Tag Archives: trains

NY9_116_8

Were these Victorian train lines just a load of hot air?

At any subway station, a gust of wind announces the arrival of a train long before it can be seen or heard. Like a piston, the train pushes the air in front of it – but could air be used to push the train?

Such “pneumatic railways” promised a smoother, quieter and more efficient mode of transport than electric or steam-powered trains, but the many attempts to build them in the late 1800s failed due to financial difficulties.

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Sundial

It’s about time: humanity’s heated relationship with the sun

This weekend you enjoyed an extra hour of sleep or revelry, if your region put the clocks back to put an end to daylight saving time.

Depending on your point of view (can you guess mine?), you’re either relishing a few more days of early morning sunlight, or resenting getting home in the dark and having to turn the light on to do your solely-indoor activities.

There’s a lot of confusion surrounding daylight saving time. From my informal poll of family members and colleagues, lots of people think that DST exists to help farmers, much like school summer holidays allowing children to stay at home during the harvest season, or that the summer hours represent the ‘true’ time, which we adjust in winter to be able to enjoy more hours of daylight when they are so scarce.

This is not so: DST is simply one of humanity’s latest attempts to wrest control of time from the dictates of the sun, a process of adaptation that’s been underway since the advent of industrialisation and artificial light in the 19th century. The changes to the sun-imposed daily routine are so great that in contrast to the extra hour of sleep you had last night, people in pre-industrial societies enjoyed an additional hour of wakefulness in the middle of the night, dividing their sleep in two.

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