Encyclopedia of North American Railroads

Encyclopedia of North American Railroads

Encyclopedia of North American Railroads

Encyclopedia of North American Railroads

Synopsis

Lavishly illustrated and a joy to read, this authoritative reference work on the North American continent's railroads covers the U.S., Canadian, Mexican, Central American, and Cuban systems. The encyclopedia's over-arching theme is the evolution of the railroad industry and the historical impact of its progress on the North American continent. This thoroughly researched work examines the various aspects of the industry's development: technology, operations, cultural impact, the evolution of public policy regarding the industry, and the structural functioning of modern railroads. More than 500 alphabetical entries cover a myriad of subjects, including numerous entries profiling the principal companies, suppliers, manufacturers, and individuals influencing the history of the rails. Extensive appendices provide data regarding weight, fuel, statistical trends, and more, as well as a list of 130 vital railroad books. Railfans will treasure this indispensable work.

Excerpt

The United States was the first nation, outside of England, to enthusiastically build railways on a large scale. in fact, it had more iron highways than other countries by about 1860. Almost all of the system was built by private investors, and a good portion of it was built through unsettled territory. To claim that it altered the lives of most Americans is an understatement. It revolutionized the transportation of goods and people and propelled America into the industrial age. Was the rush to mechanize transit a good idea? If you believe that colonizing the vast undeveloped territory of North America quickly and creating of enormous wealth with equal speed were good things, then of course it was the right way to go. If you believe in a more careful, regulated, and conservative exploitation of the natural riches of the New World, then it was not at all a wise plan. However, the wisdom or folly of what was done cannot now be greatly altered, and so it is the purpose of this book to explain what happened rather than pass judgment on the actions of our forefathers.

American historians and thinkers have generally regarded railroads as a positive force. Emerson said, “Railroad iron is a magician’s rod in its power to wake the sleeping energies of land and water.” It created a revolution in travel, space, and time. Nothing so speeded up travel in the history of mankind as the steam locomotive. Its capital needs created a new business order of unprecedented size and power. the railway was the economic detonator of the nineteenth century, according to British historian Michael Robbins. It was America’s first big business, in the opinion of Professor Alfred D. Chandler, Jr. of course, counterclaims have been made by other economic historians such as Professor Robert Fogel, who contends that highways and canals were capable of performing the same transportation miracles in the nineteenth century. Other critics felt that the railroads’ very success led to excesses in cost of service and neglect of safety. As the railroad monopoly of inland transport grew ever stronger by about 1900, so too did the demand for regulation and reform.

While this debate raged on, the railroads took over the transport of every product from the most basic, such as coal and lumber, to the most ephemeral, such as cut flowers and newspapers. There was no product that did not move over steel rails. the local station was the community center. Almost all travelers arrived or departed from it. So, too, did fresh bread, baby chicks, pianos, the U.S. mail, and coffins. the telegraph clicked away with information on world news and the most personal family happenings. This has all changed. the small-town depot is gone, and few items are dropped for local use. the railroad has almost no direct contact with the average citizen. It is now a highly specialized, bulk carrier . . .

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