Timeline of United States railway history

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Steam locomotives of the Chicago and North Western Railway in the roundhouse at the Chicago, Illinois rail yards, 1942 Locomotives-Roundhouse2.jpg
Steam locomotives of the Chicago and North Western Railway in the roundhouse at the Chicago, Illinois rail yards, 1942

The Timeline of U.S. Railway History depends upon the definition of a railway, as follows: A means of conveyance of passengers and goods on wheeled vehicles running on rails, also known as tracks.





Inspired by the speedy success of the Stockton and Darlington Railway (1825) in England's railway historical record, capitalists in the United States already embarking upon great public works infrastructure projects to connect the new territories of the United States with the older seaboard cities industries by the canals of America's Canal Age, almost overnight began dreaming up projects using railroads a technology in its infancy, but one employing steam engines which were rapidly becoming widely known from their successful use on steamboats. American steam engine pioneers were willing to experiment with Heat Engines using higher pressures than the mainly Atmospheric engines still fashionable in Great Britain. The rest of the world lagged the two English speaking nations. Railroads began to be proposed where canals wouldn't do, or would be too costly and with an increase in rolling stock tonnage capacity, locomotive power, and a growing confidence born of experience and new materials in less than three decades, the United States generally would discard canals as the principal design choice in favor of far more capable freight haulage technologies.

During the summer of 1827, [lower-alpha 1] a railroad was built from the mines at Summit Hill to Mauch Chunk. With one or two unimportant exceptions, this was the first railroad in the United States.

James E. Held, Archaeology [6]

The resultant Summit Hill & Mauch Chunk Railroad, where mules rode special cars down as well, after the coal hoppers, then returned empties up the nine mile return trip, became the first U.S. railway to carry passengers in the same year of 1827. In less than two years the railway was attracting so many visitors, it began charging fares, and then added and operated special tourism excursions on Sunday as a tourist road which role it carried into 1932 as the world's acknowledged first roller coaster. In 1847 the cable railway return track was constructed with planes climbing two prominences along Pisgah Ridge, shortening the up trip to twenty minutes from nearly four hours by mule.

The DeWitt Clinton as it would have appeared on its inaugural run in 1831. DeWitt Clinton (locomotive).jpg
The DeWitt Clinton as it would have appeared on its inaugural run in 1831.

Railroads gradually replace canals as the first-choice mode of transportation infrastructure to champion and build, while canals hold a whip hand on economy for decades more, but falter on flexible destinations, speed, and where they suffer seasonal stoppages yet service year round needs. By the 1860s, in any case, where all the important older canals were to be found any canal with functions satisfiable by parallel railways (excepting by definition, ship canals) is eyed by investors to be supplanted by a competing railroad. The idea of a rail network in the US, which is by then showing early signs some areas have overbuilt in the Eastern United States is still not a common business model. Cut throat competitive capitalism, not co-operation are the rule, and the decade kicks off the forty years or so of the robber barons and excesses in capitalism.



Main Concourse of Grand Central Terminal, which first opened in 1913. Grand Central Terminal Main Concourse May 2014.jpg
Main Concourse of Grand Central Terminal, which first opened in 1913.



  1. Summer of 1827 is in conflict with highly detailed account by Brenckman and other more local (and more contemporary) historians. [5] Brenckman's detailed account details preparations stockpiling wood, iron, tools and materials over the entire preceding winter and fall with work parties defined and told off with work commencing as soon as soil melts allowed work to lay sleepers in March and April with the aim of not affecting coal deliveries to the canal head, so it could resume operations as soon as ice and flooding permitted. Further, framework, couplings, tires and other iron castings were carried out in the LC&N Co.'s own foundries in Mauch Chunk, the company having financed at least 12 of the first 14 blast furnaces North of Easton so triggered the iron and steel industries of Bethlehem and Allentown south of the Blue Ridge escarpment.

See also

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The credit of constructing the first permanent tramway in America may therefore be rightly given to Thomas Leiper. He was the owner of a fine quarry not far from Philadelphia, and was much concerned to find an easy mode of carrying stone to tide-water. That a railway would accomplish this end he seem to have had no doubt. To test the matter, and at the same time afford a public exhibition of the merits of tramways, he built a temporary track in the yard of the Bull's Head Tavern in Philadelphia. The tramway was some sixty feet long, had a grade of one inch and a half to the yard, and up it, to the amazement of the spectators, one horse used to draw a four-wheeled wagon loaded with a weight of ten thousand pounds. This was the summer of 1809. Before autumn laborers were at work building a railway from the quarry to the nearest landing, a distance of three quarters of a mile. In the spring of 1810 the road began to be used and continued in using during eighteen years.
by John Bach McMaster, page 494, A History of the People of the United States, from the Revolution to the Civil War

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  1. William A. Newman, Wilfred E. Holton, Boston's Back Bay: The Story of America's Greatest Nineteenth-century Landfill Project , Northeastern University Press, Boston,
  2. Burke, James, Connections (book), 1978 edition book, Chapter "Fuel to the Flame" (episode title: "Thunder in the Skies").
  3. Gradient calculation: (1.5 X 100) / 36 = 4.16667%. This is steep by mountainous country standards.
  4. Bartholomew, Ann M.; Metz, Lance E.; Kneis, Michael (1989). DELAWARE and LEHIGH CANALS, 158 pages (First ed.). Oak Printing Company, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: Center for Canal History and Technology, Hugh Moore Historical Park and Museum, Inc., Easton, Pennsylvania. pp. 4–5. ISBN   0930973097. LCCN   89-25150.
  5. 1 2 Fred Brenckman, Official Commonwealth Historian (1884). HISTORY OF CARBON COUNTY PENNSYLVANIA (2nd (1913) ed.). p. 627.
  6. James E. Held (July 1, 1998). "The Canal Age". Archaeology (Online). A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America (July 1, 1998). Retrieved 2016-06-12. During the summer of 1827, a railroad was built from the mines at Summit Hill to Mauch Chunk. With one or two unimportant exceptions, this was the first railroad in the United States.
  7. Harwood, Jr., Herbert H. (1979). Impossible Challenge: The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in Maryland. Baltimore, MD: Barnard, Roberts. ISBN   0-934118-17-5.
  8. "Ceremony at "Wedding of the Rails," May 10, 1869 at Promontory Point, Utah". World Digital Library . 1869-05-10. Retrieved 2013-07-20.
  9. Blaise, Clark (2000). Time Lord: Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time. Random House Digital. p. 103. ISBN   978-0-375-72752-8.
  10. Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, ch. 104, 24 Stat. 379, approved 1887-02-04.
  11. Act of Mar. 2, 1893, 27  Stat.   531, recodified, as amended, 49 U.S.C.   § 20302.
  12. "The USRA Era, 1900–1916, Part I". N.P. Ry. Tell Tale Extra. PW2.Netcom.com. Retrieved 2011-05-25.
  13. Presidential Proclamation 1419, December 26, 1917, under authority of the Army Appropriation Act, 39  Stat.   45, August 29, 1916.
  14. Esch–Cummins Act, Pub.L. 66-152, 41  Stat.   456. Approved 1920-02-28.
  15. Railway Labor Act, May 20, 1926, ch. 347, 44  Stat.   577. 45 U.S.C.   § 151 et seq.
  16. William E. Thoms, "Clear Track for Deregulation American Railroads, 1970-1980." Transportation Law Journal 12 (1981): 183+.
  17. Joseph R. Daughen, and Peter Binzen, The wreck of the Penn Central (1999).
  18. Steven A. Morrison, "The Value of Amtrak." Journal of Law and economics 33 (1990): 361+
  19. Clifford Winston, "The Success of the Staggers Rail Act of 1980" (AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies, 2005) online.
  20. Brian Solomon, CSX (Voyageur Press, 2005).
  21. Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act, Pub. L.   104–88 (text) (PDF), 109  Stat.   803; 1995-12-29.
  22. Laura Stevens, "Railroads face more tough track, Wall Street Journal 11 January 2016

Further reading