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In Frayed Networks, Common Threads

WHEN the United States entered World War I in 1917, its railroad system had just undergone three decades of torrid expansion after the adoption of a standard track width. While the expansion was unquestionably a boon, it also created the potential for new logistical problems. “All of a sudden there was a demand to rush all of this war matériel and troops to the East Coast and there was a complete meltdown of the system,” said Bill Withuhn, transportation curator at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. “All of the ports on the East Coast were totally clogged up because they could not get the railroad cars unloaded. There is a famous story of one troop train that sat on a siding in Ohio for four days because the system was overloaded. The effect of this was colossal, and the parallel is immediate and is an exact duplicate in some ways to the blackout.” Like the World War I railroad meltdown, last week’s blackout was vast precisely because of the interconnectedness that the network was meant to exploit and foster. Full Story

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