As construction on California's high speed rail continues you can feel the excitement building. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently blogged about the bay area's new transit center that will be an important hub for the high speed rail and likely connect to San Francisco's BART along with other public transportation methods. The high speed rail line is expected to travel at speeds of up to 220 mph.
140 years ago Americans were marvelling at another milestone in mass transportation: the Transcontinental Railroad. I love these accounts from Mark Twain where he is an awe of its speed of 30 mph, and supposedly later a top speed of 60 mph if we are to do his math for him. It certainly changed the face of America on a cultural level. All of the effects we see today of mass communication and globalization were then serving to homogenize America. It can't be forgotten the numerous Chinese and Irish immigrants who built it with their tireless labor and what that means to a modern society looking back.
If you want some meaty documentary, there's a PBS special if you can get ahold of it, or what looks to be a decent BBC documentary available on youtube. Then for the Cliff's Notes fans we have the brief Modern Marvels look at it also available on youtube.
The technology itself perhaps not so astounding. Like the high speed rail, similar systems are in place in many other countries right now. I doubt the high speed rail will be at all as ground breaking as the railroad that connected a nation and allowed Mark Twain to travel at speeds above 30 mph while drinking champagne (without spilling) in a dining car. Railroads then were absolutely common. But having one that could traverse the country from east to west was a big deal. So technology doesn't have to be new or earth shattering in and of itself to change and shape a nation.