retours September 2013
The European Railways do not exist and have never existed — at least not as an organization with that name. Yet a colorful series of posters with that caption appeared in the early 1970s.
The posters expressed the desire of the time for an integrated European railway system. The direct occasion was the 50th anniversary of the International Union of Railways UIC. It was no coincidence that in the same year 1972 the InterRail pass was introduced.
Apart from revealing how European cooperation was perceived forty years ago, the series of posters also illustrate the trends in graphic design.
by Arjan den Boer (1972)
In 1922 the Union Internationale des Chemins de fer (UIC) was founded. Its aim was the worldwide technical standardization of railways. With members from all over the world, it were participating European railway companies that had the main voice and the greatest interest in cooperation.
After World War II, activities were expanded with a shared freight car pool and a rolling stock finance house. The UIC harmonized things like pictograms and passenger classes. The railway union was also the originator of the Europabus (1951) and the Trans Europ Express (1957).
In 1950 the UIC established the Centre d'Information des Chemins de Fer Européens. It coordinated the publicity of the European railway companies and also issued promotional materials itself. The CICE operated a traveling exhibition coach and was present at fairs and trade shows.
At the 1958 World Fair in Brussels, CICE played an important role. An international railway park showed off the latest trains. At the UIC booth in the Transport Pavilion the railways were promoted as the pioneers of European integration.
In 1972 it was fifty years ago that the UIC was founded. The French painter Georges Mathieu was commissioned to design an anniversary poster. He depicted a switch panel with a track diagram as is used in railway signal boxes. Perhaps Mathieu was inspired by a 1967 UIC booklet with a picture of a signal box panel on the cover. Mathieu also designed a bronze medallion with the same motif.
The most important 1972 anniversary offer was a new rail pass for young people. Intended as a one-time action, InterRail became a success that continues to this day. The ability to travel freely through Europe matched perfectly with the 1970s youth culture. Guitar and backpack were indispensable InterRail attributes. The poster by Guy Georget does show a guitar, but few InterRailers will have traveled with suitcases.
Guy Georget always managed to adapt his design style to the times, as is evident for example from the color palette. From the late 1940s Georget worked for Wagons-Lits, the French Railways, Air France and Philips. In 1960 he designed the logo for the French postal service.
Freight transport contributed to economic progress and European trade. In its anniversary year the UIC also issued a poster that emphasized the reliability of freight trains compared to the growing road transport. The trains ran regardless of weather conditions!
The rainbow-colored lithograph by Foré had the same basic shape and typography as several 1971 French posters for TEE trains.
The UIC organized a design competition for a poster to promote the loading capacity and power of freight trains. Most of the 'European' posters were made by French designers who worked for the SNCF. This time a designer from Belgium was selected: André Pasture. He created a sleek close-up of a tank car and placed the caption between the white lines of the loading limits table and registration numbers. This international coding was developed by the UIC.
One year after its anniversary the UIC issued two anonymous posters concerning the European Railways. The first one consisted of a photograph of a freight train and a notice that the railways serve the economy. A version with the addition economie européenne is also known to exist.
In the early 1970s European integration was undisputed. EEC Ministers decided that the railways had to cooperate even more on technical and commercial matters. This was regarded as the first step towards a European railway company. The companies agreed to extensive collaboration, but they rejected a full merger.
A second 1973 poster also consists of a photo and a caption. Color photography and full-color offset printing were emerging on posters. These techniques already existed, but designers continued to create lithographs because of the power of expression. When photography prevailed in the late 70s, some people called this the end of the poster.
The caption states that the European Railways are building the future together. Colorful lights appear on the horizon. A version with the text Le train construit l'avenir is also known to exist. That future did not bring an integrated European railway company, but rather fragmentation through privatization — though coordinated and regulated by the UIC and the EU.
A 1974 poster praised the European railways for keeping the air clean. It is the first known poster about trains and the environment. The theme was topical after the Club of Rome report and the oil crisis.
Meanwhile, the designer Foré had switched from lithography to offset printing. This made subtle gradients possible as can be seen in the air and the water. His poster won the French Prix National de l'Affiche, receiving the jury's praise for its intelligent composition and delicate colors.
This last known poster for the European Railways was released by the French SNCF in several languages, probably in collaboration with the UIC who issued a European timetable with the same picture later on.
European railway posters from the early 1970s
[Centre d'Information des Chemins de Fer Européens], Die Eisenbahn auf dem Welt-Treffen in Brüssel, Brussel 1958.
[Union Internationale des Chemins de fer], Grenzenloze spoorwegen, Parijs 1967.
Pieter Neirinckx, Affiches op het spoor, spoorwegaffiches in België 1833-1985, Tielt 2006.