At Ivangorod on Russia’s border with Estonia, several years ago, I was unceremoniously booted off a train and frogmarched down the tracks. It was my own fault – my visa had expired during the journey from Moscow. My nerves only relaxed when a Russian border guard’s phone began to ring, and his ringtone was the Benny Hill Show theme.
At a road border crossing, passing from one jurisdiction to the next is marked by a definitive line on the ground. But trains instead become liminal spaces – in neither one country nor the other. Conductors, border guards and sniffer dogs take part in an erratic dance through the carriages – collecting and returning passports, checking bags and cross-examining passengers. It doesn’t make borders any less hostile or racist, but it shows – like the separate language and laws of national networks – that the railways can be a world unto themselves.
And when properly managed, this can mean it’s easier to get things done on the railways than in other parts of an economy. That should be a huge opportunity for reducing climate emissions by getting passengers off the roads and out of the skies. But unless we re-purpose rail networks to serve the interests of people – and not those of the empires and corporations which built them and run them to this day – we can’t succeed. This magazine aims to show how we can make a start on this task.
Elsewhere in this issue, you’ll find Polyp’s graphic re-telling of the life of Thomas Paine, and Samia Qaiyum on skateboarding as resistance in Palestine.
Conrad Landin for the New Internationalist co-operative.
Half a century after Tanzania and Zambia built a railway to reduce the latter’s dependence on its white-ruled neighbours, East Africa’s railways are once again on the up. Can new lines help African countries trade with each other – or are they just a beacon of the new imperialism? Priya Sippy reports.
Tom Haines-Doran explores the recent disputes between Britain’s train operating companies and rail union RMT over driver-only operation – and asks why railway workers are both willing to take strike action and successful in doing so.
When the transnational giant decided to dig for lithium in Serbia it was met by widespread protests. But beyond the people’s rebellion lie deeper questions of imperialism, environmentalism and ‘green’ tech. Andrej Ivančić and Sergey Steblev inspect them in this cautionary tale.