The railways were and remain the necessary and natural accompaniment to the emergence of civil society. They are a collective project for individual benefit. They cannot exist without common accord (and, in recent times, common expenditure), and by design they offer a practical benefit to individual and collectivity alike. This is something the market cannot accomplish—except, on its own account of itself, by happy inadvertence. Railways were not always environmentally sensitive—though in overall pollution costs it is not clear that the steam engine did more harm than its internally combusted competitor—but they were and had to be socially responsive. That is one reason why they were not very profitable.
Thus the classical railway stations, many of them the product of the City Beautiful movement, were designed as great public monuments that would dominate the built environment and uplift the civic spirit. This notion is carried out in all of the great classical stations: Orsay, Grand Central Station, Gare de L'est, Waterloo Station, etc. Additionally, Judt makes the very salient point that trains exemplify comprehensive, rational use of public space. The notion of public space is rationalist and highly modernist. Thus the betrayal of public space is a betrayal of modernity:
If we cannot spend our collective resources on trains and travel contentedly in them it is not because we have joined gated communities and need nothing but private cars to move between them. It will be because we have become gated individuals who don’t know how to share public space to common advantage. The implications of such a loss would far transcend the demise of one system of transport among others. It would mean we had done with modern life.