Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Final Project J. Douglas Galyon Depot

For my final project I focused on the J. Douglas Galyon Depot. I used this as starting point. In this project I basically tried to find out why Greensboro is a center in the railroad system along the east coast, how the Depot reflects this, what the development in the future might be, and how different the railway system in Holland (where I am from) is from the current system in the United States, especially in North Carolina.


Greensboro is definitely a center of the railway system along the east coast. It is not called the “Gate City” for a random reason. To find out why Greensboro is a center in the railway system, we need to know a little bit more about the history of this system.

In the nineteenth century Greensboro grew tremendously, both in population and in wealth. A big part of this development can be traced down to a man you all know about, John Motley Morehead, state governor from 1841 till 1845. At that time, there were a few east-west railroad tracks in North Carolina, but none of them passed through his hometown Greensboro. He used his influence and power to curve the railroad tracks miles north so that they would pass through Greensboro. Ever since, Greensboro has been a very important part in the railway system and transportation has remained a key to the city’s development. But why did Greensboro need all this train transportation? That is mainly because of Greensboro’s flourishing textile industry. Cone Mills was known as the world’s largest producer of denim. This company owned several mills in Greensboro. It brought a lot of employment to Greensboro and, as a result, the population increased a lot. Cone Mills depended on the train transportation in Greensboro. Obviously this was very important to stay profitable.

Railroad system 1900

Present and future
Today, Greensboro still functions as a center in the railroad system, but there are significantly less passenger trains than in the early 20th century. The car turned out to be a better transportation method, mainly because of low gas prices. Also, with a car you can go wherever you want. Moving by train is only possible from a train station and to a train station. Now almost all trains riding in Greensboro are freight trains.
I think that in the future trains can be a very important way of transportation again. First, the prediction is that the gas prices will increase. In a couple of years there will be a lack of natural resources, such as gas. In the same time, the world population grows bigger and bigger. So there is more need for gas, but the supply decreases. This will definitely lead to higher gas prices and as a result the use of the car will go down. People will look at other transportation methods, such as the train. The train will be a lot cheaper then and it is also better for the environment ("greener"), which will be a big issue in the future. But, this all will not be the case if we can find another cheap recourse that can replace gas.

Railroad system 2007

Now is the question: How does the J. Douglas Galyon Depot show that Greensboro is a center of the railroad system? And is the Depot itself a center?
If you look at the location of the Depot, one can see that the Depot is located very centrally. It is almost right in the center of downtown, so it is easy accessible by people who are travelling by bus or by train. If I use Clay’s vocabulary, I would definitely describe the Galyon Depot as a beat. Every day a lot of people go in and out the Depot and it is an important building in Greensboro. People need it for transportation. Every inhabitant of Greensboro should have heard about it.
Also the shape of the Galyon Depot shows characteristics of a real center. There is a big arrival and departure hall in the older part of the building. The ceiling of this hall is very high and there are several very big lights. It is important to realize that a few decades ago there were hundreds of people in this hall at every time of the day. There are also a couple of office windows in this hall to assist the passengers. One will not find a lot of those in smaller train stations. Also the large map on the wall of the central hall in the Depot reflects that Greensboro is a main city in the train transportation. On the image you can discover that there is a north-south and an east-west track through Greensboro. Also the fact that the map includes the whole east coast itself is interesting. The creators of the Depot must have recognized the importance of Greensboro in the railway system, otherwise they would not show the map of the whole southwest in the central hall.

Comparing U.S. to Holland

Holland is more than three times smaller than the state of North Carolina, but there are twice as many people in Holland. We have a broad railroad system. If you compare it to one third of the railroad map of North Carolina in 2007, then you can see that an incredible amount of cities and small villages are connected to this system. It is even more surprising if you realize that the main use of all railroad tracks is passenger transportation. We also have freight trains riding on the tracks, but less than passenger trains. In North Carolina there are a couple of railroad tracks on which almost no passenger trains are riding. Their only function is transportation of goods. It is about the same in the rest of the United States. People in the U.S. don’t necessarily depend on trains. These differences in function, need, and value of the railroad system between the United States and Holland are mainly based on differences in other transportation methods, especially (again) the car. In Europe is the gas price, converted, about eight dollars a gallon. Obviously that is a huge amount of money. Mainly because of this most families have just one car and they try to avoid driving more than necessary. It is expensive and it is very easy to get stuck in traffic in Holland. Remember, I told you all before that the country is more than three times smaller than North Carolina, but that the population is twice as big. For example, if someone is offered a job that is like forty miles away, it is likely that the distance will be the decisive factor for not accepting the job. So it is clear that Dutch people are in need of other transportation methods. The trains system is a perfect way to reach your destination because the country is so small. Most of the times the train stations are pretty close to where you need to be, in contrast to the United States.

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