The Fate of Books.

The early 2000s were the heyday of the blog; back in those days all the cool kids were starting one, and I often had the pleasure of saying “welcome to the blogosphere!” Those days are long gone — the cool kids are, for reasons that escape your humble servant, flocking to Facebook and Twitter and whatever the latest and greatest is — but knowledge lovers with good taste are still occasionally starting blogs, and I have been alerted to the existence of a terrific one, The Fate of Books (“Notes on Book Collecting, Bibliomania, and Libricide”). It opened its doors only last month, with the post Father Marko Pohlin Warns Against Bibliomania, which opens with definitions of bibliomania and a useful history:

Wikipedia attributes the word to the physician John Ferriar, who is supposed to have coined it in 1809. This is misleading; Ferriar might have introduced the present spelling into English, but the word itself had been around for some time. It had been used in French at least since 1734 as bibliomanie, and the Oxford English Dictionary records its first usage in English, with the French spelling, in 1750. At the same time, the word was used in Latin as bibliomania already in the 18th century, so Ferriar wouldn’t even have to modify the spelling.

It goes on to discuss the Augustinian monk Marko Pohlin and his bibliography of Slovenian writings (the blog is based in Slovenia):

[…] Pohlin not only lists the numerous Slovenian authors and their books, but indeed proceeds to construct an entire library. The “bibliotheca” in the title is literal, as books are ordered not by letters but by imaginary bookcases, with the first one named Alphitheca, followed by Bethitheca and so on, with the Quitheca and Ypsilontheca unfortunately remaining empty due to lack of Q- and Y-initialled writers. It is hard for a collector to leaf through the pages and not fantasize about assembling the collection in reality.

And he quotes Pohlin’s warnings against the disease of bibliomania: “He goes on to chafe at collectors who prioritize rarity over content and who praise curious old volumes that nobody would ever want to actually read. […] For Pohlin, the verdict is clear: a library where most books are seldom or never used is a worthless library.” He then writes:

Now that I’ve summed them up, how do I answer the good father’s warnings? With my enthusiasm for old and rare editions, uncut and signed copies, and curious works that have been forgotten by history, I appear almost a spitting image of Pohlin’s undesirable bibliomaniac. To this reproach, I suggest two answers. First, Pohlin lived at the dawn of the great age of paper, and in his day, books were still fairly expensive commodities. As a consequence, amassing books and not reading them felt uncharitable, equivalent to taking education from those who need it and hoarding it away. In the meantime, however, the world has been flooded with books. Nowadays there are more than enough books in existence for everyone to own a large and quality library, and since fewer and fewer people desire one, warehouses of second-hand sellers tend to be filled to the brim and tons of books end up recycled daily. In such a world, owning more books than one can hope to read feels like a venial sin at worst.

Hear, hear! And his latest post, Miran Ivan Knez, the Bukvarna, and the Quest to Ban Destruction of Books, is so well written and so fascinating I won’t try to summarize it, I’ll just urge you to read it, and when you think you’ve reached the end, scroll past the bibliography (yes, he includes bibliographies) to find a mystery solved in a splendid little footnote. May this new resident of the blogosphere live long and prosper!


  1. In large Western university libraries, it is very common to find old books (especially written in foreign languages) which were not checked out at all since procurement in late 19th century.

    I remember being distressed to find such books, but then I thought that maybe a student or two in the last century opened these books, maybe read a little or made notes and used in his or her research. It wouldn’t leave documentary record.*

    With this thought I calmed down and forgot about it.

    A couple of decades later, I’ve read in some internet discussion (maybe even here, not sure) that there are quite a few fields of study which were first developed in the 19th century, had a thick descriptive volume written in German and then closed down for good – with no subsequent research for over a century in any language anywhere on this planet.

    And now I am depressed again…

    * I just recalled that this is exactly the scene described in the opening of “The Last Samurai” by our Helen DeWitt.

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    I too have quite frequently been in the position of being the first person in decades – or ever – to check out particular books from university libraries. But of course, what this demonstrates is that university libraries exist primarily for the benefit of Hatters. This is exactly as it should be.

  3. Quite.

  4. David Marjanović says

    there are quite a few fields of study which were first developed in the 19th century, had a thick descriptive volume written in German and then closed down for good – with no subsequent research for over a century in any language anywhere on this planet.

    Oh yeah, that happens. Much of comparative anatomy is like that, and people are only beginning to redo it (with modern methods, and in English) – except the original publications often aren’t thick volumes but just oversized journal articles with drawings that you can choose to believe or not.

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    A hospital I used to work in had a complete set of the Transactions of the Ophthalmic Society of the United Kingdom going back to the end of the nineteenth century (now known by the uninspiring but energy-efficient title Eye.)

    The articles from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are a fascinating mixture of astonishingly detailed and accurate observation and complete rubbish. It often made me wonder what people will think of our contemporary journals in a hundred years’ time. (One hopes that they will not be looking back wistfully on a era of lost wisdom.)

  6. J.W. Brewer says

    Since we just learned a few threads ago of the existence of the fallen-into-obscurity discipline of ontography, someone needs to figure out which university library is holding onto bound volumes of all the back issues of Zeitschrift für Ontographie?

  7. It’s not just the price that makes bibliomania different now. Every mild book-hoarder of this age rolls their eyes when asked “have you read all these books?” Of course not! Some we’ve read many times, others are for some indefinite future time, others are because they go so nicely with the books that were read. 200 years ago, if you had twenty books, you would have read them all from cover to cover, again and again. If you had One Book, you would have read that one likewise. Having hundreds of unread books around would have seemed perverse, I am sure.

  8. Stu Clayton says

    The articles from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are a fascinating mixture of astonishingly detailed and accurate observation and complete rubbish

    As in the internet today, which is a library that does not charge users and has no acquisition budget, since everything is donated by the users themselves. Like a garbage dump.

  9. David Eddyshaw says

    This points to a Law of Conservation of Complete Rubbish.

  10. Stu Clayton says

    Complete rubbish is conserved, but paradoxically also expands so as to exceed the time available for its perusal.

    I think you’ve hit on an explanation for dark matter.

  11. I got to thinking fondly of the 1950 volume, The Anatomy of the Gorilla. I know nothing of gorillas or of anatomy. Yet how could I not want to possess a book containing life-sized drawings of the arms and legs of that worthy ape, accordion-folded seven times?

  12. There was a book, “Комедия книги” (A könyv komédiája) by István Ráth-Végh, printed in in USSR in large number of copies.

    It starts with a classification: bibliophiles, biblioman[iac]s and bibliophages. The latter consume book contents, sometimes ruining books in the process.

    It was an unusually pretty edition for its time, by the way. Initials with some nude art in them… What a pity that these aren’t used in blogs.

  13. From first chapter.

    Reimmann J. Fr. Versuch einer Einleitung in die Historiam Literariam Antediluvianam. Halle, 1727

    Reminds me of that Soviet joke about national books on elephants.

    Only German professor could write a thick volume on such unpromising subject.

  14. David Marjanović says

    This points to a Law of Conservation of Complete Rubbish.

    Sturgeon’s law: 90% of everything is crud.

  15. I once encountered a situation where the library thought that a book wasn’t being used, apparently because people did not actually check it out but merely consulted it in the library. The book in question was Nuclear Moments by Norman F. Ramsey, from 1953. It was a short but exhaustive discussion of the state of the art in measuring nuclear moments, via molecular beam methods, fixed-sample electromagnetic resonance, or atomic spectroscopy. The library at MIT had a copy. Since the physics junior lab at MIT used a lot of legacy equipment (my father, circa 1967, characterized it as “equipment that would have been an embarrassment in the 1930s,” and much of it was still in use thirty-five years later, although by that time they were making a legitimate effort to modernize the lab), Ramsey’s book was an extremely useful resource for students doing the 1950s-vintage optical pumping, nuclear magnetic resonance, Mössbauer effect, and hydrogen spectroscopy experiments. The lab guides for several experiments listed it as a reference work, and I know that I and other students went by the library to consult it.

    Apparently, however, nobody ever checked it out, because the library flagged it for possible removal from the active stacks and transportation to the storage facility. Whenever they were considering pulling a book, the librarians would stick a sheet of paper inside, inviting anyone to give them a reason to keep the book on the shelves. I wrote a strong defense of Nuclear Moments; because of its importance to the junior lab, I didn’t want to see it taken away. However, I later found out that the library would never actually pull a book off the shelves if there was any objection to doing so, so my long explanation of why it ought to be kept was superfluous.

    A couple decades later, I inherited a copy of Nuclear Moments from a retiring colleague, so now it has a prominent place on my own office bookshelf—although to be perfectly frank, since having it, I have never actually had any call to consult it.

  16. Thank you so much for the warm welcome to the blogosphere! I’m not sure if I’m deserving of such glowing praise, especially with so little that I’ve posted so far, but I’ll do my best to live up to the high expectations. There are quite a few book-related stories from Slovenia and the region that deserve to be more widely known, and, well, Language Hat by itself suffices to prove that the blog is still the perfect medium to present these kinds of stories. Stay tuned at The Fate of Books for more tales of bibliomaniacs, biblioclasm, and book rescuers!

  17. David Eddyshaw says

    90% of everything is crud

    Dark crud.

  18. When I was a teen spending my summers on the site of what is now my house in upstate New York, my regular library was the Mason Library in Great Barrington, Mass. I went by there a few years ago, and looked for some of the books that I had taken out and read then, notably some novels by L. Sprague de Camp. Examining the now-disused sheets in the back of those books, I found that the last person to take them out was patron #8778, otherwise known as myself.

  19. One morning years ago I went to the Duke U. rare book room to consult a volume by Thomas Young (1772-1829) that included some of his observations on Egyptian language. I was told to come back later, after noon. The pages had not yet been cut.

  20. As you know, sometimes long-ignored books turn up to contain long-lost texts, such as 26 more sermons by Augustine found in a library in Mainz in 1990.
    This year Geoffrey Smith of U. Texas zoomed about the “Clement” (his quotation marks) letter that claims to quote a Secret Gospel of Mark. Morton Smith claimed to find a copy of the first part of that letter copied in a book in Mar Saba monastery in 1958. G. Smith made a good case that whoever wrote the letter did so some time after Eusebius’ History. But he and a coauthor of a forthcoming book apparently still think the letter was written long before Morton Smith. Me, I doubt that. If Clement of Alexandria disappears, likely the secret gospel putatively kept in Alexandria (that Origen knew not of?) does too. The letter disputes Carpocratians. But post Eusebius, they were probably extinct. Epiphanius had to rely on quoting earlier writers when he registered disdain. Post Eusebius, Clement was suspected of being too gnostic. The letter has hyper Clementonian language but some non Clementist content.

  21. I suppose I am revealing more about myself when I reveal that I attended the University of Illinois.

    Back in my day I used to sometimes rove about the Engineering Library checking out whatever was on the shelf.

    One time I came upon a whole series of bound copies of journals that appeared to be about electric trains in Nazi Germany. Each monthly edition had a picture of an electric locomotive with a swastika on its nose heroically pulling carriages through the night. (I don’t know German so I couldn’t read the contents.)

    Much more recently I have become aware of an Allied initiative post-WWII to plunder the libraries of Europe, and I wonder if this was a part of that. Whether the Germans had unique insights into electric trains, I really don’t know.

    Sorry I don’t have available a good reference about the library plundering, but it came out fairly recently. Perhaps someone else can provide a good link.

  22. With regard to those Germans writing thick volumes (which are now no longer much read) in the style ‘Versuch einer Einführung in die Elefantenkunde’ in 6 volumes I’m reminded of Robert Merton’s classic ‘Anticipatory plagiarism occurs when someone steals your idea and publishes it a hundred years before you were born.’

  23. In case anyone here hasn’t heard the joke, translated from La pensée 68 (1988) by Alain Renaut and Luc Ferry (stereotype alert):

    A Frenchman, an Englishman and a German were assigned to study the camel.

    The Frenchman went to the zoo at the Jardin des Plantes, spent half an hour there, talked to the keeper, threw bread to the camel, teased it with the tip of his umbrella, and, when he got home, wrote a column, for his newspaper, full of keen and spiritual observations.

    The Englishman, along with his tea-box and comfortable camping supplies, went and set up his tent in the Oriental countries, and after a stay of two or three years, produced a thick volume overflowing with facts, without order or conclusion, but with real documentary value.

    As for the German, full of disdain for the Frenchman’s frivolousness and the Englishman’s absence of general ideas, he closed himself up in his room to write a work of several volumes, entitled: Idea of the camel drawn from the conception of the self.

  24. Soviet version goes like this.

    The UN has announced the “Year of the Elephant”. Various countries publish books about elephants.

    The US – brochure “100 Facts Every American Needs To Know About Elephants.”

    The French – an illustrated volume “Love games of elephants”.

    The Germans – “An Introduction to the Study of Certain Questions of Elephant Science” in ten volumes.

    Israel – “Elephants and the Jewish Question”.

    Soviet Union – three-volume edition: “Classics of Marxism-Leninism on Elephants”, “Russia – the Homeland of Elephants” and “Elephants in light of the decisions of the XIX Congress of the CPSU.”

    Bulgaria – translation of the Soviet edition and an additional fourth volume titled “Bulgarian Elephant – Younger Brother of the Soviet Elephant”.

    Hobot za hobot, prez vekovete!

  25. I read or heard somewhere* that librarians don’t want you to reshelve the books you check-out-1 (consult on the premises) without checking-out-2 (taking home). The putative reason is that when tidying up the desks after closing time, they record which books have been consulted, precisely to avoid Brett’s Nuclear Moments problem. If this is true it likely dates from the rollout of handheld barcode scanners and the ensuing productivity explosion.

    There was also the news story I can’t google just now** about librarians checking out their favourite unpopular books under fictitious borrower accounts to prevent them being flagged for the periodic winnowing of stock.

    * possibly it was at languagehat

    ** possibly it was at languagehat

  26. Stephen Goranson, an important document in the history of literary modernism was Eugène Jolas’s magazine transition (1927-1938), discussed from a specifically Languagehat perspective at

    Most of its issues were published in Paris, but toward the end it moved to Rotterdam, where its archive was then destroyed in the war. But Indiana University’s rare book library, the Lilly, holds a complete run of the magazine, and in the pre-digital days when I was a graduate student there that was not only a rarity but a treasurable one. So my first dissertation topic was going to be a history of the magazine, and of course step 1 was going to be reading it all.*

    I didn’t get far at first, though, because one day as I sat there at the table in the Lilly’s reading room I discovered that I was trying to read a volume whose pages were unopened.**

    But here I get to remember with gratitude the late Geneva Warner, the librarian on duty that day. Of course I was quiet in the library, but Ms. Warner must have noticed the look on my face and she hurried over to me.

    Silently I showed her the volume. Silently she went to her desk, returned with a paper knife, and cut the pages.

    And I guess she noticed a second look on my face then, because, knife still in hand, she proclaimed, “This is a library, not a book collection.”

    * The dissertation topic wound up being scooped by Dougald McMillan, who is mentioned in Juliette Taylor-Batty’s article above.

    ** Stephen, you used the common term “cut,” but book collectors distinguish between cutting and opening. See

  27. Mollymooly, librarians don’t want you to reshelve the books because most of you don’t know how, with the numbers right and the spines aligned to the front of the shelf. A locus classicus of mis-shelving is T. S. Eliot’s Harvard dissertation, which rested in the dark for some fifty years, rumored about but unread, on the floor under a range in the stacks of the Widener.

  28. David Marjanović says

    Whether the Germans had unique insights into electric trains, I really don’t know.

    What I do know is that Europe’s railways are practically all electrified. It was quite the experience to stand in a train station in the US and see a train with an exhaust.

  29. David Eddyshaw says

    You can come to Wales and experience the same atavistic thrill (it’s something of a political sore point in these parts.)

  30. January First-of-May says

    What I do know is that Europe’s railways are practically all electrified. It was quite the experience to stand in a train station in the US and see a train with an exhaust.

    In Russian, the usual word for a suburban train is электричка, a shortening from something to the effect of “electrical [train]”. Most suburban lines are indeed electrified, but some are not; one such unelectrified line that I recall having been to is Kostroma-Galich, which, to the best of my knowledge, gets two trains per day each way – the suburban Kostroma-Galich and the long-distance Moscow-Vladivostok.

    (Such a schedule was quite inconvenient when my brother had to go to a summer camp in Sudislavl, about halfway between Kostroma and Galich; the inconvenience was exacerbated by the fact that the Moscow-Vladivostok train arrived at Sudislavl station at about 5 in the morning.)

    OTOH, while I cannot recall actually seeing a train with an exhaust anywhere (…not even in Galich), I do have a pretty good idea of what a паровоз looks like from all the cartoons. I still suspect it would be quite majestic in real life, though.

  31. In America, the general rule is that light rail is electric, and heavy rail is diesel.

  32. As I heard the joke, it had the British “Hunting the Elephant in Africa”, followed by the German with his Einführung and the Jew with his namesake Problem.

  33. Kinda apropos: Historical detectives discover more first editions of Isaac Newton’s Principia. I’m not that excited by knowing that the first edition of the Principia was this many copies, and not that many. I am more excited by the idea that Eastern Europe holds lots of uncatalogued books yet to be found.

  34. I agree!

  35. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    @ David Marjanović:

    The share of passenger rail traffic using diesel trains is only slightly higher in North America than Europe: roughly 25% and 20% respectively. Needless to say, as Brett implied, that’s because the only part of the US with meaningful intercity passenger trains is the Northeast Corridor, which is electrified.

    Anyway, like you I was surprised when I took commuter rail in Boston and discovered they use diesel locomotives — even when they run on the electrified Northeast Corridor. However, I was even more surprised to discover that Denmark has basically a single electrified line, so all intercity trains to Aarhus are diesel.

    Having said this, I also remember from my not exceedingly remote childhood the Italian regional trains to Aosta: a line that is still not electrified, and which until 2001 had the considerably weirder distinction of being operated in regular revenue service by the army rather than civilian railroad staff.

  36. The joke’s older than that, for I have seen a version where it was “The Elephant and the Polish Question”.

    There is an Asimov tale that hangs on confusion between unabridged volumes and uncut volumes and someone who pretentiously uses the former term for the latter situation, to the great confusion of the Black Widowers (but not Henry Jackson).

  37. As someone who works in a university library, Jonathan Morse is right. Some people are perfectly capable of shelving books, of course, but we don’t know who and confidence in one’s own ability is no guide! So we tell people not to, though it doesn’t stop the people who just stick them anywhere on the shelf, and still less the people who hide them in the suspended ceiling in the carrels. We have been trying recently (well, in the before time when we could actually let students at the shelves) to track usage of books which weren’t issued, but it’s not something that we do all the time, and I don’t think it’s usual in most libraries. It’s pretty time consuming, barcode scanners notwithstanding. ‘Brett’s Nuclear Moments problem’ is a real one and not easy to address (where I work, I think it’s mostly art books that are concerned – people who use them often just want one or two images out of them, and they tend to be unwieldy things, so they don’t actually want to lug them home).

  38. Lars Mathiesen says

    Unopened books: If a book is trimmed for binding (“cut”) the pages of each signature will of course not be connected any more.

    Electrification of the Danish railways has been a “next budget” thing for embarrassingly many years, but it’s happening now. Connections from Denmark to Hamburg use diesel stock, however, because the electrical systems are different, so there are no through trains to other destinations because emissions. (Also the ATC systems are different, but that’s another issue). Sweden uses the German voltage, but there are so much traffic across that border that dual-system locomotives have been bought.

  39. J.W. Brewer says

    The multiplicity of plausible-in-isolation systems for making trains work via electricity is such that not all the suburban NYC commuter lines use the same system, so equipment may work on one line, but not another. On the line I take (or, rather, took in the pre-pandemic Before Times and presumably will at some point take again), the mode of electrification changes partway through (I think a legacy of different bits having been constructed by different railroads back before the gov’t ran everything), so the EMU’s have to be able to handle two different approaches and switch over at the appropriate spot. This makes buying new rolling stock (and maintaining existing rolling stock) rather more expensive, but I guess less expensive than the cost of redoing the whole network to make it internally consistent.

  40. The multiplicity of plausible-in-isolation systems for making trains work via electricity is such that not all the suburban NYC commuter lines use the same system, so equipment may work on one line, but not another.

    Indeed. Most of the Metro-North services (north of the city) use 750 VDC third-rail, using a special configuration where the contacts on the cars take the power off the bottom of the rail, allowing it to be safely covered on top. This is common outside the U.S., but the SEPTA lines in Philadelphia are the only other U.S. system to employ it.

    The outer ends of the Hudson and Harlem lines are diesel territory, and part of it is dark territory as well (no signals), specifically the single-track stretch from Southeast to Wassaic stations on the Harlem line. Through-running diesel engines on this line (used only in rush hours) are specially made to have contacts for use in Grand Central and the tunnels immediately north of it, but they move extremely slowly through them.

    In the case you are speaking of, the New Haven line, this same power is used as far as Pelham station, but after that the train runs on the Northeast Corridor, which is uniformly powered by overhead catenary, though at three different voltages: 25 kV at 60 Hz from Boston to New Haven, 12.5 kV at 60 Hz from New Haven to NYC, and 12 kV at 25 Hz from NYC to Washington. Switching the whole Metro-North system to catenary would be neither practical nor safe.

    North of Boston and south of Washington is diesel territory, as is the entire rest of Amtrak’s system except for the Main Line from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, which also runs at 12 kV at 25 Hz.

    The LIRR uses 600 VDC third-rail with contacts on top of the rail (whatever you do, don’t pee on it!) The newest cars have contacts on both sides and can be used for either the LIRR or Metro-North. All passenger lines except the little-used Central Branch (basically a link between two other branches) are electrified at the NYC end, as they must be to run into Penn Station, but further west is mostly diesel, as is all New York and Atlantic freight service, which runs on LIRR and ex-LIRR trackage. The western end of the Ronkonkoma Branch to Greenport is still dark as well: most trains on this line require a transfer at Ronkonkoma. The NYC Subway is also 600 VDC but has a few diesel work trains.

    light rail is electric

    Up to a point, Minister. The River Line from Trenton to Camden, N.J., the eBart system in the Bay Area, and the Sprinter from Escondido to Oceanside, California, are served by lightweight diesel-multiple-unit systems: each car has its own engine, so no locomotive is used. They are all running on abandoned trackage no longer connected to the national railroad system.

  41. January First-of-May says

    …Now I’m imagining a subway line that switches into being a tram line halfway through. It’s probably not quite the right analogy, but it’s a hilarious mental image.

  42. Stu Clayton says

    a subway line that switches into being a tram line halfway through

    Apart from “halfway through”, this is neither uncommon nor surprising. Here in Cologne the subway trains come to the surface over certain stretches with stops, then go underground again. I think there are no more solely-tram lines, i.e. ones that travel only on the surface.

    As a rule, subway trains come up to cross rivers. Bridges are cheaper than tunnels beneath river beds.

  43. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    The oldest (now Green) line of the Boston subway is recognizably a tram (or should I say a streetcar) that goes underground in the city center.

  44. Lars Mathiesen says

    The Copenhagen Metro has overground sections as well, but elevated (no level crossings or shared rights of way). A light rail track is being built along one of the ring roads which in places will be more like what I understand a tram line to be — tracks imbedded in tarmac, overhead catenary and lanes shared with cars.

    According to the project’s web page, Berlin “upgraded” its tram lines to light rail, but I don’t know what the difference is supposed to be. Some define it as the existence of platforms so passengers don’t have to climb on board, but I don’t remember platforms from the inner city in Berlin at least.

  45. All the main Boston-area “subway” lines have above-ground sections, although only the Green Line runs as a tram along the actual streets for an extended distance. (There are actually multiple above-ground routes on the Green Line. If you are traveling only on the underground sections, you don’t need to worry about what train you get on, but if you want to take it westbound to an above-ground destination, you need to pick the right car, or you may find yourself at Boston University instead of in Jamaica Plains.) The Blue and Orange Lines never follow streets where they are above ground (only at the airport, I think, for the Blue Line), and the Red Line only runs along the street where it needs to cross the Longfellow Bridge (previously discussed here).

  46. January First-of-May says

    Apart from “halfway through”, this is neither uncommon nor surprising. Here in Cologne the subway trains come to the surface over certain stretches with stops, then go underground again.

    That happens all the time in Moscow as well – Izmaylovskaya is one such stop that comes to mind. However, the trains don’t need to change anything for stops like those; it’s all the same kind of rail.

    I think there are no more solely-tram lines, i.e. ones that travel only on the surface.

    Can’t think of any in Moscow either, but lines 4 and 12 spend most of their routes above ground.

    Then, of course, there’s the Moscow Central Circle, an intracity railway line dressed up as a subway line; it’s elevated for about 98% of its length, but has a short underground stretch in the Gagarinsky Tunnel.
    Then there’s the monorail…

    As a rule, subway trains come up to cross rivers. Bridges are cheaper than tunnels beneath river beds.

    Less of a rule in Moscow, where the Soviet engineers were pretty good at diggng deep. There are several bridges over the Moskva and Yauza (one of the former even has a station on it), but also several tunnels under them, and to the best of my knowledge Izmaylovskaya is not near any river.

    Incidentally, TIL that Volgograd has actual underground trams.

  47. David Marjanović says

    I had no idea of all these different voltages and frequencies!

    According to the project’s web page, Berlin “upgraded” its tram lines to light rail

    Huh. Berlin has a completely separate light-rail system – not even operated by the city, but by the federal railways – that is underground or overground in the city center and runs mostly at ground level farther out.

    There are patches in Vienna where the tramway lines go underground. Those are in addition to the subway system and the light-rail system.

  48. J.W. Brewer says

    The Boston Green Line approach of trams/streetcars/light-rail that run in tunnels below the city center but at surface level farther out is not uncommon in the U.S., at least in cities that have older public transit systems. Comparable lines exist in, at a minimum, Newark (N.J.), Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco (in Philly and SF in tandem with more “regular” subway/metro-type lines).

  49. There’s been a development in light rail towards hybrid tramway/metro systems. I remember reading back in the eighties or nineties about the then new Stadtbahn system in Hannover. It was seen as groundbreaking, with dedicated surface tracks and underground lines outside the city centre and tramway lines in the central pedestrian zone. This was explained as a possible model for Bergen, whose narrow city centre at the time was clogged by traffic and under a lid of smoke and exhaust in the winter.

    But doing my homework I see that Hannover’s system is the other way around, with tunnels under the city centre only. Apparently the tramway lines in the city were meant to be temporary until the tunnels were built. However, Bergen’s Bybanen, whose second line is currently being built, does combine a streetcar-like service in the city centre (and also through some suburban centres), though in dedicated or pedestrian streets, and purpose-built metro tracks outside. The result is that the metro is competitive on speed from the outskirts to the edge of the city centre, but the advantage is lost at walking speed between the final stops.

  50. I would just like to point out that the Washington DC metro system has trains that travel underground, on the ground, on raised sections above the ground, across bridges and through tunnels under the Potomac.

    The reason, naturally, is that much of the funding comes from federal sources, or requires federal approval, so that the designers and builders of the system must be sure to satisfy all parties: the undergrounders, the open air faction, the elevationists, the bridge supporters, and the tunnel-diggers.

  51. for completeness, though i’m sure many Hatters already know: the nyc mass transit system follows that general u.s. pattern of being almost entirely underground in the center of the city, but largely above-ground further out (with both bridges and tunnels. across the east river). that mix has been true of the subway system from very early on, and remains so even since the destuction of the manhattan elevated trains and the brooklyn street-level trolley lines (both mostly replaced by busses). the lines are all electric, and aside from tunnels, include everything from elevated lines to street-level and trench sections to the causeway across jamaica bay…

    there’s a bit of a lobby for reviving the trolleys in brooklyn, and the longstanding and much more sensible alternative proposal to the 2nd Avenue money-pit (in its actualized version, a massively expensive tunnel that does nothing but connect the financial district to its upper east side bedroom community, leaving el barrio still with only minimal subway access) has been a trolley line up 1st Avenue…

  52. I had no idea of all these different voltages and frequencies!

    Mainline railroad (as opposed to trolley and rapid transit) electrification began in North America in 1907, when the New Haven Railroad (which then controlled the Corridor from NYC to Boston) installed a 11 kV system at 25 Hz from NYC to New Haven, Connecticut. Lower frequencies are more efficient if you are running large rotary AC-to-DC converters, and indeed they considered using 11 Hz instead, but 25 Hz power was then readily available commercially, and they had some DC trolley systems to run that already depended on it. Indeed, the original system made no use of transformers, using the same voltage from the generation plant to the engine itself. The New Haven had to establish everything, from voltage and frequency to where to put power substations to what shape the catenary wire should have (triangular at first).

    The use of first mercury and then solid-state rectifiers, which don’t care about frequency, made it practical to upgrade this system to 60 Hz (the North American standard) in the 1990s when the line north of New Haven was electrified as far as Boston. I’m not sure of the reason for the difference in voltage in the two northern sections. The lower half of the Corridor and the Main Line were electrified by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1910 and have remained on the same power ever since. Amtrak’s electric locomotives have internal converters that let them switch between systems even at 240 km/hr.

    Because of all these varying requirements, the East River and North (= Hudson) River Tunnels around NYC have both third rails and catenary-equivalent wiring in the ceiling.

    There is no electrification in the rest of the country except a few commuter railroads around NYC (other than those mentioned above), Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Denver, and two surviving short lines for freight only (one of which is isolated). During the steam era there was more because steam trains were too polluting to use in long tunnels and too inefficient in the mountains, but most of the electrification has been torn out or the lines abandoned since the diesel became universal.

    However, essentially all freight and passenger traction is diesel-electric, using a diesel engine to drive a generator which drives electric motors. This gains the advantages of electric traction, including high efficiency, regenerative braking, and high starting torque (the starting torque of steam locomotives is so low that you can keep them from leaving a station by putting a coin underneath the front wheels!). The diesel in turn runs all-out except when turned off, which is its most efficient and least polluting operating regime, and the highly distributed power generation spares us all the ferocious cost of building overhead wires, cables, substations, etc. etc. over the 23700 km of revenue trackage. (Freight railroads are private, but they pass their costs to their customers who pass it to consumers.)

    Eventually, we’ll have to get rid of all that diesel because global warming, but (as usual) the U.S. will be many years late and many billions of dollars short.

  53. David Marjanović says

    Now that it has occurred to me that different voltages & frequencies exist at all, I’m not surprised many different ones are in use in the US, where there used to be all these private railroad companies. I’m also not surprised that Sweden doesn’t use the same one as Germany: there’s a sea in between, so the railway systems used to be completely separate anyway. But Denmark and Germany using different ones is just bizarre.

  54. the destruction of the manhattan elevated trains

    Few living remember the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 9th Ave els, but those who lived with them put their complaints on record. They shaded the sidewalks (especially bad at night, where they encouraged street crime), they blocked the rain from the streets (still an important street-cleaning agent), they rumbled by second-story windows at all hours, they were slooow (max 20 km/hr) and exceedingly noisy, and earlier steam-traction versions dropped ash and hot cinders on people and other things below. When they were closed in 1940-42, seemingly nobody missed them.

    The 3rd Ave line remained open until 1955, waiting for the 2nd Avenue Subway (hah!), and its Bronx extension until 1973. An ex-9th-Ave shuttle in the Bronx connected the Polo Grounds with the subway system and the Putnam line of what is now Metro-North, but with the Putnam line closed to revenue service and the New York (baseball) Giants gone to California, it closed in 1958.

    As for the Brooklyn trolley services, the (also departed) Brooklyn Dodgers got their name because Brooklynites of that era were called trolley dodgers: accidents were frequent. Grade separation of course would of course make a huge difference, but can 1st Avenue spare two of its five traffic lanes (minus the existing bike lane) for it? In addition, a lot of people rely on downtown service on 2nd Ave who would not want to walk to 1st Ave for two-way service.

    And on a personal note, how much would you bet that there will be more than one station (if any) between Houston and 14th St.? (The 2nd Ave Subway will have none, when and if it ever gets here.)

  55. Lars Mathiesen says

    Denmark started electrifying late and the tradeoffs were different in 1979 from when Germany and Sweden started in 1910 or so. Denmark would have had to use lossy motor-generator pairs to get 16.66Hz off the existing 50Hz transmission network (this was before high-voltage solid state converters existed), while the original German system probably had dedicated generating stations for most of the sections.

    Lower voltage and frequency also meant heavier wiring and motors, which was bad at a time when motors were moving into the passenger cars. And frequency converters couldn’t feed back braking power to the grid, so that was an important cost-saving feature of the 50Hz system. The lines to the land border with Germany were not scheduled for electrification anyway. (And ferries only carried passenger cars).

    In the meantime solid state power conversion has become cheap and efficient and able to feed back brake power, but on the other hand the world at large seems to be converging on 25kV and 50/60Hz for new electrification — so Denmark has decided not to buck the trend to align with Germany and Sweden even though it’s much more feasible now and electrification will actually reach the borders. (If we did align, chances are that one of the others would announce an intention to switch to 25kV/50Hz the next week. Maybe the Germans would like a Eurostar connection to Bonn).

    (That’s all for long-distance rail, the Copenhagen commuter lines have been running on 16.5kV DC since 1934).

  56. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    @David Marjanović, it’s weirder and less weird. Sweden and Norway are on the Germanic standard (15kV 16.7Hz), so Denmark creates a gap. On the other hand, everyone else in Europe has standardized on 25kV 50Hz for AC distribution, which is also the standard in China and India (and beyond). So the Danish choice probably makes sense domestically. That’s what matters most since most rail traffic in Europe is domestic anyway. Moreover, I’m not sure adopting the Germanic standard would have facilitated cross-border traffic much, since Germany, Denmark and Sweden have three different signaling/control systems anyway, as Lars Mathiesen noted above.

    In fact I see he gave a fuller explanation as I was slowly typing this, but I won’t erase now that I’m done typing!

  57. Lars Mathiesen says

    Those ATC systems are a lot of trouble. Last fall I was going to Oxford with a stopover in Paris — first the Danish train was stuck in Puttgarden because the German ATC didn’t start, so we were picked up by an all-stops service that made a trip out from Burg where it was really meant to start. Late to Frankfurt, of course, but in time for the last high-speed service to Paris. Got in our seats and all, then they announced that the French ATC system was not starting, so service only to Strasbourg. Got a dinner and hotel voucher, though.

    Travelling by train is still exciting! But I’d really want to locate a proper life-cycle emissions analysis of trains vs coaches, I’m pretty sure there’s not as much difference between them once rail construction, bridges, tunnels and running stock and so on are factored in as the railway PR people like to pretend. (Though how to allocate the costs of motorways between freight and single and multiple occupancy passenger transport on the road traffic side is also a hard question). But I get motion sickness in a coach and it’s just as cramped as a plane, so trains it is.

    If I ever cross the Atlantic again, I want to go on a freighter ship. (Bremerhaven to Vera Cruz, 2 weeks out of Facebook range). So is that free, emission-wise, because the cargo was going anyway and you stay in crew quarters that are empty because computers? (A cruise ship is no better than a plane, per paying passenger, but swimming pools and a huge crew has to skew that a lot).

  58. @Stephen Goranson: “A Frenchman, an Englishman and a German were assigned to study the camel…”

    It’s a movable-type joke, so to say: the Frenchman sounds like an eccentric English essayist from the XIX century (or a young smartass writing for The Economist in the 1990s); the German is like a French post-structuralist philosophe; and the Englishman is like an old-school German naturalist.

    I’m thinking of a book I saw at a museum in Mallorca – perhaps it was the Chopin and George Sand museum – an enormous volume in German, with beautiful, elaborately executed illustrations – that was only one tome from some XIX-century encyclopedia of the Balearics. (Was it Die Balearen by Archduke Ludwig Salvator?)

  59. I was excited when on a visit to Philadelphia (where in middle age I find myself having friends I visit often) I was obliged to take the Norristown High Speed Line, a one-route suburban connector, thus completing the set of Philly public transit: AMTRAK intercity rail, SEPTA Regional Rail, bus, trolley, subway, and HSL.

    Reverting to the first point of this post: I worked for many years in a large quasi-academic institutional library. Of course we got all the obvious works in our field, but we also bought things that we knew might sit unread for years waiting for the scholar who needed them. That, we declared, was our raison d’etre and our glory. (Doesn’t mean we didn’t withdraw material quite often, but not simply because something hadn’t been checked out in a year or two.)

  60. That, we declared, was our raison d’etre and our glory.

    Quite right! Bless the librarians who hold to that faith.

  61. January First-of-May says

    thus completing the set of Philly public transit

    Wikipedia also mentions, at least, the PATCO Speedline and the RiverLink Ferry (I’m not sure which of the other options listed there are significant enough to be mentioned separately).

    I wonder what the set of Moscow public transit would look like. Bus, trolleybus (RIP, but there’s a line in Khimki that crosses into Moscow City, and an exhibition line for tourists was left in central Moscow), tram, subway, monorail (now in nominal service), the Moscow Central Circle, the Moscow Central Diameters*, the regular suburban rail lines, maybe the long-distance rail lines… probably the route taxis, though IIRC the only remaining ones are also suburban.
    Technically the river lines, though I don’t think anyone actually uses them for public transport rather than just touristing. I suppose the Aeroexpress and/or the REKS might qualify, though they technically use normal rail lines. I’m not sure if the night buses count separately. I probably missed a few others.

    *) “central diameters” is either an oxymoron or a tautology, but those particular lines don’t look very diameter-like anyway

  62. The latest post at The Fate of Books is “Book Collecting in Slovenia:” My Lecture for the Florida Bibliophile Society:

    Last autumn, fellow blogger Jerry Morris from the Florida Bibliophile Society (FBS) invited me to talk about books as a guest speaker at their society meeting, which was scheduled for March 20, 2022. […] My lecture ended up consisting of three parts. The first one was a brief outline of the history of Slovenian language and literature – a soporific topic, but I tried to make it less so by focusing on the funny and quirky episodes of our story. In the second part, I then talked about what it’s like to collect books in a small place like Slovenia, and how I think it compares to the experience of an American collector.

    In the third part, I discussed Slovene American publishing, focusing on some items from my own collection. Not only is this a topic I felt American listeners would be interested in, it’s also very close to the subject matter of my blog. Fewer and fewer descendants of Slovenian immigrants to the USA still speak the language, which means that interest in Slovenian books is declining as well. Once nobody in the neighborhood can read a certain book anymore and no second hand store is interested in taking it, it’s not hard to guess the most likely fate of that book. So, as I told my listeners last month – if anyone across the pond encounters a pile of old Slovenian books and doesn’t know what to do with them, you’re more than welcome to contact me.

    The recording of the lecture has now been made available online here. Check it out yourself for a rare opportunity to see how your blogger looks and sounds like. And thanks again to the FBS team for inviting me over!

    It’s a fascinating lecture, especially after he gets to that third part at the 44-minute mark. (If you want to skip the tedious intro, Boštjan starts talking around the five-minute mark.) Among other things, it was great to hear a Slovenian pronouncing names like Baraga (first-syllable stress) and Adamič (second-syllable stress), because there’s no other way to learn how they’re said — Slovenian Wikipedia, most unfortunately, does not indicate stress.

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