Is the Railroad to Nowhere in a Race with the Lunatic Express?
The Railroad to Nowhere was a $700 million line item proposed by Mississippi's powerful Senate delegation in the emergency spending bill. It didn’t work, but it reminded us of the Victorian railway in Africa called the Lunatic Express. Justified as a way to combat emergencies, it even cost the same amount. A new novel by John Gaudet, The Iron Snake, due out this fall from Brandylane Publishers, Richmond VA, is based on the saga of this African railroad and the people affected by it.
The case was put by Sir Gerald Portal in a report to the British Parliament. All the right reasons were there, the need to ensure protection of the source of the Nile from Britain’s enemies, a great potential market for British goods, the huge traffic expected, and a revolutionary effect in settling the region. Not far off from Mississippian hopes this year to turn the struggling Gold Coast into ‘Las Vegas South,’ and provide a safe passage for rail cargo during hurricanes and floods.
Like the Mississippi earmark, political resistance to the 1894 venture surfaced immediately, including the Liberals pronouncement that the Government had no right to drive a railway through country owned by the Masai. And by what right did England have to assert mastery over thousands upon thousands of unlettered African tribesmen? Such arguments along with the claim that it would be a waste of taxpayers’ money were easily brushed aside with a grand Tory flourish, after all if England were to step away from its manifest destiny, they would by default leave it to other nations to take up the work which England would be seen as “too weak, too poor, and too cowardly to do ourselves.” Not far from what Trent Lott would come up with perhaps in a pinch.
And the cost? Estimated at 3 million pounds in 1894 or $432 million in today’s currency, which, when near completion in 1902, had climbed to – guess what – 793 million dollars!
Did it deserve the moniker, Lunatic Line? The wild nature of it – shaky looking wooden trestle bridges, enormous chasms, prohibitive cost, hostile tribes, men dropping by the hundreds from diseases, and man-eating lions pulling railway workers out of carriages at night – Lunatic Line seemed to fit. However, an early traveler, Winston Churchill, had the last say, “The British art of ‘muddling through’ is here seen in one of its finest expositions. Through everything – through the forests, through the ravines, through troops of marauding lions, through famine, through war, through five years of excoriating Parliamentary debate, muddled and marched the railway.”
This fall Brandylane Publishers, an independent press in Richmond, VA, will publish “The Iron Snake,” a new novel by John Gaudet based on the saga of this railroad and the people affected by it (firstname.lastname@example.org, $16.95 plus shipping, $5.95).
By the way, the railway is still in use today. The Kenya Railways Corporation runs passenger trains between Mombasa and Nairobi, leaving in the evening and arriving the following morning after a journey of around 13 to 14 hours.
Media contact: Brandylane Publishers, 5 South First St. Richmond, VA 23219
Mary Tobey, Publicist or Robert Pruett 804.644.3090; FAX 804.644. 3092
For details about the book: see www.theironsnake.com