The Project

The Project

The Imaginary of the Train among Decision Makers and Users, or imagineTrains, is an international study, conducted in France, the United States, China, India, and South Africa. The main focus of this project is on regional and interregional (i.e. high-speed/long-distance) trains and train projects (existing, planned, or abandoned). The project is primarily about the description and analysis of imaginaries of trains among decision makers and users. The project examines how decision makers and train users arrive at their train imaginaries and how these imaginaries influence decisions relating to trains. Imaginaries may include national histories, their integration in contemporary collective culture, mobility discourses, geography, technologies, and the unique biographies and contexts associated with individual imaginaries. The imagineTrains projects explores these imaginaries primarily through decision makers, train users, and, by extension, media discourse of trains as a form of public discourse, to which decision makers and users have access. We are currently conducting research in France and the United States. The project will be extended to China, India, and South Africa by the end of 2013.

imagineTrains and sustainable mobility

June 2020

Our ability to be mobile is at the centre of our social wellbeing and economic prosperity. It given us unprecedented access to education, employment, heath services, family and friends, and an array of leisure activities. It is at the centre of a regional and global exchange of ideas, data, goods, technologies, services, and people, which has directly and indirectly lifted millions of people out of poverty and increased the quality of life and wellbeing for us all. But our mobility has also come at a tremendous cost as, among others decades of fossil fuel-based transportation contributed to many regional and urban challenges. These include pollution, injuries and casualties, overdevelopment, gridlock, and a loss of environmental resources and habitat. Interestingly, that which contributes to aspects of wellbeing and prosperity in some domains has become a liability in others, which is well expressed in the complexity and interconnection between the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) as outlined in the United Nations Agenda 2030.

Independent of, as well as because of, the current CIVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, our mobility continues to occupy centre stage for the foreseeable future. The ways in which we will continue or redefine movement of ideas, data, goods, technologies, services, and people will have lasting effects on moving toward greater sustainability of our societies generally, and the UN SDGs specifically. None of the UN SDGs remain unaffected by our mobility systems and habits.

At its broadest and most abstract level, sustainable mobility borrows from the Brundtland-framework by attempting to consolidate economic, environmental, and social development with inter- and intra-generational responsibility or fairness. Accordingly, sustainable mobility can be defined as “the ability to meet today’s transportation needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their transportation needs” (Richardson, 2005, p. 30). This entails decreasing the dependence on private vehicles, encouraging modal shift to public transport, and reducing the ecological impact of individual mobility behaviour, which includes key priorities such as “reducing the need to travel (less trips) … [reducing] trip lengths and to encourage greater efficiency in the transport system” (Banister, 2008, p. 75). These ideals are enshrined in the green transportation hierarchy, which ranks modes of transportation according to their degree of sustainability:

Based on this hierarchy, walking is viewed as the most sustainable and, thus, desirable form of mobility, followed by cycling, then public transport such as trams, buses, and trains. High occupancy vehicles or HOVs, which include car-pooling initiatives and single occupancy vehicles (SOV), especially private cars are considered the least sustainable forms of transportation of people. The adoption of this hierarchy in policy documents, government and city websites, and urban planning fora around the world suggests not only the growing importance of sustainability more generally, but also the emergent normative agreement of how our mobility problems should be addressed. It is associated with carbon-free cities, climate change mitigation, public health concerns, and enviroinmental protection.

For policies such as these to come into reality, they need to align with the mobility practices of individuals and communities around the world. But mobility systems and associated mobility practices depend on a large and interconnected set of individual preferences and resources, contextual specifics, and cultural characteristics. Mobility means different things to different people. The aim of the imagineTrains project is to understand the dynamic interaction between people and their mobility environments in five countries: France, the United States, China, India, and South Africa. The project includes research partners from each country. It is funded by the Mobile Lives Forum/Form vies mobiles. This blog is dedicated to the research findings from the studies conducted in these countries. Follow these links to find out more:

Project blog for South Africa

Project blog for China

Project blog for India

Project blog for the United States

Project blog for France

Pictorials and Flickr database for each country:


South Africa





Richardson, B. C. (2005). Sustainable transport: analysis frameworks. Journal of Transport Geography, 13(1), 29–39.

Banister, D. (2008). The sustainable mobility paradigm. Transport Policy, 15(2), 73–80.

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