Besides architecture

Railway fashion
The history of railway uniforms is inseparably connected with the history of military uniforms. It was to the order of the army that new models of uniforms, inspired by the trends of the time, were created and they affected the apparel of railway workers.

The 1940s brought great changes in military fashion. Short, tight-fitting jackets and hoses gave way to frock-coats, coats and shalwars. Another uniformed group appeared — the railwaymen.


Under Tsar rule
Initially, workers of the tsar’s railways wore uniforms consisting of a jacket with two rows of buttons, a turn-up collar with rank and specialisation marks and straight trousers (boot-cut). On colder days railwaymen would wear a double-breasted coat. The uniform was complemented with a hat — a low toque of astrakhan fur topped with a black and orange metal round element (following the heraldic colours of the Romanovs). Higher ranking railway officers carried a sword during official ceremonies.


In 1872 a new design of the military uniform appeared so the changes also affected the uniforms of railwaymen. Railway workers received long, single-breasted uniform jackets, and the fur hat clearly associated with the Russian tradition was replaced with a round cloth peaked cap. However, this trend was been maintained for a long time, since by 1879 — returning to the national tradition — another design of railway uniform appeared in the Russian state.

A team of ticket inspectors of the Vistule Railways wearing Russian uniforms — 1909

The obligation to wear an official uniform during service was regulated by the regulation of the Ministry of Communication. The apparel consisted of a knee-length frock-coat with hook-and-eye fasteners, straight trousers worn inside the high boot-tops and a fur toque. Narrow epaulets were placed on the shoulders. Their colours identified the specialisation of respective workers: green was for track and real estate services; blue — carriage and locomotive services; amaranthine — traffic services; and yellow — telegraphers. Also, the edges of the frock-coat and the collar had appropriate colours. In addition, metal badges symbolising the specific specialisation were worn on the chest. Everything was complemented by a leather belt different for workers of each railway line. Apart from the national emblem and the letters “ŻD” (Polish abbreviation standing for “railroad”) they displayed letters denoting the specific line.


However, it was completely different in practice. The photographs referring to the period (for instance workers of Warsaw and Vienna railways) show many people wearing various shirts, vests, frock-coats, aprons and even quilted jackets. Many times the only thing indicating that the specific person is a railway worker is the hat (although many railwaymen did not wear it all).


At the turn of the 20th century double-breasted uniform blouses with a turndown collar appeared again. The flaps showed official ranks. The model uniform for higher officials had, in addition, epaulets with identification of the rank. The hat — modelled after a soldier’s hat — had a round, relatively big brim and a leather, embossed peak. The trousers were straight boot-cuts. The uniform was supplemented with a double-breasted coat with a turndown collar. This cut was maintained for the tsar’s railways until World War I.


The Austro-Hungarian monarchy
The first official regulations regarding the uniforms of railwaymen are included in the “Regulation of the Ministry of Trade concerning the uniforms of state-owned and private railroad officers” of 4 July 1885. At that time eight classes of uniforms were established for railway officers, three classes for candidates and one class for deputies.


During service railwaymen could wear a casual uniform. It consisted of a dark blue frock-coat with two rows of seven metal buttons each. The turndown collar showed official ranks and specialisations. During service a white shirt with a turn-up collar and black silk tie were compulsory. Straight trousers matching the colour of the jacket were worn with low shoes.


Peaked caps being fashionable at that time were worn (designed by a French company, in the 19th century they became popular in European countries and in Northern America). The cap was ornamented with the emblem of the railways — a winged wheel. The rules allowed using the so-called “free uniform” on smaller stations and for some activities (which was regulated in separate regulations).

It was a simplified (shorter) frock-coat without identification and ranks. Peaked caps were also worn. The gala uniform was the most interesting. Its colour remained unchanged. It had a characteristic turn-up collar rounded at the edges where combinations of rosettes and braids designated ranks. An interesting thing was a special fly at the level of the waist on the left in which a sword could be placed. The most extravagant element of the gala uniform was a hat with subtle markings. It is worth adding that the sword and the hat were compulsory elements of the gala uniform. They were not recommended for wearing with an everyday uniform and forbidden with a free uniform.


The first regulations concerning uniforms appeared in 1891. Peaked caps were considerably lifted at that time. A novelty was a uniform blouse for railway workers modelled on military clothes, which can be suggested by a turn-up collar, a single row of buttons and four pockets cut as a wave and popularly referred to as “swallow’s tails”. The uniforms remained in a similar form until the end of the Habsburg rule. Subsequent acts only changed the appearance of markings and rank insignia. In 1914 the eight classes of official uniforms were reduced to three.

Switchmen of the Emperor’s Royal National Railways

In Prussia

A Prussian railwayman’s uniform was grey. It had a turn-up collar with flaps designating the type of service. The jacket had a single row of buttons depicting the emperor’s crown. Higher ranks had a double-breasted version. Straight trousers were worn with both high boots and brogues. The round hat showed a double marking — the top consisting of “bows” was black, white and red. The other marking, in the colour of the respective federated state, was placed below. For Prussia the colours were black and white. The uniform was often complemented by a belt with a metal buckle showing a characteristic inscription Gott mit uns (“God with us”).


It is interesting that if we look at photographs of Prussian railway stations taken after 1915 we can see numerous ... Russian uniforms. Most likely this was due to the fact that in that year almost the entire Polish Kingdom was occupied by the Prussian army. Polish railwaymen very often retained their uniforms — only the hats or markings were changed into German ones.

The first element of a unified uniform of Polish railwaymen was a traditional rogatywka cap

Independent Poland

The first step towards standardisation of uniforms worn by Polish railwaymen was the abandonment of previously worn hats for a traditional Polish four-pointed peaked cap called a “rogatywka”. The standardisation of uniforms in the revived country facing many economic problems was quite slow. The situation continued until 1931 when a single model of the uniform shared by all railway workers was introduced.

The basic uniform comprised a hat, jacket, trousers and a coat for colder days, all of them navy-blue. The rogatywka had a peak and a decorative strip. The rim was decorated with the emblems of: Poland (eagle with a crown) and the railways (a winged wheel).


The regulations stated that no additional insignia should be placed on the hat. The shape of the station manager’s hat was identical but the bottom was made of red cloth. The railwayman’s jacket had a turn-up and turndown collar on which the railway emblems were displayed (one-winged wheel) along with ranks and specialisations insignia. On the chest and at waist level there were two pockets with buttoned flaps and the so-called swallow’s tails. The cuffs of the sleeves had two buttons each. The trousers (interestingly, they could be made of black cloth) were adapted to wearing with brogues but the photographs obviously show that at that time the predominant fashion trend was trouser legs worn inside high boots.

For colder days railwaymen could wear a coat with a turndown collar which, when turned up, could be pinned together with a flap (in the army turning the collar up was strictly forbidden). The coat was mid-calf length. The uniform regulations listed separately: a “warm coat”, a "warm jacket”, a “long sheepskin coat” and a “short sheepskin coat”. Protective trousers and a protective jacket as well as a protective coat made of navy-blue denim were used during the hardest work.

The first buttons for railwaymen were produced in 1919. They depicted the Polish eagle and a winged wheel. In 1920/30 a new type of eagle was displayed on the buttons (the national emblem from 1927) along with the letters PKP (Polish State Railways). They were produced in two sizes — the large ones were designed for fastening jackets and coats, and the small ones were placed on the cuffs, hats and pockets.


World War II
During World War II Polish railwaymen were forced to wear German uniforms. In addition, the rogatywka caps — which were clearly national — were eliminated and replaced with round hats. The style of a German uniform jacket was similar to a Polish jacket. It also had six buttons, four pockets and a turn-up and turndown collar. The collar had flaps with ranks and specialisations insignia, and the emblem of the Third Reich was a compulsory element on the left sleeve, above the arm. The jackets had no epaulets. The uniforms of higher rank officers had only four buttons and a turndown collar (for wearing with a shirt and tie) and braided epaulets of silver and colourful wire ropes.

Ladies’ uniforms appeared in the 1950s

After World War II

The post-war period was a time of huge deficiencies in supplies. Railways and railwaymen were not spared either. No wonder that the photographs of that time show various configurations of uniforms — with pearls like on a navy or police uniform, converted into a railwayman’s outfit.


In 1949 stripe colours on collar flaps were introduced for different specialisations of railwaymen. In the 1950s the appearance of the railwayman’s uniform, modelled on a soldier’s uniform, finally stabilized. The jacket with a turn-up collar had four buttons and four pockets (with straight buttoned flaps). The trousers were straight boot-cuts. Rogatywka caps, restored after the war, were again replaced by round hats (a trend similar to military uniforms at that time) with the symbol of the railways and a changed Polish emblem (eagle without the crown). In keeping with general trends in fashion, synthetic materials were used for the production of uniforms and plastic buttons replaced the metal ones. Also, ladies’ uniforms with brimless caps appeared. The several changes (in 1954, 1958 and 1972) also affected the colours and style of official collar flaps. Until 1958 they were cherry red. Afterwards, they changed to black. In the 1970s higher ranks of railwaymen wore three-button uniform double-breasted jackets.

Workers of Silesian Railways
The new uniforms worn by the workers of PKP Intercity have colours matching the logo of the company
Ticket inspector of Lower Silesian Railways

At the beginning of the 19th century the structure of railway companies changed greatly. Each of the companies, in order to emphasize their autonomy, introduced their own uniforms. The uniforms of Koleje Mazowieckie (Masovian Railways) are green. Koleje Dolnośląskie (Lower Silesian Railways) have retained navy-blue and added a red and white finish. The women’s uniform goes with a brimless hat and men’s uniforms have a very interesting rogatywka cap with a modern cut. PKP InterCity chose dark navy-blue uniforms with orange elements making reference to the colours of the company’s logo. The uniforms most resembling the historic model are currently worn by the employees of PKP Przewozy Regionalne. They still wear traditional rogatywka caps with amaranthine stripes.

Railways in culture and art
A passenger train runs through the night. The locomotive, instead of the train driver and his assistant, carries two dangerous criminals. They are in control of the fate of passengers unaware of the situation. To make matters worse, they are overwhelmed with a sick love for the same woman...


Is this the beginning of a crime story? Or perhaps the beginning of the scene of an action film? Nothing could be further from the truth. This is the beginning of a theatre play by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, staged for the first time in 1923. This is a tragic, although humorous story, of how the world controlled by the wrong people can be brought to destruction, just like the two criminals lead the train to destruction. The men, blinded by love, decided to take pot luck — the one to survive the railway crash, will marry the beautiful Juliet.


Railway rhythms
In the history of Polish music there are a few works that could be deemed the most famous hit inspired by railways. Maryla Rodowicz is known as the Polish song queen. Certainly, “Remedium” is one of her most recognisable songs. It is interesting that few people actually associate the song with its official title. They rather remember the line “get onto any train whatsoever”. In this song the train stands for a peculiar bridge to better life which will make it possible to escape this grey world and leave one’s problems behind. ”Get onto the train” is also the title of the whole album which appeared in music shops in 1978.

The cover of the record “Get on the train” by Maryla Rodowicz — 1978

Another hit about railways is “Richard’s confidences – the train is coming” by Ryszard Rynkowski which appeared on the album of the same name in 1995.


A less known song where the railway plays an important part is “White locomotive” performed by Polish band Stare Dobre Małżeństwo based on a poem by Edward Stachura. A catchy and uncomplicated melody is accompanied by a deeper message — the locomotive is a symbol of life in a seemingly dead world and its whiteness contrasts with black meadows, forests and ruins. The railway motif (a freight train carrying timber) is also present in another song by this band — “The Bieszczady departure”.


Staying with the oeuvre of sung poetry, it is worth mentioning that the sleeve cover of “Eleven after eleven” by Grzegorz Turnau shows a classic railway station clock showing exactly that time (although the title song has nothing to do with railways). Railway motifs are also present in works by Marek Grechuta, whose record of 1977 was entitled “The crazy locomotive”, or in a song written by Zbigniew Hołdys — “Locomotive from an advertisement” performed by Polish band, Perfect. The humorous lyrics are about the financial benefits of choosing railways as a means of transport.


A definitely sadder image of Polish reality — also the railway reality (descriptions of platforms and the railway station in Kutno), which fortunately has slowly begun to become history — is described in the song by Kult entitled “Poland”. The band Skaldowie also has two songs referring to railways (“The anthem of narrow-gauge railwaymen” and “On every railway station in the world”). The hero of the song “We have time” by Banda i Wanda wanders around the platforms and the railway station looking for sense in life, and a careful observer in the song by Pudelsi “The ticket inspector” describes the beauty of a female railway worker.


The rhythmical sounds of a rushing train entice many creators of electronic music to make numerous references to trains (“Siberian express” by Jamie Jones or “Midnight express” by Vangelis). Perhaps the most monumental song inspired by railways was written in 1977 in Düsseldorf, Germany. In “Trans-Europe Express” Kraftwerk make use of nearly all the sounds you can hear at a railway station or in a train compartment.

In its work “Trans-Europe Express” Kraftwerk makes use of nearly all railway sounds

Many writers built the rhythm of their works on the characteristic clutter of railway carriages on rail contacts. However, German pioneers of electronic music were able to include the sounds of the steam locomotive pistons, the rumbling on railway turnouts, the resonance of the iron railway bridge, the sound of crashing wagons, and the Doppler effect (the difference in sound pitch we can hear depending on whether the vehicle approaches us or leaves us behind). The entire piece is concluded with the high-pitched squeaking of the brakes when the train stops. The title of the track (and at the same time of the whole album, the sixth in the band’s career) is the name of comfortable express trains which would run in Western Europe in 1957—1987. Today, the characteristic red and beige carriages can be seen only during occasional trips (for instance on the 50th anniversary of the first trip of the TEE train) or during the concerts of Kraftwerk where, in the animated images displayed behind the backs of the band’s musicians, we can see the silhouettes of TEE locomotives and many other motifs associated with railways. An endless number of remixes and covers of this track have been created.


It is also worth mentioning that in 1994 in San Francisco a rock band called Train was formed. The group still exists and performs and has received two Grammy Awards for its music output.

The Warsaw-Vienna Railroad is an important element of the space in which the action of “The Doll” by Bolesław Prus takes place
The most famous crimimal story with a railway motif is “Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie

With a pen and a notebook in a train carriage
As Wojciech Tomasik, a literary scholar, rightly noted: The 19th century left us with two great things: railways and novels. And these were strongly interconnected. Literature gives many testimonies for the growing fascination with this means of transport.


One of the first novels by Eliza Orzeszkowa is entitled the “Last love” and it is set, most likely, in Druskienniki. When the book was being written, the Warsaw-St. Petersburg railway line opened in 1862 was under construction near the city.

The work starts in praise of the railway. The author calls it the “queen of the 19th century to whom everybody brings tribute”. The railroad built nearby also has an impact on the fate of the main character of the book whose life changes under the influence of her love for a railway engineer.


Railway motifs are also present in “Letters from a journey to America” by Henryk Sienkiewicz. This book shows an unusually realistic image and gives an often humorous description of the United States, including the journey by rail from the east to the west coast. The Warsaw-Vienna Railroad is an important element of space providing the setting for “The Doll” by Bolesław Prus, both in the context of Stanisław Wokulski’s journey from Warsaw to Skierniewice and his failed suicide attempt.


The railway community is described in a now quite neglected novel by Władysław Reymont “The Dreamer” where the main character sells tickets at a railway station. Few people know that the author’s biography also includes a railway episode, since he worked as an officer of the Warsaw-Vienna Railroad. In addition, authors of crime books made trains or railway stations the settings of their novels. The most famous crime novel set on a train was written by the mistress of the genre, Agatha Christie. This is, course, “Murder on the Orient Express” with the famous detective Hercules Poirot.

Arthur Conan Doyle — the creator of equally cult detective novels — before creating the character of Sherlock Holmes, published a short story “The lost special” (unfortunately it has not been translated into Polish to date). The story of a train that disappears without a trace on a single-track line may seem a little naive nowadays but the work is important as this is the first time we meet the archetype of Sherlock Holmes.

A shot from the “The signal man” – a film based on Charles Dickens’ novel
The passage to the famous platform 9 and 3/4 from the Harry Potter saga

The criminal fantasy novel by Charles Dickens “The signal man” tells us a story of a railway worker guarding the entry into a tunnel who is from time to time haunted by a ghost warning him about an impending accident.


An example of a novel in which travelling by train plays a central role is Paul Theroux’s “The Great Railway Bazaar” of 1975. The American writer describes his journey on a train and — although the subtitle of the books reads ”By train through Asia” — the book contains notes of visits to Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Italy, Netherlands and even Poland. Thirty years later the traveller repeated his exploit to witness the economic and social transformations in the countries he had visited before. He gave an account of his long journey in the book “Ghost Train to the Eastern Star”.


The railway is also present in literature for younger readers, which is perfectly illustrated by the recent hit (and also its film version), that is, the saga of the teenage wizard, Harry Potter. The real and magical worlds interweaving in the book are linked by a railway station, and more accurately, platform 9 and 3/4, invisible for muggles (humans deprived of magical powers) from which an old-fashioned steam locomotive picks up young wizards and carries them to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.


The book “Polar Express” by Chris van Allsburg is an excellent choice for younger readers. The story is set in the atmosphere of Christmas.


A boy full of doubts whether Santa Claus actually exists, listening to the silence of the Christmas night, heard a whistle of a locomotive instead of the bells of Santa’s sleigh. The ticket inspector encourages him to join him on a magical journey to the North Pole.


An absolute railway classic for kids is Roman Pisarski’s book “A train travelling dog” with the heroic dog Lampo as the main character. It is worth emphasizing that Lampo was a real dog famous in the 1950s in Italian newspapers. Nowadays, a monument of this four-legged animal can be seen at Campiglia Marittima station.


Lights, camera, get in, close the door!
The railway is a nice theme also for professional cinematography. The story of railway inspirations in movies should start in an untypical way — with a few words about a one-reel propaganda film “Forward railwaymen” of 1956. The film illustrates the contrast between the working conditions at a station equipped with the latest engineering solutions making it possible to control train traffic and at a station without such improvements. It ends with the following words: this is only the beginning of our battle for modernising our railway industry! The film won first prize at the Etude Festival of the Polish National Film, Television and Theatre School in Warsaw and a special award at the Festival of Young People and Students in Moscow.

The action of the “Train” movie of 1959 takes place on a train going from Warsaw to Hel Peninsula

The action of the “Train” movie of 1959 takes place in railway carriages travelling from Warsaw to the Hel Peninsula. Jerzy (Leon Niemczyk) and Marta (Lucyna Winnicka) share a sleeping compartment. During the journey the couple fall in love. Staszek (Marta’s ex-boyfriend), played by Zbigniew Cybulski, is also travelling on that train. In 1998 a documentary, “The Train 40 years later”, was made in which actors and members of the crew recall how the work was prepared. The film is again set on a train travelling to Hel.


The Central Station in Warsaw is certainly a favourite place of filmmakers. The train Kormoran travelling from Warsaw to Olsztyn appears at this station for instance in the film “Oh, Karol” from 1985.


The Great Sharp (Jan Nowicki) plays cards in a cafe of the railway station in Warsaw in a 1983 film with an identical title. In the comedy “The Brunet in the Evening”, the railway station (at that time a shining new building as the film was made in 1976) is the background for several winter scenes. “Graffiti Artists” of 2006 is an interesting movie. All the locations in this German production were set in Warsaw. We can see the railway stations: Ochota, Powiśle, Central, East, the Cross-City bridge, and a great number of locomotives, carriages and electric multiple units “decorated” by graffiti artists.


In turn, the shots for the film “Procession” of 2007 (directed by Jerzy Stuhr) were taken at the Main Station in Kraków and the East Station in Warsaw.

The title character of Lev Tolstoy’s novel, Anna Karenina, commits suicide jumping under a train. A movie from 2012 with Keira Knightley in the main role

In the crucial scene of “Black Thursday”, recounting tragic events of December 1970 on the sea coast, the characters get off the electric multiple unit in the colours of the Fast Urban Railway (SKM). The SKM in the Tri-city was also the setting for the 1989 film “The Last Call”. Zbigniew Suszyński, playing a rebellious high school student involved in the Solidarity movement, travelled to school on this line.


It is worth adding that railway motifs are also present in the cult productions of Polish cinematography devoted to World War II. In the first part of the film “How I started World War II” the train had a key role — as the senior shooter, Franciszek Dolas, sleeps through the stop at the station, he gets to the German side, which results in an avalanche of events. During his wanderings, he travelled by rail throughout Europe many times. An armoured train also appears in the film “Red Rowan” of 1969 which tells the story of the battle of Kołobrzeg in 1945.

A very humorous picture of railways is given by Juliusz Machulski in his comedy “Money is not everything”. The bored inhabitants of post-Communist rural grounds, deprived of any forms of entertainment, become train spotters who learn the names of the passing trains by heart.


A film worth mentioning in world cinematography is “The Battle of the Rails” (“La bataille du rail”) directed by René Clément. This documentary film of 1946 tells the story of French railwaymen fighting against the German occupiers. Initially, the director intended to create a one-reel film. However, the amount of material increased its duration to 85 minutes. The work was awarded the Golden Palm in Cannes.

A shot from the “Shanghai Express” movie with Marlena Dietrich — 1932
The film “Trains under special supervision” according to the book by Bohumil Hrabal tells a story of a young railway worker

The action is mostly set on a rushing train in the film “Runaway Train” of 1985. The main part of a convict escaping from prison in Alaska is played by Jon Voight. The criminal and his younger companion reach a freight station and. Without being seen, sneak onto a train waiting to depart. The train is composed of only four locomotives linked to one to another. The train driver starts the locomotive but a moment later, standing in the open doors of the cabin, suffers a heart attack and falls off the train. The prisoners are in a death trap since the locomotive without a driver develops a speed of 160 km/h. However, it turns out that the men are not alone on the train — there is also a railway woman who... had fallen asleep. Sara (played by Rebecca de Mornay) gives us interesting technical information about the train — it could be stopped only from the first locomotive and disconnecting the electrical connections between respective units would reduce the speed of the whole train. The film is based on fact — a “runaway” of a locomotive without a driver did happen in Alaska.


A film in a similar vein is “Unstoppable” (2010) with Denzel Washington and Chris Pin as the main characters. The action takes place in Pennsylvania where a train carrying dangerous chemicals gets out of control. The train inexorably approaches a turn, which, unless the speed is reduced, will end in a catastrophe with hundreds of victims. Two railwaymen whose mutual relations can be described as “harsh manly friendship” go after the rushing train. Their plan is to catch the runaway train and stop it using the brakes of an additional locomotive.


Trains are often present in the Bond movies. One of the best depictions of railway motifs can be seen in the film “GoldenEye” from 1995. The adversary of James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) and his partner (Izabella Scorupco) is Soviet general Arkady Ourumov, hiding in an armoured train continuously moving around the country. Enthusiasts of action-packed movies were greatly impressed by the scene when Bond sets off to meet the general’s train.

“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” movie tells us a story of the famous American gangster
Train played an important role in many James Bond films. A shot from the “Spectre”

The latest movies also make use of the railway motif. For instance, the “Bridge of Spies” by Steven Spielberg is worth mentioning. The main character, an American lawyer James Donovan on a train crosses the boundary between two worlds marked by the Berlin Wall separating Eastern and Western Europe.


A TV series “Bodo”, telling the story of a Polish pre-war actor, has been shown on Polish TV lately. We can see the railway stations in Wrocław: Świebodzki — as Central Warsaw and Nadodrze — with platforms that look exactly like those of the main railway station in Berlin.


We started this review of railway inspirations in culture with theatre. Let us end it on the stage also, but this time on the stage of an opera house. In 1825 Gioacchino Rossini composed an opera entitled “The Journey to Reims” to celebrate the coronation of Charles X. The opera libretto recounts the adventures of guests invited to this celebration. In the original, all events are set in the Golden Lilly inn. The work was restaged in 2003 by the National Opera in Warsaw, with one change. The venue was the waiting room of a railway station — an ideal space to present different types and characters of people.

The action is mostly set on a rushing train in the “Runaway Train” movie
A shot from “The Darjeeling Limited” movie — 2007


The emergence of the railways also inspired painters (though to a smaller extent than in other fields of art) who depicted motifs related to railways and travelling into their paintings.


The first work worth mentioning is the whole series of paintings “Lebensgeschichte einer Lokomotive” (“The Story of Life of a Locomotive”) by German painter and graphic artist Paul Friedrich Meyerheim. It is composed of pictures illustrating respective stages of construction and operation of locomotives from casting elements at the ironworks — “Maschinenfabrik” (“Machine factory”), works at the factory — “Lokomotivbau” (“Locomotive factory”), to operation on the tracks — “Die Eisenbahnbrücke über den Rhein” (“The railway bridge on the Rheine”). Trains, although present in the title of the whole series, are, in many paintings, not visible at a glance. For example, the title bridge on the Rheine with a passing train is only the background for the coach in the foreground.


The painting by William Powell Frith, “The Railway Station”, takes us to a railway station. We can see a very interesting structure of a roof-covered railway platform with a passenger train waiting to depart. However, the passengers are the most important element of the work. The painter brilliantly presented the rush, commotion and general bustle of railway stations. We can see railway porters packing chests and suitcases onto the roof of the rail carriage, people losing their things and saying goodbye to one another. The painting is an excellent historical source not only presenting the appearance of railway stations and trains in the 19th century, but primarily showing a whole range of clothes of passengers representing various social groups, waiting for their journey.

A copy of William Powell Frith’s painting “The Railway Station“ by Holl, 1862

The nineteenth century railway was illustrated “inside out” in the painting of British painter Augustus Leopold Egg. The work shows two ladies travelling in a train compartment with a beautiful British landscape outside the windows.


The painting inspired one of the illustrations in the book “Alice Through the Looking Glass” (the second part of the novel “Alice in Wonderland”) where we can see the main character travelling by train in the company of a man wearing a stylish... paper hat.


An interesting example of a painting inspired by the railways is Édouard Manet’s “The Railway”. The title suggests it will be another painting depicting a stately locomotive or rushing passengers. However, it is completely different. Instead, we can see a resting lady in the company of a little girl. The woman is sitting calmly with a book in her hand and a puppy sleeps on her knees. The girl has turned her back on the viewers and she is evidently looking at something. Only now we realise that the woman is sitting on a wall. Behind the wall, through the fencing, extend the railway station grounds. And this is the intriguing, mysterious and inaccessible thing that the girl is looking at.

A surreal vision of the railways is presented in the painting by Giorgio de Chirico “The Anxious Journey”. As is usually the case with such paintings, they can be interpreted in many different ways. Nonetheless, without any doubt a locomotive with a steaming chimney stack can be seen between the arches of the bridge or viaduct visible in the painting... however, despite it being shown from the front it is separated from the viewer with a tall brick wall.


A few railway lines and steam engines working in a mine are depicted in the painting “Northern Minnesota Mine” by Dewey Albinson. Also, the painting “Railroad Sunset”, showing a railway signal box against the sunset, painted by Edward Hopper, is worth mentioning.

Eduard Manet, „The Railway”, 1877
Claude Monet, „Gare Saint Lazare”, 1877
Augustus Leopold Egg, „The Travelling Companions”, 1862

When writing about the railway and its links to the visual arts, mention must be made of its presence in posters. They are practically peers of the railways. Posters came to life in the first decades of the 19th century. However, it is in the last decade of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century that this art developed intensely along with mass culture. It was also a golden time for the railways whose tracks covered the most important routes in Europe and in Poland. The automotive industry was in its infancy and the first cars or motorcycles were available to the select few only. Therefore, railway was an abundant and commonly accessible means of communication, the one which at that time made it possible to travel fast and meet family, friends or visit distant places. Thus, the development of the railway industry had a significant effect on the heyday of tourism.


The railway poster was a medium for information and image. Its task was to make passengers aware that travelling by train they were offered a unique opportunity to see many tourist destinations that previous generations could not practically reach. Here, it is worth mentioning British railways and the hundreds of posters from those times that have been preserved. There are posters advertising British tourist seaside destinations such as: Southport in Merseyside, the summer resort of the mining Liverpool, or charming Paignton in the county of Devon. The British railways are also associated with posters advertising travel around charming, green Ireland, sunny Cornwall or mountainous Scotland. Railway posters in the United States or in Western Europe had a similar function — they were a medium of tourist promotion.

Apart from tourist destinations posters advertised railway carriers, new and faster locomotives, the possibility of travelling with pets and luxury conditions on a train (especially tourist trains). Not only are the contents of railway posters worth mentioning but also their artistic form. The posters were real masterpieces created in line with the trends and styles of the time by the most important and most outstanding painters and graphic artists.


The tradition of railway posters also existed in Poland. Before the war, similar to the West, the poster was a medium to advertise trips to the Polish seaside, to Puck, Hel or to Zakopane which was becoming an increasingly popular mountain resort.


The times of post-Communist propaganda in the art of railway posters were characterised by pressure on passengers’ compliance with the rules of occupational safety and health. Occasional posters were also issued on the occasion of, for example, railwayman’s day or subsequent “successes” of the centrally controlled economy for which railway was the proverbial transport bloodstream.

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© Całość praw autorskich - Antoni Bochen, Filip Wiśniewski