North American railroads

icône de pdf

Document 1 : A stamp collection

Alphonse remembers going to a stamp collectors’ market.

He busied himself in a dealer’s1 penny box, where they put all the dregs that no one wants, that have no value, where everything goes for a penny no matter what the postage declares. […] Then he found his first railroad stamp.

It was a commemorative for the first trip of the Atlanta Zephyr. […] A nibble off the top left edge was missing, and half the perfor­ations were gone. But – he couldn’t stop his finger from running over its rough skin. He could feel the speed. The image fell into what he would later discover to be the standard portrayal of trains on stamps: a locomotive and a car or two speeding off the right edge with a little puff of steam, foreshortened to suggest departure from an old world and speed across the border into the new. It was not the picture of a vase or a cat. The train, tinted blue, was a notion of possibility. Human beings had made these trains, men like him, and if to outsiders a stamp was no kind of monument to a grand idea, for Alphonse this was true craftsmanship. With a few simple strokes2, with a few anonymous cars and one noble locomotive, the artist had composed the definition of dreaming. Anything could be in those cars, anything he wanted. […] Once his collection start­ed in earnest, he’d spend hours with a magnifying glass trying to discern human faces in the passenger cars. He filled albums and albums with stamps from around the world. Every place on the globe was linked by the invention of the railroad, it crossed oceans and cultures.

He didn’t notice when he started collecting the stamps of dead places. The Last Run of the Santa Fe Motor, Commemorating the End of Old Erie, Old Brighton Terminal. They issued stamps for dead lines, defunct lines, extinct depots. Routes that had become obsolete, replaced by superhighways or snipped short by politics. Towns failed, everybody moved away and the terminal shut its doors in anticipation of vandalism, became a stamp. Small independent lines were bought up and swallowed by larger ones. Top of the line locomotives made inefficient by technical advances. What remained of the ultimate in human achievement was a stamp. It was all obsolete and preserved in adhesive elegies, limited-issue testament. He collected it all.

Colson Whitehead, John Henry Days, 2001

1. A dealer: a stamp seller (in this context).

2. Strokes: traits d’un dessin.

Document 2 : The Canadian Pacific


A Canadian Pacific ticket envelope (1955).DR

Document 3 : The Hyperloop

California firm Hyperloop to test engine in southern Nevada

A California company with visions of building a futuristic tran­sportation system to one day zip people and packages at nearly the speed of sound announced Tuesday it is building a test facility in southern Nevada.

Hyperloop Technologies Inc. and the Nevada governor’s office said the 50-acre facility at a fledgling1 North Las Vegas business park will test a linear electric motor at speeds up to 335 mph – about half the speed envisioned in a full-scale system.

“This decision represents another major milestone in our journey to bring Hyperloop to commercial reality,” Rob Lloyd, CEO of the Los Angeles-based company, said in a statement.

The concept, which was described in 2013 by Tesla and SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk, rips a page from science fiction and aims to make it reality. Pressurized capsules would zoom on a thin cushion of air through pneumatic-style tubes with little friction, powered by magnetic attraction and solar power. Developers envision transport­ing freight and passengers at speeds up to 750 mph – a pace that could cut the 400-mile trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco to less an hour. The speed of sound is 767 mph.

“The physics of it works,” said R. John Hansman Jr., aeronautics and astronautics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But he compared the idea to putting a man on the moon, and called the engineering, technology, scale and cost challenges significant.

Installation of a 1-kilometer track, a little more than a half-mile, is expected to begin this month at the Mountain View Industrial Park in North Las Vegas. The site is part of a sprawling 28 square miles of undeveloped land known as the Apex Industrial Center about 15 miles northeast of downtown Las Vegas. Hyperloop Technologies said the goal is to deliver a commercially viable, fully oper­ational transport system by 2020.

“This is a huge development for our city and for the entire region,” Mayor John Lee said Tuesday. “We welcome Hyperloop Tech as one of the innovative job creators who will transform the landscape of Apex and diversify our economy.”

The Chicago Tribune website:,8 Dec. 2015

1. Fledgling: brand new.

compréhension 10 points

Document 1

Focus on lines 1 to 24.

1 True or false Justify each answer by quoting one element from the text.

1. The Atlanta Zephyr stamp was the beginning of a new collection.

2. This stamp was expensive.

3. Alphonse was fascinated by this stamp.

4. This stamp conveyed an impression of movement.

2 Choose the stamp that best corresponds to the one Alphonse found at the market. Justify by quoting two elements from the text.









3In what ways are trains connected to the concept of frontiers in this text Give two ideas and justify each answer with a quote.

Focus on lines 13 to 24.

Pour les candidat(e)s qui ne composent pas au titre de la LVA.

4 In your own words, explain why the stamp meant more than a piece of paper for Alphonse. Give two reasons.

Uniquement pour les candidat(e)s de la série L-LVA.

5 What makes Alphonse different from “outsiders” (l. 15) Answer in your own words.

Focus on the third paragraph.

61. What is the common point between the stamps mentioned in this paragraph Answer briefly and justify with four examples from the text.

2. Find at least two evolutions that these stamps suggest. Answer in your own words.

Uniquement pour les candidat(e)s de la série L-LVA.

7 “What remained of the ultimate in human achievement was a stamp.” (l. 33-34). Explain what role stamps play according to Alphonse.

Document 2

8 1. In what ways is the written part designed to be attractive Give two elements.

2. Explain how pictural elements in the advertisement contribute to attracting people. Give two ideas.

3. Explain what kind of travel experience is advertised in this document. Give two ideas.

Document 3

9 1. Copy and complete the following table with elements from the text.





Testing of the Hyperloop

a) in …

b) …

c) …

Final project

d) …

e) from …

f) to …

g) …

h) …

2. What makes this project such an innovation

10 What does the Hyperloop look like Choose the image that best corresponds to the Hyperloop. Justify with a quote from the text.



angT_1806_07_00C_03aph ©

angT_1806_07_00C_03bph © Eric TSCHAEN/REA




angT_1806_07_00C_03dph © Bloomberg via Getty Images

11 YES or NO Answer and justify with a quote from the text.

Will the Hyperloop be easy to build

12 Why does Mayor John Lee (l. 33) welcome the project Answer in your own words.

Uniquement pour les candidat(e)s de la série L-LVA.

13 In your own words, show that the journalist considers the Hyperloop as a visionary project. Give two elements and justify each one with a quote from the text.

Documents 1, 2 and 3

Pour les candidat(e)s qui ne composent pas au titre de la LVA.

14 Compare the ways in which people use trains in the three documents.

Uniquement pour les candidat(e)s de la série L-LVA.

15 In the three documents, to what extent do trains create links

expression 10 points

Les candidat(e)s des séries ES, S et L (hors LVA) traiteront au choix le sujet 1 ou le sujet 2.

1 Do you think that technical progress necessarily implies forgetting the past (300 words)

2 Write Elon Musk’s inauguration speech for the Hyperloop in 2020, in which he reminds the audience of the evolution of transport and explains his vision of the future. (300 words)

Les candidat(e)s de la série L composant au titre de la LVA traiteront le sujet 3 et le sujet 4.

3 Ken / Clara Jones, a collector, is asked to write an editorial for the magazine Collector’s Monthly. Write his / her article entitled “Celebrat­ing things of the past”. (200 words)

4 Discuss the following statement by Elisha Cooper, an American writer and children’s books author: “A train is a small world moving through a larger world.” (200 words)

Les clés du sujet

Document 1


Colson Whitehead, romancier américain, est l’auteur de plusieurs romans dont The Underground Railroad, publié en 2016. John Henry Days, son deuxième roman, raconte l’histoire de la commémoration du héros afro-américain folklorique John Henry. D’après la légende, John Henry avait défié le marteau à vapeur acheté par son patron afin de garder son emploi.

Pour en savoir plus :

Résumé du texte

Alphonse est devenu philatéliste avec la découverte d’un timbre bien particulier, le premier d’une abondante thématique : les trains.

Vocabulaire utile à la compréhension

The dregs (l. 2) : les rebuts  postage (l. 3) : affranchissement  a nibble (l. 6) : (ici) déchirure  a puff of steam (l. 11) : un jet de vapeur  outsiders (l. 15) : (ici) non-initiés  craftsmanship (l. 16) : artisanat  in earnest (l. 20) : véritablement  a magnifying glass (l. 20) : une loupe.

Document 2

La source

Le document représente l’enveloppe d’un billet pour le Canadian Pacific. 1955 marque la date à laquelle la compagnie de chemin de fer a commencé l’exploitation du Canadian, un train de luxe transcontinental.

Pour en savoir plus :

Document 3

La source est la version en ligne du Chicago Tribune, fondé en 1847, et l’un des dix quotidiens les plus lus des États-Unis.

Résumé du texte

L’article présente le projet du milliardaire Elon Musk : un train dont la vitesse s’approche de celle du son et pour lequel une ligne d’essais va être construite non loin de Las Vegas.

Vocabulaire utile à la compréhension

To zip (l. 2) : (ici) transporter très rapidement  a milestone (l. 9) : un jalon  to rip (l. 13) : arracher  pace (l. 17) : vitesse  sprawling (l. 27) : vaste.

Les points de convergence

Les trois documents présentent l’importance des trains dans le passé, le présent et le futur des villes américaines et dans la vie des Américains.

Le sujet d’expression 1

Une direction possible

Une définition du « progrès technique » semble nécessaire avec différents exemples afin de donner votre avis.

On peut expliquer comment on apprend de ses erreurs du passé, qu’a posteriori on peut progresser et améliorer les techniques et les idées.

Key ideas

Everything you do is based on your own experience, so, on your past. Technical progress builds on what exists, inventions don’t come out of the blue, you observe past and present technology and improve them. Everything we do is the result of our past forgetting it would mean forgetting ourselves.

Le sujet d’expression 2

Une direction possible

Un discours nécessite une argumentation, de la rhétorique : Elon Musk souhaitera que le public utilise ce nouveau train à Los Angeles. Il va anticiper les craintes possibles : sécurité, prix, afin de rassurer ses clients.

Key ideas

A 400-mile trip in just 50 minutes! It sounds crazy but it’s true! Have your dream home in L.A. and continue working in San Francisco, you can do it!

You may be doubtful, worrying about potential dangers and security issues that this new, almost supersonic, train may have but have no fear!

Le sujet d’expression 3

Une direction possible

Définissez d’abord l’objet de votre collection. Pensez à quelque chose qui vous intéresse, qui pourrait avoir une importance dans le temps : cartes postales, appareils électroniques obsolètes...

Key ideas

Things of the past have to be kept in our memories like in museums. They make up our history and so are part of ourselves. Your parents’ old cassette recorders were state-of-the art technology in their days. Things of the past make you go back to a time when you couldn’t imagine what the future, your present, could be.

Le sujet d’expression 4

Une direction possible

Pensez à quelques trains célèbres (The Orient Express, The Hogwarts Express, The Eurostar...), à comment les passagers créent leur propre monde à l’intérieur du train, loin du monde réel.

Key ideas

The Orient Express, The Hogwarts Express, The Polar Express: mythical trains where authors over the years have brought readers magic, murder and mayhem! When you are on the train you have no contact with the outside world, you are restricted in your movements and your activities. You are effectively in your own little world!



Document 1

1 1. True: “his first railroad stamp” (l. 4)

2. False: “in a dealer’s penny box” (l. 1)

3. True: “he couldn’t stop his finger from running over its rough skin” (l. 7-8)

4. True: “he could feel the speed” (l. 8)

2 Stamp a: “a nibble off the top left edge was missing” (l. 6) and “a little puff of steam” (l. 11)

3 First, there is the frontier of time: “departure from an old world and speed across the border into the new” (l. 11-12). Secondly, there is the idea that trains are common to every civilized place on the planet: “every place on the globe was linked by the railroad, it crossed oceans and cultures” (l. 22-24).

Pour les candidat(e)s qui ne composent pas au titre de la LVA.

4 The stamp is an example of true “craftsmanship” according to Alphonse, a work of art almost. He also believes that it defines “dreaming” in what it portrays and therefore stimulates the imagination.

Uniquement pour les candidat(e)s de la série L-LVA.

5 Alphonse is a fanatic and a real specialist in his field, he is crazy about two things: stamps and trains and his collection brings the two together in a way that “outsiders” might find banal and unimportant. For him, however, stamps are monuments to past events, testimonies to the past achievements of the railroad industry.

6 1. All the stamps commemorate elements of the history of train culture that no longer exist: “dead lines” (l. 28) “defunct lines” (l. 28) “extinct depots” (l. 28) “routes that had become obsolete” (l. 28-29).

2. These stamps suggest that trains have changed: they are no longer the most important means of transport as they once were, cars are more important now. Furthermore, huge global companies now own all the train lines instead of individual smaller companies.

Uniquement pour les candidat(e)s de la série L-LVA.

7 According to Alphonse, stamps are a testimony to the past: they preserve what modernity and development have erased in the real world. They allow fans to look back and remember how things used to be in the past and dream about this lost or forgotten time.

Document 2


a type face : une police typographique.

8 1. The different type faces or styles of writing catch our attention, they are large and eye-catching. The use of superlatives to show how unique the trip is (“longest, the only”) also makes the trip sound attractive, the use of the pronoun “you” invites the reader to be a part of the experience.

2. The landscapes shown in the background are awe-inspiring: tall mountains and deep valleys. The train itself also seems very modern and state-of-the-art for the 1950s with its domed roof for a panoramic view!

3. The experience is advertised as being truly unique: there is only one railway like it and also it seems to be family-orientated which should appeal to all the middle-class families in Canada.

Document 3

9 1.





Testing of the Hyperloop

a) in Las Vegas

b) 1 km

c) 335 mph

Final project

d) 2020

e) from L.A.

f) to San Francisco

g) 400 miles

h) 750 mph

2. The train is state-of-the-art, it is going to travel at a speed which is very close to the speed of sound which is a real feat!

10 Image c. : “pressurized capsules […] through pneumatic-style tubes” (l. 14-15)

11No: it is compared to “putting a man on the moon” and qualified as “challeng[ing]” (l. 22-24)

12The Mayor believes that the project will bring considerable wealth to the region and also provide much needed jobs.

Uniquement pour les candidat(e)s de la série L-LVA.

13The journalist seems to think that this project is something that takes “science fiction and aims to make it a reality” (l. 13-14) which is certainly a visionary concept! He also makes a direct comparison with the 1960s when man first set foot on the moon (l. 22-23), something which at the time seem­ed truly amazing. There is also the idea of expert knowledge in the field of science, of mastering the laws of physics: “magnetic attraction” (l. 16).

Documents 1, 2 and 3

Pour les candidat(e)s qui ne composent pas au titre de la LVA.

14In document 1 trains are used as a means of commemoration: a way of reminding the collector how things used to be. In document 2, on the other hand trains are used as luxurious form of transport, allowing the passengers to move from one side of Canada to the other. In document 3, trains are seen as a visionary aspect of the future. All three documents show how essential trains are to people, not only as a means of transport but in other dimensions.

Uniquement pour les candidat(e)s de la série L-LVA.

15Trains create different kinds of links: essentially, as a means of transport they link different geographical locations, allowing passengers to travel from one place to another whether that be from one side of Canada to another like in document 2 or around the USA in document 3. Looking at the idea more philosophically, trains create a link between the past, the present and the future. Perhaps you could argue that trains do not simply create links between places but also between people: taking a train ride brings families together in document 2 and allows communities to grow and develop in the USA in document 3.


2 Guidelines

From the revolutionary steam trains of the 19th century that opened the gateway into the West, to an innovative and exciting new concept that will allow you to take a 400-mile trip in just under an hour. Today is no longer the steam era, nor the diesel era, today is the era of the solar powered Hyperloop!

First, let me thank you all for coming to witness this truly unique event. As you all know, today is an extraordinary day, in the words of another pioneer in travel, Neil Armstrong: “this is one small step for man and a giant leap for mankind.” Today represents a turning point in rail transport! No more delays and waiting around for trains that take forever to get to their destinations. No more having to live in expensive accommodation in the city close to work to avoid commuting costs. A 400-mile trip in just 50 minutes! It sounds crazy but it’s true! Have your dream home in L.A. and continue working in San Francisco, you can do it!

You may be doubtful, worrying about potential dangers and security issues that this new, almost supersonic, train may have but have no fear! We at Hyperloop Technologies Inc. have been carrying out the most rigorous, strict and thorough tests since 2013, yes, you heard me right, we have been testing this baby for the last 7 years! We have tested the train to its limits. You are in safe hands, or should I say on safe rails taking a trip on the Hyperloop.

Just think of the advantages: not just safety and security in your trip, but also speed. And there is the game changer: our Hyperloop makes sci-fi a reality! We’ve all seen those films and dreamed of travelling from one place to an­other in the blink of an eye. Now all that is possible thanks to Hyperloop. The future is now! The future is Hyperloop!

4 Guidelines


mayhem : chaos

obvious : évident

The Orient Express, The Hogwarts Express, The Polar Express: mythical trains where authors over the years have brought readers magic, murder and mayhem!

Trains, in fiction like in reality, really are microcosms of the outside world. When you embark on a journey, be it a short or a long one you enter a confined space from which you cannot escape for the length of your journey. For Harry Potter on the Hogwarts Express, for example, that means making friends and sharing secrets before a new school year. For Agatha Christie’s detective Hercule Poirot it means murder and suspense and finding the murderer to bring him to justice.

From a much more mundane perspective, it means forgetting the outside world for the length of your journey and disappearing into a good book or gazing at the world racing by outside the window. You cannot contact the people you see outside the window as you rush past. You may, like the recent blockbuster The Girl on the Train, imagine their lives, their pasts as you see the same people each morning on your daily commute.

Trains have been a source of inspiration for so many authors and the reason why seems obvious: when you are on the train you have no contact with the outside world, you are restricted in your movements and your activities. You are effectively, in your own little world!