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first transcontinental railroad

first transcontinental railroad

first transcontinental railroad

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first transcontinental railroad
first transcontinental railroad

Westward Expansion First Transcontinental Railroad History >> Westward Expansion The First Transcontinental Railroad stretched from the East Coast of the United States to the West Coast. No longer would people travel in long wagon trains that took months to reach California. They could now travel faster, safer, and cheaper by train. In addition to people, things like mail, supplies, and trade goods could now be shipped across the country in just a few days. The railroad was built between 1863 and 1869.




The first talk of a transcontinental railroad started around 1830. One of the first promoters of the railroad was a merchant named Asa Whitney. Asa tried hard for many years to get Congress to pass an act to build the railroad, but failed. However, in the 1860s Theodore Judah began to lobby for a railroad. He surveyed the Sierra Nevada Mountains and found a pass where the railroad could be built.


The Route

There were two main routes along which people wanted the first railroad to be built. One route was called the “central route”. It followed much the same route as the Oregon Trail. It would begin in Omaha, Nebraska and end up in Sacramento, California. The other route was the “southern route”. This route would stretch across Texas, New Mexico, and end up in Los Angeles, California. The central route was eventually chosen by Congress. Route of the First Transcontinental Railroad by Unknown


Pacific Railroad Act

first transcontinental railroad
first transcontinental railroad

In 1862 President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act into law. The act said that there were two main railroad lines. The Central Pacific Railroad would come from California and the Union Pacific Railroad would come from the Midwest. The two railroads would meet somewhere in the middle. The act gave the railroad companies land where they could build the railroad. It also paid them for each mile that they built. They were paid more money for miles of track built in the mountains versus miles of track built on the flat plains.


Building the Railroad


Across the Continent by Joseph Becker Building the railroad was tough, hard work.


Weather conditions were especially tough in the mountains during the winter. A lot of times the only way to travel over the mountains was to go through the mountains by blasting a tunnel. The Central Pacific Railroad had to blast a number of tunnels through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The longest tunnel built was 1659 feet long. It took a long time to build the tunnels. They were able to blast around one foot per day on average. While the Central Pacific Railroad had to deal with mountains and snow, the Union Pacific Railroad was challenged by Native Americans raids.


As the Native Americans came to realize the threat to their way of life that the “Iron Horse” was going to bring, they began to raid the railroad work sites. Also, a lot of the land that was “granted” to the railroad by the government was actually Native American land.


The Workers


The majority of the workers on the Union Pacific Railroad were Irish laborers, many who had served in both the Union and the Confederate armies. In Utah, a lot of the track was built by Mormon workers.

first transcontinental railroad
first transcontinental railroad

Most of the Central Pacific Railroad was built by Chinese immigrants.

The Golden Spike


The two railroads finally met at Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10, 1869. Leland Stanford, governor of California and president of the Central Pacific Railroad, drove in the last spike. This final spike was called the “Golden Spike” or “The Final Spike”. You can see it today at Stanford University in California. Driving the Golden Spike on 10th May, 1869 by American School


Interesting Facts about the First Transcontinental Railroad


The Pony Express traveled a similar route to the central route and helped to prove that the route was passable in winter.


The transcontinental railroad was also called the Pacific Railroad and the Overland Route. The total length of the First Transcontinental Railroad was 1,776 miles. The Central Pacific Railroad was controlled by four men called the “Big Four”. They were Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker. It was later, in November of 1869, when the Central Pacific connected San Francisco to Sacramento.

The transcontinental railroad


The opening of the Pacific railroad in 1869 demonstrated that the market for the profitable operation of such a line still lay somewhat in the future: one eastbound and one westbound train a week were adequate to meet the demands of traffic. It took almost a generation before additional rail lines to the west coast seemed justified. In 1885 the Santa Fe reached the Los Angeles basin and the Northern Pacific Railway reached Puget Sound. Each western railroad now had to shape a new economic and geographic strategy.

In place of the natural territory gained through monopoly the western lines tried to accomplish regional ubiquity, under which the Southern Pacific (originally the Central Pacific), the Union Pacific, or the Santa Fe attempted to have a network of rail lines that reached to the Pacific Southwest, the Pacific Northwest, and northern California; only the Union Pacific succeeded. The American rail network was essentially complete by 1910 when the last transcontinental line, the Western Pacific Railroad to Oakland, California, was opened.

first transcontinental railroad
first transcontinental railroad

Advances in traction systems

Diesel-electric locomotives appeared in the 1920s. Individual locomotive units provided up to 5,000 horsepower, a figure equal to all the steam-engine power in the United States in 1800. Locomotive units could be multicoupled and operated by a single engineer. It became routine to run “unit trains” containing 100 to 150 freight cars, semipermanently coupled together and operating over a single long run carrying a single commodity, most commonly coal but also other minerals or grains. Not only did diesel-electric locomotives make such routinization of freight operation possible but they also reduced labour demands greatly. Refueling engines required only pumping heavy fuel oil at infrequent intervals; locomotives frequently ran coast-to-coast with only changes of crew and refueling.

In the first third of the 20th century electrification of standard railroads (which came first on the B&O in 1895) proceeded. Never as widespread as in Europe, electrification today is particularly associated with the northeastern United States. This regional concentration of electrification has meant that only between Boston and Washington, D.C., where the federally assembled Amtrak system owns the infrastructure, is there potential to seek easy high-speed rail development.

Experimental high-speed projects began in this northeast corridor in the 1960s when both the Pennsylvania Railroad with its electrically operated Metroliners and the New Haven Railroad diesel-electric Turbotrains began running, and since 2000 Amtrak has run its electric Acela Express trains between Boston and Washington.

The Metroliners (phased out in 2006) attained speeds of 200 km (125 miles) per hour in the best sections, while the Acela Express trains are capable of reaching speeds in excess of 240 km (150 miles) per hour—though average operating speeds over the entire route are far lower, generally about 120 km (75 miles) per hour.

James E. Vance

Railway company mergers

Throughout the 20th century the ownership and organization of U.S. railroads changed. Mergers were common, and the bankruptcy of Penn Central Railroad in 1970 became the nucleus around which a number of northeastern railroads were joined into a nationally owned Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail), established by the federal government under the Regional Rail Reorganization Act of 1973.

The new company’s tracks extended from the Atlantic Ocean to St. Louis and from the Ohio River north to Canada. Although it was set up to be an independent profit-making corporation, in its early years, even with the aid of federal loans, it lost more than the bankrupt lines had lost before consolidation.

In 1981 Conrail turned a profit for the first time, and in 1987 the government put its stock up for sale to the public. After several years of profitable operation, the assets of the company were purchased in the late 1990s by two other rail companies, CSX Corporation and Norfolk Southern Corporation.

A History of the Building of the Pacific Railroad


first transcontinental railroad
first transcontinental railroad
 The railroad was a government operation, authorized by Congress during the height of the Civil War. Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Acts in 1862 and again in 1864. To pay for it, the US government issued 30 year bonds, as well as granting government land to contractors.
The construction of the line was a major achievement by both the Union Pacific (constructing westward from Iowa) and the Central Pacific (constructing eastward from California). The line was officially opened on May 10, 1869, with the Last Spike driven through the railway at Promontory Summit, Utah. James K. Wheaton looks at the history in this book.
Canadian railroads


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In its earliest years Canadian railroading was influenced by British rail practice, but after a decade of experience with North American economic and geographic realities, American practice began a fairly rapid rise to dominance that has remained to the present.

The first transborder line was completed between Portland, Maine, and Montreal in 1852; it was known as the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad in the three northern New England states and the St. Lawrence and Atlantic in Quebec. At the behest of the Maine promoters of this line, a gauge of 5 feet 6 inches (1,676 mm) was adopted to exclude Boston and its standard-gauge railroads from participation.

Once the railroad opened, the international company was sold to and extended by a British company, the Grand Trunk Railway, which ultimately constructed a line from Rivière-du-Loup on the St. Lawrence estuary below Quebec city to Sarnia on the St. Clair River at the Ontario-Michigan frontier.

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