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Railroads, trans continental railroad facts

Until the 1800's, transport by land was desperately slow and had changed little for thousands of years. The roads were in a terrible condition, being dust baths in summer and rivers of mud in winter. Traveling by stagecoach was uncomfortable and unreliable, and there was also always the danger of being held up by bandits (see Roads, facts about roads for kids).

In the late 1700's several attempts were made to adapt the newly invented steam engine to a road carriage, but they failed because of the state of the roads. But in 1803, the British engineer Richard Trevithick hit on the idea of mounting the steam carriage on rails to provide a smoother ride. A year later Trevithick demonstrated the first rail locomotive. The idea of using rails was, however, not new. Horse-drawn railcars, or tramcars, were being used in most large mines in England at that period. They were first used in America in 1826.

The first public European railroad that used steam locomotives was the Stockton and Darlington line in England. It was opened in 1825. George Stephenson, an engineer, built the 10-mile line and its first engine Locomotion. In 1829, Stephenson built his most famous locomotive, The Rocket.

An early passenger - Trans continental railroad facts

Railroads, trans continental railroad facts (click to increase)

An early passenger train on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. This was the first passenger-carrying railroad in the United States. At first, horses pulled the cars (click image to increase)

The first American engine was built in 1825 by John Stevens. His small engine ran around a half-mile circular track at Hoboken, New Jersey.

Five years later, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was started. This was the first railroad to carry passengers in the United States, and horses were used to draw the passenger cars. In the same year a New York ironmaster, Peter Cooper, raced his small engine, Tom Thumb, against a stagecoach and the engine came close to winning. This close race encouraged many people to build railroads using American engines. In December 1830, the South Carolina Railroad became the first American railroad with a locomotive service, when The Best Friend of Charleston set off down the line.

Freight containers - Trans continental railroad facts

Railroads, trans continental railroad facts

Left: Freight containers are helping to speed up the transportation of goods by rail. The containers can be transferred between trucks, railroad cars and even ships without ever being unloaded.

Bottom left: Railroad tracks are frequently inspected with the aid of delicate instruments which can detect even the smallest defect in the metal rails.

Below: Elaborate signaling systems have been developed to cope with the heavy traffic and high speeds on modern railroad systems. In many signal boxes the signalman has only to turn a switch and press a button to change all the points and signals for a train to pass

European railroad tracks - Trans continental railroad facts

Elaborate signaling systems - european railroads

From 1830, the development of railroads was very fast. Within ten years, the United States had about 2,400 miles of local lines. In 1850, Congress passed a Land-Grant Act, which sold land to the states for building railroads in the uninhabited lands of the South and West. Soon, the 'iron horse' began to push westward, especially from the city of Chicago. By 1860, there were more than 30,000 miles of railroad stretching across the United States. The railroad was of great importance in the Civil War, because it was used to carry troops and supplies.

After the Civil War, the railroad system continued to grow, and its growth was even faster than before. In 1865, work started from both sides of the continent on the Union Pacific Railroad from the Pacific to the Atlantic coasts. On May 10, 1869, the two sections met. The construction of the line was very eventful. If the men were not fighting among themselves, they were fighting off attacks by Indians or encountering herds of buffalo.

A modern locomotive - Trans continental railroad facts

A car of the West European - Trans continental railroad facts

Trans continental railroad facts

A modern locomotive on the trans continental route of the Canadian National Railroad system (click image to increase)

Trans continental railroad facts

A car of the West European trans continental railroad company (click image to increase)

Today the United States has more than 250,000 miles of railroads. The growth of railroads greatly assisted the development of industry. Goods and raw materials could be speedily transported between mines and factories, towns and ports. Towns were built in previously uninhabited regions. Nowhere was the impact of the railroads greater than on the vast continent of North America. As the railroad crossed the United States, it united the country, by making it easier for people to travel from one place to another. Presidential candidates were able to travel across the country on 'whistle-stop' election campaigns. Mail and goods could cross the country in a matter of days, where once it took weeks.

In the late 1800's, railroads were built throughout the world. British and American engineers helped to design and build railroads in many countries. Among the world's most important railroads were the Transandine Railway across the Andes Mountains, the Trans-Siberian Railroad across much of Russia, and the Chinese Eastern Railway.

Stephenson's locomotives ran on rails that were 4 feet 8.5 inches apart. Many countries adopted the same width, or gauge, for their railroads when they imported British locomotives. Others adopted different gauges. This caused problems when the lines of countries with different gauges, met, such as those of France (standard gauge), Spain (5 ft 6 in) aòâ some other European railroads. The same problem existed in the United States, because different railroads used different gauges. The Federal government had ordered the trans continental railroad, as fact, to use the standard gauge, and in the 1880's it came to be used in nearly all railroads.

Today railroads are being modernized throughout the world to meet competition from road and air transport. Electric and diesel locomotives are replacing steam. Small lines are being closed if they are uneconomic, and major railroad services are being speeded up.

Track laying and maintenance of railroads are now being highly mechanized. Rails are being welded together to make long continuous lengths for smoother running. Built-in automatic warning systems on the tracks and in the locomotives help to prevent crashes. Signaling is done by swift, push-button controls.

At the present time, trans continental railroads carry more freight than passenger traffic. Much of the freight travels in standard-sized containers, which simplify handling. There are tank cars for bulk liquids. Multi-decked transporters for automobiles and livestock and refrigerator cars for foods are also used.

Speeds approaching 200 miles an hour are becoming common on some lines. For example, the Metroliner that travels between New York City and Washington D.C. has cut traveling time from four to two and a half hours. On Japan's New Tokkaido line, the train travels at an average speed of more than 200 mph. Future plans include regular services at speeds of more than 200 mph. Already the French train, which 'hovers' on a monorail (single rail), has exceeded 250 mph. Many experts consider that the future of railroads probably lies in monorails, 'hover' trains and a new method of electric propulsion called linear induction. Linear induction motors have no moving parts. They work by producing a strong magnetic field that pushes the train along.

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