the first oil crisis in 1973. While large parts of the European and Asian networks are now electrified, elsewhere electric traction is largely confined to urban areas. The impetus to electrify seems to have been lost despite the need to reduce CO2 emissions.
IRJ has also reported on the many proposals for radical new forms of guided transport, such as monorails, the French Aerotrain, and maglev in its various forms. While there are a few monorails and one commercial maglev line in existence, the concept of a steel wheel running on a steel rail has endured and continued to develop despite the allure of more exotic solutions.
But as Yoshio Ishida, chairman of the UIC and vice-chairman of JR East, observes in our exclusive interview on page 25, railways must look to the needs of their customers to understand what they want. Railways must avoid complacency, as technical advances are also being made by other modes, for example to reduce emissions. Railways are still bad at promoting their strengths, as witnessed currently in the United States where President Obama's high-speed rail initiative is being crushed by a very strong anti-rail campaign.
Finally, I would like to thank our founding fathers for their vision, the numerous railway managers and engineers who have contributed their time and energy to speak to our journalists, and our very loyal advertisers and readers for their continuing support.
Here's to the next 50 years!