Fear of a foreign railroad: Transnationalism, trainspace, and (im)mobility in the Chicago suburbs

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The fluidity and mobility of the twenty-first century are grounded in physical infrastructure such as airports and train stations but also on the routes along which people and goods travel. Within recent work on the meanings, practices and experiences of flying, driving, walking, cycling or riding the rails, the focus has been on the travel of people rather than commodities and on network nodes rather than routes. Nevertheless, the transport of freight and its interaction with people and places along distribution routes has significant implications for understanding discursive constructions of the national and the foreign. In 2007, the Canadian National railroad began the process of purchasing a beltline railroad around Chicago to ease the passage of containerised freight from Asia to North American distribution centres. Suburban communities protested the transaction, arguing that the increase in trains would lead to traffic congestion, problems with emergency vehicle access and water supply contamination. Despite the local scale of these concerns, opponents framed their protest in terms of a foreign railroad disrupting American communities, suggesting deeper underlying concerns about the transnational nature of the transaction and the resulting route. They also argued for considering the spaces of this mode of transportation, what I term trainspace, as consisting of more than the vehicles, infrastructure and adjacent properties, underlining the importance of considering routes and infrastructure as a fundamental social component of transnational processes and of considering motility or potential movement along with mobility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)593-608
Number of pages16
JournalTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2012


  • Freight
  • Mobilities
  • North America
  • Railroads
  • Transnationalism
  • Transport

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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