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American Railroad History

Updated on July 13, 2014
American trains have a long history
American trains have a long history | Source

Trains have had quite an interesting history in the United States of America. While the train systems were originally designed with the transport of goods in mind, there was a time when it was largely used for passenger travel as well.

Since the creation of automobiles, buses, and airplanes, the use of the steam engine to travel great distances for passengers has greatly diminished. However, there are still greatly connected railways that people utilize for commuting and travel in isolated areas of the country to this day.

It seems as though the need for passenger travel on extended trips with railroads has come full circle and the railroads are primarily used for the transport of goods once again in America.

American Railroad History

While the development of railways began in Europe, America kept a close eye and began to participate while the advancements in rail travel were coming in hot. In 1826, John Stevens created the first circulation railway in Hoboken, New Jersey.

This was a huge development for the advancement of the train system in American because it had proven that trains would be able to make isolated trips to increase the productivity of the railroads. Passengers would be able to utilize train systems for shorter distances, as well as longer travels.

Train systems like this were built in greater metropolitan areas all over America. Including train systems in Maryland, Washington D.C., New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Alabama, Louisiana, California, etc. By the middle of the 1800’s there were almost 10,000 miles of railroads built all over the nation.

By this time, travel was becoming more streamlined in isolated areas; however, it was time to make an advancement that was going to change the nation. The first transcontinental railroad began construction in the 1860’s. It took just over nine years for train’s railroad to be constructed so that the commute from the east coast could successfully be made by railroad all the way to California.

This started the growth of the economy and trading in the mid-west. Furthermore, this began a surge in the growth of the economy all through out American during the entire 1800’s. It is believed that without this development, the American economy would have plateaued at this point and taken much longer to progress. In the early 1800’s the view and expectation was that the trains would be used primarily for the transport of goods; however, with the design of tracked passenger carts, people used the trains to get from one point to another as well.

The American Railroad Development

For a very brief time around the 1860’s there was a great demand for transportation in the steam engines; however, this was short lived with the development and increase in sales of the automobile and the bus.

While people still use the train for travel, today the longer trips are typically taken by airplane. With the invention of the maglev train systems in all metropolitan areas of America, people can use the train systems for commutes daily for a reasonable cost in a fairly comfortable setting. The cross-country train systems are still heavily used; however, the primary function is to transport goods as a part of a freight transport system.

Types of Trains used on the American Railroad

There are a number of different types of trains in America that are used to date. The types of trains that are used in America include high-speed trains, inner-city trains, commuter/ regional trains, rapid transit, light rail, and modern streetcar. These various types of trains are all versions of the model that was once used with the power of steam.

Now train systems are widely run on electricity, and magnetic force. With the maglev system the lighter trains that are built for shorter distances are powered and lifted slightly above the rails. The rails guide the system to the desired destination while the powered magnetic force pulls the train on the tracks.

One invention for the train that has been consistent is the flanged wheel. This was a wheel that was invented in order to keep the train on the tracks. With the train evolving in purpose full circle over the last couple of centuries, it is going to be interesting to see what the future holds for the train systems in America.


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