HomeThe history of railway restoration in the world

The history of railway restoration in the world

Histoire de la restauration ferroviaire dans le monde

Technology and logistics, systems of the exploitation of services, the sociability of food and cultural representations, 19th-21st century

Techniques et logistiques, systèmes d'exploitation des services, sociabilité de l'alimentation et représentations culturelles (XIXe-XXIe siècle)

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Published on Tuesday, October 08, 2013 by Luigia Parlati


Dès lors que des voyageurs ont entrepris de parcourir des distances longues, le problème de leur alimentation s'est posé. L'avènement du chemin de fer a prolongé cette demande alimentaire mais l'a également modifiée. L'objet de ce colloque (Tours, 16 et 17 décembre 2014) est d'en étudier les modalités spécifiques et  les innovations qui en ont résulté (groupes de restauration, voiture-restaurant, buffetiers de gare, vendeurs à quais, transformation culturelle des pratiques alimentaires).



Travellers had to deal with the problem of feeding themselves as soon as they started going on longer journeys. The coming of the railway continued this demand for food, but also changed it as railway transport brought about new kinds of services and additional technical constraints.

The aim of this conference is to examine the development over time of the specific operations and innovations related to the evolution of this mode of transport.

The aim is not to produce one France-based monographic case study after the other. In keeping with a comprehensive discussion of mobility and food, the conference is aiming to present the similarities and differences in the organisation of railway catering in Europe and, more widely, on other continents. What is railway catering's contribution to the links between the wide variety of types of mobility and the offer of the food-related services created by this elementary necessity to feed oneself outside of the home.

The topics which can be dealt with are many. They include the locations of railway catering, e.g. in station buffets, which, before decreasing in number, provided a form of gastronomy, and on station platforms, which exist in many countries. Here, the service on offer makes possible the promotion of local products, which are conveyed to the traveller by a local business, whether rather hastily or, at times, in a very well organised way through the use of special equipment, such as portable baskets, trolleys, and mobile refrigerated cabinets. Railway catering is especially associated with on-board service, which was created in the 1880s, and which led to the development of restaurant cars. The speed of trains, the shortening of journey times, the search for set menus to appeal to contemporary tastes, and the budgetary realism of costs and turnover has meant that simplification, aspects of which have been investigated since the 1960s, has prevailed. The reduction of on-board services, trolley service, the concept of self-service, and the cutting back of on-board food services to just a bar have resulted in a strategic discourse where the lowest food-related bidder has not been systematically ruled out. This evolution was neither inevitable nor general, and it will be particularly useful to compare the systems, their development over time, and their level of profitability in the various countries where railway catering has developed. The analysis must deal with the quality of the food served so as to be relevant to a history of food and so as not to confine itself to a history of the railways.

The approach can include the history of techniques, whose social construction finds here an original line of analysis. The inventiveness of materials manufacturers and designers of on-board services, as well as the type of in situ service provided, will be of particular interest. The choice of techniques has influenced the forms of service and many innovations, such as presentation and service style, the adoption of the meal tray, the design of specific types of food packaging, and the 'culinary' adaptation of the most convenient foods to offer to passengers. Apart from these technical innovations, the forms of resistance to the service offered when the travellers themselves choose to carry their own snacks cannot be left out. Budgetary reasons are often the explanation for this, but no less important is the dislike of eating certain foods. It would be interesting to assess the frequency and recurrence of this between the two centuries and particularly between countries.The travel policy considered by the railway companies and adapted by the concessionaires opens up other avenues of study. The types of concessions and operating methods as well as their levels of profitability will be examined. This section is part of the much wider history of the establishment of multinational catering groups, whose experience in non-domestic catering has given rise to complex managerial structures.

Catering contexts and the types of customers who have a meal or snack on the train, or at the station before boarding a train, or, indeed, at the end of a journey, also make up a fairly extensive subject area. Food practices, taste preferences, and the types of requirement on which gastronomic standards were based have lost their meaning with the reduction in journey time and the expansion of commercial catering in towns and cities. However, this is not the case on every continent. Innovation acceptance can be studied, and the promotion of local gastronomy, so successfullydeveloped by station buffets and hotels, is another topic of interest.

We shall thus come to a better understanding of what the railway has been able to create in terms of non-domestic catering with services as diverse as the trolley service, the French gril-express self-service car, the high-class restaurant car, the bar, and on-board delivery. The continuing importance of the personal lunch box, eating behaviour when passengers are relatively close to each other, and the evolution of food rhythms will also be assessed. This economic, technical, and social history must also deal with this subject's portrayal in the arts – literature, painting, cinema, and poster art.

Organisers: Jean-Pierre Williot (François Rabelais University, Tours), Laurent Tissot (University of Neuchâtel), Michèle Merger (CNRS) and the AHICF (Association pour l'histoire des chemins de fer en France– Railway History Society)

Date 16-17 December 2014

Place Tours (France)


Conference themes and topics of interest

- service-providing companies, catering groups, station buffet owners, and platform vendors.

- places: at/near the railway station and on board the train, station buffets, large hotels near stations, platforms, restaurant carriages, buffet cars, packed lunches, etc.

- areas: European and comparative studies wanted (USA, Russia, Japan, India, China, Canada, Australia, South America, and Africa)

-techniques : cooking material and equipment; airline-model meal tray, food packaging, layout of the station area, supply logistics

- business economy (service providers, types of contract formalisation, specifications, turnover, relations with the railway companies)

- nature of the journey, e.g. comfort, tourism, the cultural transformation of food practices (the eating of fast food, taste, distinctive sociability), type of food served, menus, depiction in literature and the cinema.

Submission guidelines

Proposals for papers should be submitted to:

  • Jean-Pierre Williot (jean-pierre.williot@univ-tours.fr),
  • Laurent Tissot (laurent.tissot@unine.ch)
  • Michele Merger (mi.merger@virgilio.it)

by 30 November 2013 

Selection of papers to be submitted to the Scientific Committee, who will assess the anonymous proposals. Announcement of accepted papers: 15 December 2013.

Scientific committee

Christophe BOUNEAU (Université Bordeaux III), Michèle MERGER (Présidente conseil scientifique Association pour l'Histoire des Chemins de fer en France, CNRS), Laurent TISSOT (Université de Neuchâtel), Javier VIDAL OLIVARES (Université d'Alicante), Jean-Pierre WILLIOT (Université François Rabelais), Henri ZUBER (SARDO-SNCF)


  • Université François Rabelais -EA 6294-LÉA - 3 rue des Tanneurs
    Tours, France (37)


  • Saturday, November 30, 2013


  • alimentation, chemins de fer, voyage, restauration, villes


  • Jean-Pierre Williot
    courriel : tablediplomatique [at] univ-tours [dot] fr
  • Mélanie Fauconnier
    courriel : melanie [dot] fauconnier [at] univ-tours [dot] fr

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Jean-Pierre Williot
    courriel : tablediplomatique [at] univ-tours [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« The history of railway restoration in the world », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, October 08, 2013, https://calenda.org/261226

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