How can a transportation system shape history?

Transportation means have been the real pioneers of progress throughout the world and especially in the world’s most popular country, they have shaped development.


Peoria Steamboat_transportation_clarence gooden

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In the early days of the United States, as the country grew in size and population, the need for an efficient transportation system that linked the cities of the coast to the rich agricultural lands of the interior became increasingly urgent.

The first significant progress in national transport was the navigation of rivers on steamboats, the pioneers of these mean were Fulton and Livingston in the Hudson River, and Henry Miller Shreve on the Mississippi. Steam navigation could reduce the time of a trip between New York and Albany by two thirds.

The second most important improvement was the construction of the canals, among the important people of New York who supported the construction of the Erie Canal was Stephen Van Rensselaer III. The Erie Canal which connected the Hudson River to Lake Erie was opened in 1825 and had a huge impact on the economic development of the city of New York. It firmly established New York as the first city in the United States with its rivals being Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore. These last cities responded with their own channel projects, in particular the ones of Chesapeake and Ohio and the Delaware and Hudson. But the construction of canals was slow and expensive, so when the first railways were built in England, the pioneers in the United States closely followed their development.


Men working on the steam train, Essex, Connecticut_clarence_gooden

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Steam railway companies were formed in several places, the most successful among them was the Baltimore & Ohio, which operated a train in the 15 miles of trails that existed from Baltimore to Ellicott Mills in 1830. The beginnings were difficult and it took another generation of railway construction before the first fortunes derived from railways appeared. The first major consolidation in the U.S. railroad industry took place in 1853, with the merger of 15 local railways in the New York Central of about 600 miles long.

Congress approved a transcontinental railroad in 1865 and hired two companies to build it: the Union Pacific which built westward from Omaha across the Rocky Mountains, and the Central Pacific, which began in Sacramento and built eastward through the Sierra Nevada. Widely financed by loans and grants of Government lands, these private enterprises created large fortunes because they had powerful sponsors in Washington.

Politics in railroad building

19th century transcontinental railroads were the first corporate giants. Their attempts to profit through the issuance of debt caused devastating panic effects in the economy of the United States. Their dependence on public funds led them to initiate new forms of corruption, their operations reorganized space and time and transformed the landscape of the West. With wheels and rails, wagons and coal, they opened new forms of life, also their discriminatory ticket price caused a widespread opposition and new antitrust policies.

The money that built these lines did not come from the same railway moguls that had built railways before, but came from these men persuading The Congress to give them huge subsidies, while the federal Government wanted to build the transcontinental railroad, it didn’t see how it could make money from operating it, however, there were many ways to make money in the construction and financing processes. The railroad magnates of the West had close ties with The Congress and received land, guarantee bonds and help to control the organized workforce.

Railways and their influence at that time indicate the beginning of the political lobbying that we know of today. The Union Pacific only received $43 million in subsidies from interests on federal loans, and the railways that went from the East to the West of the Mississippi River received more than 131 million acres of land for free.

The car rules.

old car_transportation_clarence_gooden

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Up to the Decade of the 1920’s, North America still had a semi wide range of transportation options: trams, bicycles, carts pulled by horses, electric cars, petrol cars, city trains and long-distance trains. But the car started to replace more and more other means of transport, and not only because of the love people had for cars. U.S. regulatory policies and industry practices prompted the decline of transportation means different from the car. Consumption psychology was not as evident in any other industry as it was in the automotive industry.

The different means of transport have extraordinary relevance in society because they allow the moving of goods and people, even achieving social integration that promotes development. In this sense, there is now a real interest in achieving transportation means that can use less energy or alternative forms of energy to circulate, partly because of the problems that may exist in the future regarding the oil provision.

History of trains in the UK

The UK marked an important milestone in the history of trains since it was Britain where the first steam locomotive was used. Initially the wooden wagons were horse-drawn on straight rails. The art of the rails was perfected as different systems were used in the years to come, until in 1820 John Birkenshaw implemented the use of wrought iron rails to roll the wagons.

In 1804, the first steam locomotive was built and ran 9 miles being the first of its kind. Although there were a few other significant events in the railway history during the following years, it wasn’t until the 1830s that trains began to be used more frequently, especially in the coal industry. In 1827 there was the first locomotive-hauled public railway in the world that opened on a 25-mile stretch. From there on out there were a few privately owned railway companies controlling local rails.

In the 1830s there was an increase in cotton and weaving production, but unfortunately the development of the canal was restricted. This being the way they normally had to transport opened the door to the use of the locomotive as an alternate means of transportation. The Lancashire canal, not only had limitations with transporting goods, but there was no real enthusiasm about passenger travel. So, ultimately the trains were an inevitable success and led to the decision to build new lines linking Britain’s major cities. The London and Birmingham (L&BR) lines were opened on July 4, 1837. The development of these early lines was not without obstacles and found itself having to avoid privately owned lands or paying extremely high costs to build on them, which led to building lines that were not necessarily the ideal routes.

The increasing interest of investors in trains paved the way for the creation of a huge national network that would at the end connect the country. Since the legal process to approve the construction of a line had to be a separate act for each line by Parliament, investors were normally more convinced of backing shorter lines. This boom led to high level of competition and a development of over 8,000 miles of lines during 1836 and 1847. During this time, George Hudson became an icon and was even recognizes as the “railway king”. His vision helped set the foundations for the modern railways systems, by offering standardized methods of transporting passengers and cargo on his various lines. This era of railroad mania came to an end in 1846 when the market finally collapsed.

It is important to mention that in this time period there was never a development of a national plan for railroads, there were simply good investment for independent entrepreneurs. This is evident when even to this day we can find in the UK repeated routes, several train stations in the same city, or independent lines with no relevant connections. Moreover, the Beeching Axe of the 1860s did take care of eliminating at least most of these duplicates.  In 1840 the government sees the need to get involved for safety reasons and passes the “Act for Regulating Railways”. There are railway inspectors that are appointed to investigate any incidents to assure passenger safety.

Again, the UK marks history by building the first underground railway. London was on its way to become what it is today, and although much smaller than the current day city, it was already saturated with railways, but none of these entered the city. To be able to do so, they would have to demolish more buildings that were allowed, or made sense for that matter. So, in 1863 the first line was opened to what would become today’s London Underground. For the next hundred years the railways are grouped into iconic companies that are still remembered today such as Great Central Railway (GCR), Great Western Railway (GWR) or London and South Western Railway (LSWR).

History of trains in the UK

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The next noteworthy breakthrough is in the 1940s when the government sees the necessity to get involved once again, but not the concern is not in terms of safety. As a solution, British Railways is established in 1947 and in the post-war time period the country, where there is the need to mitigate a now concerning economical strain on the country. So, they move forward in cutting down, optimizing and slowly forging the system that we know today.

It seems that in the years to come the railways would only show progress in technology, when in 1968 electric or diesel programs replace steam locomotives. This progress did not prevent the cultural shift to come in the 1970s and 1980s, when inexpensive personal transportation would slowly replace and deem the train system unnecessary at times. The railways in hopes to revamp their system introduced the High Speed Trains. There’s a lot to look forward to, there’s even talks of a second golden age. The rise in population inevitably leading to increased traffic jams opens the doors for trains to, with their dedicated lines, to offer a time and cost efficient solution.


The World’s Best Rail Journeys and the Most Fantastic Landscapes

Traveling by train is far from old fashioned. In a relaxation showdown amongst trains, planes, and automobiles, trains win as the most laidback style of travel, allowing you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the view. Luckily, some of the world’s most beautiful destinations are also home to the most scenic train rides. Besides this, for so many people, there is something undeniably romantic about the idea of train travel. Journeys ranging from a few hours to more than a week, costing as little as two movie tickets or as much as a luxury cruise, and traversing terrain as dramatic as snow-capped peaks or orange-hued deserts.


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The Blue Train: South Africa

South Africa’s famous Blue Train is just what it sounds like, a beautiful blue train. It bills itself as “a window to the soul of South Africa,” and it does give you a literal window onto the ever-changing 1,000 miles of countryside that stretch between the coastal city of Cape Town and the inland capital, Pretoria. A five-star hotel on wheels, the Blue Train is outfitted with elegant bed linen, marble floors and gold fittings in the bathrooms, and cocktails, high tea and fine cigars can all be had on board. Dine on fresh meals prepared by top chefs as the train winds its way through the country’s diverse and gorgeous landscapes.

Glacier Express from Zermatt to ST. Moritz

Switzerland may be renowned for the quality and punctuality of its trains, but it’s the majestic Alps—craggy and awe-inspiring against the brilliant blue sky—and sweeping chalet-and-cow-dotted green valleys that make the Glacier Express from Zermatt to St. Moritz such a visual feast. The train chugs through 91 tunnels and crosses 291 bridges on its seven-hour journey. The Glacier Express, which covers 180 miles in 7 ½ hours, is probably both the slowest and the most scenic train ride in Europe, a good combination. Switzerland’s Alpine landscape here is magically untouched, and you will have trouble tearing yourself away from the windows as you wind your way among mountain forests, valleys, wide open meadows and clear streams

Trans-Siberian Railroad: Russia

The Trans-Siberian Railway is, arguably, the world’s most famous train experience. There are three routes to choose from: the Trans-Manchurian or Trans-Mongolian, both of which take you from Moscow to Beijing, or the epic Moscow to Vladivostok, which crosses seven time zones and deposits you on the coast near Russia’s border with China and North Korea. The legendary trip covers more than 6,000 miles and takes a full week to complete. Whichever route you choose, you are assured of an unforgettable journey, through soaring mountains and the Siberian tundra, past rivers, lakes, rolling hills, forests and picturesque villages. It is truly the trip of a lifetime.

The Rocky Mountaineer: Canada

The journey through the Canadian Rockies is truly one of the most spectacular train trips in the world. Whether you have a week’s worth of vacation, or just two days to get away, you can hop on a Rocky Mountaineer train any Tuesday, Thursday or Sunday, and customize your trip from there. Spend your days on the train, gazing out at stunning, jagged, snow-capped mountains, crystal lakes, winding rivers, and miles of pine trees, and your nights in a hotel. You wouldn’t want to sleep through any of the scenery.

Rhaetian Railway Isla Bella_train

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Grand Canyon Railway

There’s no sight more breathtaking within continental United States than the deep gorges of the Grand Canyon, and there’s no better way to reach the Grand Canyon than a ride aboard the Grand Canyon Railway. This is as much a ride through Arizona’s wilderness as it is a ride through history. The train engine runs on steam, the coach car is vintage 1923 Pullmans, and the first class cars date back to the 1950s.

TranzAlpine Railway: New Zealand

Ask any seasoned traveler what the most beautiful country in the world is, and you’ll get a unanimous response: New Zealand. The popular Tranzalpine line runs through the prettiest parts of New Zealand’s South Island, covering a total of 139 miles in just over four hours. You’ll cross the verdant Canterbury Plains, cross the Waimakariri River, and pass through the beautiful Southern Alps as you make your way to Greymouth.

Palace on Wheels: India

Trains are generally the best way to travel through India, but the Palace on Wheels is a class apart. It is what it sounds like, an elegant, enchanting means of travel. Decorated in ornate, colorful regional textiles, inside, the cars look almost like they belong to a different age. The journey, which starts and ends in Delhi, takes you on a loop through the towns, cities and expansive, gorgeous desert of the northern region of Rajasthan. Then, there are the added elements of the trip, which is stretched over eight days, like the elephant welcome in Jaipur, lunch at the Lake Palace in Udaipur, a camel safari, and the requisite tour of the Taj Mahal.


The first transcontinental railroad in the United States is the name of a railway line through The United States that joined the city of Omaha (Nebraska) with Sacramento in the 1860s, linking this way the railway network on the East of the United States with California on the Pacific coast. It ended with the famous Golden Spike Ceremony (gold nail), held on May 10th 1869 at Promontory (Utah), creating a mechanized transport network of national scale that revolutionized the population and economy of the American West. This network made the famous caravans of wagons (wagon trains) of the old west from earlier decades become obsolete, and this made it necessary to change them for a modern transportation system.

Old train

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Authorized by the 1862 Pacific Railroad Act and strongly supported by the federal Government, this construction was the culmination of a long time building this line and it was one of the greatest achievements of of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, it was actually completed four years after his death. The construction of the railway required enormous engineering and work efforts in order to make it across flat landscapes and high mountains, this hard work was made by two rail companies, Union Pacific and Central Pacific, the two companies that built the line westward and eastward respectively.

The construction of the railroad was motivated in part to interconnect the land during the American Civil War. This situation greatly increased the amount of population in the west by white settlers, while it contributed to the decline of Indians in these regions. In 1879, the Supreme Court of the United States formally established, in its decision regarding the case of The Union Pacific Railroad against The United States that the 6th of November of 1869 was the official date of completion of the transcontinental railroad.

This railway was considered the greatest achievement in 19th century American technology. It served as a vital link for industry, trade and travel, joining the halves, East and West of The United States in the 19th century. The transcontinental railroad quickly ended with the romantic diligence lines that there once worked with a much more slowly and risky pace, these lines preceded what was starting to happen. The subsequent advance of the so-called destiny manifesto and the proliferation of the “iron horse” through the lands of the indigenous natives greatly accelerated the fall of the great Indian culture at the Great Plains.


The railroad route followed the major roads used for the opening of the West, the so called Oregon route, the route of the Mormons, The California route and the Pony Express. Going from Council Bluffs (Iowa), it followed the Platte River through Nebraska, left the traditional route to cross the Rocky Mountains at the Great Divide Basin in Wyoming and then tackled over Utah’s north and Nevada in The Great Basin before crossing The High Sierra until Sacramento.

The route did not go through the two largest cities of the Great Plains at the East of the Rocky Mountains (the so-called great American desert), this means Denver, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah there were branch lines built to serve these cities.

Initially this railway was not directly connected with the Eastern U.S. rail network, for this reason trains had to be carried on ferries across the Missouri River but in 1872, the Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge was opened and this directly connected the East and the West of the United States.

The Pacific Central built up to 690 miles of railways, starting in Sacramento, California, and continuing towards The East (Newcastle and Truckee) California, Nevada (Reno, Wadsworth, Winnemucca, Battle Mountain, Elko, Humboldt-Wells), and splicing Union Pacific’s line at the summit of Promontory in the territory of Utah. Later on, the route was extended to Alameda’s terminal in Alameda (California) and shortly after, to the Oakland’s Long Wharf at Oakland. The Union Pacific also built up to 1087 miles of railroad tracks that started in Council Bluffs, and continued westward through the Missouri River and through Nebraska (Elkhorn – currently Omaha-, Grand Island, North Platte, Ogallala, Sidney), the Colorado territory (Julesburg), the Wyoming territory (Cheyenne, Laramie, Green River, Evanston), the Utah Territory (Ogden, Brigham City, Corinne), and connected the Pacific Central at Promontory’s top.

Thomas the Train

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Today the 80 Interstate Freeway (Interstate 80) follows the route of the railway, with one exception. Between Echo, Utah and Los Pozos, Nevada, the Interstate 80 goes through the Great Salt Lake City and along the South shore of the Great Salt Lake. The railway instead followed the Weber River to Ogden (a route currently used by the Interstate 84) and around the north side of the Great Salt Lake. While the route of the railroad along the Weber River was being built, workers decided to plant the “thousand-mile tree”, it still remains a marker to commemorate the milestone.

Getting to know more about trains

Trains are a mean of transportation that have been around since the 18th century, when initially pulled by horses, were gravity powered or rope-hauled. They have since then evolved quite a bit and become an important way to transport not only passengers, but also freight cargo. There are different types as well, such as: motive power, passenger trains, high speed rail, double deck passenger train like the maglev for example, commuter trains for short distances, tram, monorail, among others. Each train has a purpose and specific characteristics that allow it to carry out a task in the city or region it’s located in. 

Steam train

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Trains and rails have affected how we do things in many ways. For example, the United States adopted standardized time zones thanks to all major U.S. Railways in 1883. They proposed that across America there be five time zones: Pacific, Eastern, Central, Mountain and Atlantic. So, at noon on November 18th, all of the clocks across the United State’s railways were calibrated and set at 12:00 pm ET, depending on their zone. Despite this, it wasn’t adopted officially until 1918, when Congress passed legislation. Still, railways made their contribution and like this appear all through history.

There are little known facts about trains, especially in Japan. There is a station that opens only twice a year, due to their Summer Festival. Even though, Japan is known for having the world’s busiest stations, it actually made the Guinness Book of World Records, with over 3 million people in one station in one day. If you think that’s amazing, it actually turns out that out of the 50 busiest stations in the world Japan has 45 of them, including the top 5. They also have the world’s longest suspended monorail with 15.2 kilometers and 18 stations. With the amount of people riding on their trains there is no surprise they need some extra help, so in Japan they have “pushers”, which literally push the passengers into the train cars during rush hour.

Nebraska Zephyr, train of the goddesses

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Now, taking a closer look at the types of trains starting with passenger trains. The High Speed rail normally run above 200 km/h and have special tracks designed for their speed. The fastest wheeled version of this train is in France achieving a speed of 574.8 km/h (357.2 mph) during a test run. During operation, it has been 350 km/h (220 mph), although the average speed has been of 300 km/h (190 mph) in most renowned high-speed trains. They are so fast that they could even be considered competition in terms of cost and time for air travel, if the distances are less than 500 to 600 km.

There are also double-deck passenger trains, which come in a few different types of rails and engine types. The Maglev, or magnetic levitation system, operates at about 430 km/h (270 mph). By levitating the train with magnets, it reduces the friction normally seen in trains and allows for higher speeds. Passenger trains can normally be divided into three categories: inter-city, fast trains, and regional trains. Inter-city trains connect cities in the fastest possible time bypassing all intermediate stops. Fast trains normally stop at longer intermediate stations between cities. Regional trains, on the other hand, stop at all intermediate stations between cities.

Short-distance trains such as commuter trains that serve as inner city transport and usually have networks of commute trains going to different destinations. Some of these trains may be double-deckers and may even have sleeper trains. Long-distance trains could be trams, light rails and monorails. Many other types of trains that are used in specific scenarios like airports, mine and overland, used for cargo on rough terrains. But at the end of the day all trains help us to carry cargo and passengers from one location to another at a faster speed than buses and cars and at a less expensive cost than air travel.

Some trains have become famous just to mention a few we have the Trans-Siberian Express travels between Moscow and Vladivostok with 91 stations covering 5,778 miles. During the Civil War it was known for exposing all passengers to Stalinist propaganda in the compartments. The Blue Train has operated since 1939 in Africa from Cape Town to Pretoria offering a luxury ride and updating it televisions and phones in the 1990s. Its name comes from the color of its railroad cars, locomotives and leather seats. In Australia the Indian Pacific connects the east and west coast travelling from Sydney to Perth, covering 2,461 miles, in three days. It’s known for having the longest stretch of straight track in the world with 297 miles.

All in all trains come in all shapes and sizes. As the years pass they have become more technological and are in constant research to make a faster and more affordable way of traveling between cities and even countries.