Sons of iron: an account of railway towns around the world
Author: Domingo Cuéllar (RENFE Group)
Railway towns are essentially an inherent evolution of the system of company towns that became widespread during the 19th and 20th centuries. The distinctive features of these company towns were that they comprised a community of inhabitants, most of them employed by one single company or group of companies which was also the owner of the properties and homes, while the employers likewise exerted a system of control over the economic and social life of the locality. The model of the garden city was the most common, although not the only form in which most of the examples studied were to develop.
Despite the importance of this whole process, we do not have any studies seeking to conduct an overall and long-term analysis, although there are plentiful studies with a local focus addressing the object studied with scant contextualisation. It should be recalled that railway towns spread as railway networks extended worldwide, from more industrialised and populated regions to the new countries guilty of processes of colonisation.
Through this attempt to overcome isolated local accounts, in this work we group together the most significant references as to the main railway town studies in different countries and railway companies, in pursuit of a combined interpretation of the whole process. Among the aspects analysed, we explore the origin and nature of these settlements, their urban forms and structures, the most significant case studies and their future as heritage, assessing the different rationales behind the current status of such towns, some of which have now been stripped of their railway function, while in others there is a less significant presence, and others still are practically depopulated.
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The presentation made at the International Congress on Worker Settlements and Factory Towns held in October 2018 may be found here