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Transcontinental Railroad facts for kids

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A transcontinental railroad in the United States is any continuous rail line connecting a location on the U.S. Pacific coast with one or more of the railroads of the nation's eastern trunk line rail systems operating between the Missouri or Mississippi Rivers and the U.S. Atlantic coast. The first concrete plan for a transcontinental railroad in the United States was presented to Congress by Asa Whitney in 1845.

US Pacific Railroads 1887
Transcontinental railroads in and near the United States by 1887

A series of transcontinental railroads built over the last third of the 19th century created a nationwide transportation network that united the country by rail. The first of these, the 3,103 km (1,928 mi) "Pacific Railroad", was built by the Central Pacific Railroad and Union Pacific Railroad to link the San Francisco Bay at Alameda, California, with the nation's existing eastern railroad network at Council Bluffs, Iowa/Omaha, Nebraska, thereby creating the world's first transcontinental railroad when it opened in 1869. Its construction was made possible by the US government under Pacific Railroad Acts of 1862, 1864, and 1867. Its original course was very close to current Interstate 80.

Transcontinental railroad

The U.S.'s First transcontinental railroad was built between 1863 and 1869 to join the eastern and western halves of the United States. Begun just before the American Civil War, its construction was considered to be one of the greatest American technological feats of the 19th century. Known as the "Pacific Railroad" when it opened, this served as a vital link for trade, commerce, and travel and opened up vast regions of the North American heartland for settlement. Shipping and commerce could thrive away from navigable watercourses for the first time since the beginning of the nation. Much of this route, especially on the Sierra grade west of Reno, Nevada, is currently used by Amtrak's California Zephyr, although many parts have been rerouted.

The ceremony for the driving of the golden spike at Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10, 1869; completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. At center left, Samuel S. Montague, Central Pacific Railroad, shakes hands with Grenville M. Dodge, Union Pacific Railroad (center right)

People began building the Transcontinental Railroad in 1863. Much of it was built by the Central Pacific Railroad, building east from Sacramento, California, and the Union Pacific Railroad building West from Omaha, Nebraska. The two railroads met at Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10 in the year 1869. Much of it was built by people who came to the U.S. from China and Ireland. It cut the time to go across the United States from months to weeks and later days. At the time of its completion, it was one of the longest railroads in the world.

The Transcontinental Railroad is finished.

The transcontinental railroad provided fast, safe, and cheap travel. The fare for a one-week trip from Omaha to San Francisco on an emigrant sleeping car was about $65 for an adult. It replaced most of the far slower and more hazardous stagecoach lines and wagon trains. The number of emigrants taking the Oregon and California Trails declined dramatically. The sale of the railroad land grant lands and the transport provided for timber and crops led to the rapid settling of the "Great American Desert".

Land Grants

The Transcontinental Railroad required land and a complex federal policy for purchasing, granting, conveying land. Some of these land-related acts included:

  • One motive for the Gadsden Purchase of land from Mexico in 1853 was to obtain suitable terrain for a southern transcontinental railroad, as the southern portion of the Mexican Cession was too mountainous. The Southern Pacific Railroad was completed in 1881.
  • The Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 (based on an earlier bill in 1856) authorized land grants for new lines that would "aid in the construction of a railroad and telegraph line from the Missouri river to the Pacific ocean".
  • The rails of the "First transcontinental railroad" were joined on May 10, 1869, with the ceremonial driving of the "Last Spike" at Promontory Summit, Utah, after track was laid over a 2,826 km (1,756 mi) gap between Sacramento and Omaha, Nebraska/Council Bluffs, Iowa in six years by the Union Pacific Railroad and Central Pacific Railroad. Although through train service was in operation as of that date, the road was not deemed to have been officially "completed" until November 6, 1869. (A physical connection between Omaha, Nebraska, and the statutory Eastern terminus of the Pacific road at Council Bluffs, Iowa, located immediately across the Missouri River was also not finally established until the opening of UPRR railroad bridge across the river on March 25, 1873, prior to which transfers were made by ferry operated by the Council Bluffs & Nebraska Ferry Company.)
  • The first permanent, continuous line of railroad track from coast to coast was completed 15 months later on August 15, 1870, by the Kansas Pacific Railroad near its crossing of Comanche Creek at Strasburg, Colorado. This route connected to the eastern rail network via the Hannibal Bridge across the Missouri River at Kansas City completed June 30, 1869, passed through Denver, Colorado, and north to the Union Pacific Railroad at Cheyenne, Wyoming, making it theoretically possible for the first time to board a train at Jersey City, New Jersey, travel entirely by rail, and step down at the Alameda Wharf on San Francisco Bay in Oakland. This singularity existed until March 25, 1873 when the Union Pacific constructed the Missouri River Bridge in Omaha.

Subsequent transcontinental routes

  • Almost 12 years after Promontory Summit, the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) constructed the second transcontinental railroad, building eastwards through the Gadsden Purchase, which had been acquired from Mexico in 1854 largely with the intention of providing a route for a railroad connecting California with the Southern states. This line was completed with milestones and ceremonies in 1881 and 1883:
  • In Colorado, the 3-foot gauge Denver & Rio Grande (D&RG) extended its route from Denver via Pueblo across the Rocky Mountains to Grand Junction in 1882. In central Utah, the D&RG acquired a number of independent narrow gauge companies, which were incorporated into the first (1881-1889) Denver and Rio Grande Western Railway (D&RGW). Tracks were extended north through Salt Lake City, while simultaneously building south and eastward toward Grand Junction. The D&RG and the D&RGW were linked on March 30, 1883, the extension to Ogden (where it met the Central Pacific) was completed on May 14, 1883, and through traffic between Denver and Ogden began a few days later. The break of gauge made direct interchange of rolling stock with standard gauge railroads at both ends of this bridge line impossible for several years. The D&RG in 1887 began rebuilding its mainline in standard gauge, including a new route and tunnel at Tennessee Pass. The first D&RGW was reincorporated as the Rio Grande Western (RGW) in June 1889 and immediately began the conversion of track gauge. Standard gauge operations linking Ogden and Denver were completed on November 15, 1890.
  • The Atlantic and Pacific Railroad completed its route connecting the AT&SF at Albuquerque, New Mexico, via Flagstaff, Arizona, to the Southern Pacific at Needles, California, on August 9, 1883. The SP line into Barstow was leased by the A&P in 1884 (and purchased in 1911); this gave the AT&SF (the A&P's parent company) a direct route into Southern California. This route now forms the western portion of BNSF's Southern Transcon.
  • The Northern Pacific Railway (NP) completed the fifth independent transcontinental railroad on August 22, 1883, linking Chicago with Seattle. The Completion Ceremony was held on September 8, 1883, with former U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant contributing to driving the Final Spike.
  • The California Southern Railroad (chartered January 10, 1882) was completed from National City on San Diego Bay via Temecula Cañon to Colton and San Bernardino in September, 1883, and extended through the Cajon Pass to Barstow, a junction of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, in November, 1885. In September, 1885, the line of the Southern Pacific from Colton to Los Angeles, a distance of 93 km (58 mi), had been leased by the California Central with equal rights and privileges thus allowing the Santa Fe's Transcontinental route to be completed by the connection with the California Southern and A&PRR. The SP grade was used until the completion of the California Central's own line between San Bernardino and Los Angeles in June, 1887, a distance of 101.13 km (62.84 mi), which was part of the old Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley Railroad, which had been acquired by purchase. In August, 1888, the California Central completed its Coast Division south from Los Angeles to a junction with the California Southern Railroad near Oceanside, a distance of 130.20 km (80.90 mi), and these two divisions comprised the main line of the California Central, forming, in connection with the California Southern, a direct line between Southern California and the East by way of the Atlantic and Pacific and Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroads.
  • The Great Northern Railway was built, without federal aid, by James J. Hill in 1893; it stretched from St. Paul to Seattle.
  • The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific reached Santa Rosa, New Mexico, from the east in late 1901, shortly before the El Paso & Northeastern arrived from the southwest. The two were connected on February 1, 1902, thus forming an additional link between the Midwest and southern California. Through passenger service was provided by the Golden State Limited (Chicago—Kansas City—Tucumcari—El Paso—Los Angeles) jointly operated by the Rock Island and the Southern Pacific (EP&NE's successor) from 1902 to 1968.
  • The San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad completed its line connecting Los Angeles through Las Vegas to Salt Lake City on May 1, 1905. Through passenger service from Chicago to Los Angeles was provided by Union Pacific's Los Angeles Limited from 1905 to 1954, and the City of Los Angeles from 1936 to 1971.
  • The Western Pacific Railway (WP), financed by the Denver & Rio Grande on behalf of the Gould System, completed its new line (the Feather River Route) from Oakland to Ogden in 1909, in direct competition with the Southern Pacific's existing route. Through passenger service (Oakland-Salt Lake City-Denver-Chicago) was provided by the Exposition Flyer 1939 to 1949 and its successor, the California Zephyr 1949 to 1970, both jointly operated by the WP, the D&RGW and the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy.
  • In 1909, the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul (or Milwaukee Road) completed a privately built Pacific extension to Seattle. On completion, the line was renamed the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific. Although the Pacific Extension was privately funded, predecessor roads did benefit from the federal land grant act, so it cannot be said to have been built without federal aid.
  • John D. Spreckels completed his privately funded San Diego and Arizona Railway in 1919, thereby creating a direct link (via connection with the Southern Pacific lines) between San Diego, California and the Eastern United States. The railroad stretched 238 km (148 mi) from San Diego to Calexico, California, of which 71 km (44 mi) were south of the border in Mexico.
  • In 1993, Amtrak's Sunset Limited daily railroad train was extended eastward to Miami, Florida, later rerouted to Orlando, making it the first regularly scheduled transcontinental passenger train route in the United States to be operated by a single company. Hurricane Katrina cut this rail route in Louisiana in 2005. The train now runs from Los Angeles to New Orleans.

The Gould System

George J. Gould attempted to assemble a truly transcontinental system in the 1900s. The line from San Francisco, California, to Toledo, Ohio, was completed in 1909, consisting of the Western Pacific Railway, Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, Missouri Pacific Railroad, and Wabash Railroad. Beyond Toledo, the planned route would have used the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad (1900), Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway, Little Kanawha Railroad, West Virginia Central and Pittsburgh Railway, Western Maryland Railroad, and Philadelphia and Western Railway, but the Panic of 1907 strangled the plans before the Little Kanawha section in West Virginia could be finished. The Alphabet Route was completed in 1931, providing the portion of this line east of the Mississippi River. With the merging of the railroads, only the Union Pacific Railroad and the BNSF Railway remain to carry the entire route.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Ferrocarril transcontinental para niños

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