The History of the Railroad: From Trackways to the Hyperloop Trains (2023)

Since their invention, railroads have played a huge role in further developing civilizations around the world. From ancient Greece to modern-day America, railroads have changed the way humans travel and work.

The earliest form of rail transportation actually dates back to 600 B.C. The Greeks made grooves in paved limestone roads to use in conjunction with wheeled vehicles, easing the transport of boats across the Isthmus of Corinth. However, when Romans conquered the Greeks in 146 B.C., early railways fell into ruin and disappeared for more than 1,400 years.

The first modern rail transport system did not make a return until the 16th century. Even then, it would be another three hundred years before the invention of the steam locomotive would transform rail transportation on a global scale.

The First Modern Railways

The precursors to modern trains debuted in the early 1550s in Germany with the introduction of wagonways. These primitive railed roads consisted of wooden rails over which horse-drawn wagons or carts were able to move with greater ease than over dirt roads. By the 1770s, wooden rails had been replaced with iron ones. These wagonways evolved into tramways that spread across Europe. In 1789, Englishman William Jessup designed the first wagons with flanged wheels that were grooved, allowing the wheels to better grip the rail. This important design feature was carried forward to later locomotives.

Until the 1800s, railways were constructed of cast-iron. Unfortunately, cast-iron was prone to rust and it was brittle, often causing it to fail under stress.In 1820, John Birkinshaw invented a more durable material called wrought-iron. This innovation, although an improvement over cast-iron was still flawed, however, it became the standard until the advent of the Bessemer process enabled the cheaperproduction of steel in the late 1860s, sparking the rapid expansion of railways not only across America but around the world. Eventually, the Bessemer process was replaced by the use of open-hearth furnaces, which further reduced the cost of steel production and allowed trains to connect most major cities in the United States by the end of the 19th century.

(Video) Hyperloop and the future of the railway (Britain's Digital Railways)

The Industrial Revolution and the Steam Engine

With the groundwork laid out for an advanced system of railways, all that was left to do was find a means to transport more people and more goods for more lengthy distances over a shorter period of time. The answer came in the form of one of the most significant inventions of the Industrial Revolution, thesteam engine, which was critical to the development of the modern railroad and trains.

In 1803, a man named Samuel Homfray decided to fund the development of a steam-powered vehicle to replace the horse-drawn carts on the tramways. Richard Trevithick built that vehicle, the first steam engine tramway locomotive. On February 22, 1804, the locomotive hauled a load of 10 tons of iron, 70 men, and five extra wagons the nine miles between the ironworks at Pen-y-Darron in the town of Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, to the bottom of Abercynnon valley. The trip took about two hours to complete.

In 1812, English inventor George Stephenson became a colliery engineer for the Stockton and Darlington Railway Line. By 1814, he'd built his first locomotive for them. Not long after, he convinced the owners to try out a steam-powered locomotive. The first effort was named the Locomotion. While Stephensonis credited as the inventor of the first steam locomotive engine for railways, Trevithick's invention is cited as the first tramway locomotive.

In 1821, EnglishmanJulius Griffiths became the first person to patent a passenger road locomotive. By September 1825, using Stephenson's locomotives, the Stockton & Darlington Railroad Company launched the first railroad to carry both goods and passengers traveling on regular schedules. These new trains could pull six loaded coal cars and 21 passenger cars with a capacity of 450 passengers over nine miles in about an hour.

Not long after that, Stephenson opened his own firm built, Robert Stephenson and Company. His most famous prototype, Stephenson’s Rocket, was designed and built for theRainhill Trials, an 1829 event held by theLiverpool and Manchester Railwayto choose the best design to power their new locomotives. TheRocket, the most advanced locomotive of its day, won handily and went on to set the standard by which most steam engines would be built for the next 150 years.

(Video) Hyperloop Explained

The American Railroad System

ColonelJohn Stevensis considered to be the father of railroads in the United States. In 1826, Stevens demonstrated the feasibility of steam locomotion on an experimental circular track constructed at his estate in Hoboken, New Jersey—three years beforeStephenson perfected a practical steam locomotive in England.

Stevens was granted the first railroad charter in North America in 1815 but others began to receive grants and work began on the first operational railroads soon after. In 1930, Peter Cooperdesigned and built the first American-built steam locomotive, the Tom Thumb, to be operated on a common-carrier railroad.

Another major train innovation of the 19th century didn't have anything to do with propulsion or power supply. Instead, it was all about passenger comfort. George Pullmaninvented the Pullman Sleeping Car in 1857. Although sleeping cars had been in use on American railroads since the 1830s, the Pullman car was designed specifically for overnight passenger travel and was considered a marked improvement over its predecessors.

The Drawbacks of Steam Power

While steam-powered locomotives had an undeniable impact on transportation and economic expansion over the course of the 19th century, the technology was not without its drawbacks. One of the most problematic was the smoke that resulted from burning coal and other fuel sources.

While the noxious byproducts were tolerable in open countryside, even early on, the hazards created by fuel exhaust became all the more apparent as railroads encroached on more populated areas, which in turn, necessitated a growing number of underground tunnels to accommodate trains headed for urban destinations.In a tunnel situation, smoke could turn lethal, especially if a train got stuck below ground. Trains powered by electricity seemed an obvious alternative but early electric train technology simply couldn't keep up with steam for long distances.

(Video) Huawei Builds New Hyperloop. Elon Musk Shocked!

Electric Locomotives Get a Slow Start

The first prototype for an electric locomotive was built in 1837 by Scottish chemistRobert Davidson, powered bygalvanic battery cells. Davidson’s next locomotive, a larger version namedthe Galvani, debuted at theRoyal Scottish Society of ArtsExhibition in 1841. It weighed seven tons, had twodirect-drivereluctance motors that used fixed electromagnets acting on iron bars attached to wooden cylinders on each axle. While it was tested on theEdinburgh and Glasgow Railwayin September of 1841, the limited power of its batteries scuttled the project. The Galvani was later destroyed by railroad workers who viewed the alternative technology as a potential threat to their livelihoods.

The brainchild of Werner von Siemens, the first electric passenger train, consisting of a locomotive and three cars, made its maiden run in 1879 in Berlin. The train had a maximum speed of just over eight miles per hour (13km). Over the course of four months, it transported 90,000 passengers on a 984-foot (300-meter) circular track. The train's 150-volt direct current was supplied via an insulated third rail.

Electric tram lines began gaining popularity, first in Europe and later in the United States, after the first made its appearance in 1881 in Lichterfelde just outside Berlin, Germany. By 1883 an electric tram was running in Brighton, England and the tram that launched service near Vienna, Austria, the same year was the first in regular service to be powered by an overhead line. Five years later, electric trolleysdesigned byFrank J. Sprague (an inventor who’d once worked for Thomas Edison) took to the tracks for the Richmond Union Passenger Railway.

The Transition for Steam to Electric

The first undergroundelectric rail line was launched by theCity and South London Railway in 1890. Five years later, Sprague came up with a game-changing multiple-unit traction control system (MU) for trains. Each car was equipped with its a traction motor and motor-controlled relays. All the cars drew power from the front of the train and the traction motors worked in unison. The MUs got their first practical installation for theSouth Side Elevated Railroad(now part of theChicago L) in 1897. With the success of Sprague’s invention, electricity soon took over as the power supply of choice for subways.

In 1895, a four-mile stretch of theBaltimore Belt Lineof theBaltimore and Ohio Railroad(B&O) that connected to the New York became the first American main rail line to be electrified. Steam locomotives pulled up to the south end of the electrified line, and were then coupled to electric-powered trains and pulled through the tunnels that surrounded Baltimore.

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New York Citywas one of the earliest to ban steam engines from their train tunnels. In the aftermath of a 1902 Park Avenue tunnel collision, the use of smoke-generating locomotives was outlawed south of theHarlem River. The New York Central Railroad started using electric locomotives by 1904. Beginning in 1915, theChicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroadelectrified service across theRocky Mountains and to the West Coast. By the 1930s, thePennsylvania Railroad had electrified its entire territory east ofHarrisburg, Pennsylvania.

With the advent of diesel-powered trains in the 1930s and the following decades, the expansion of infrastructure for electric-powered trains slowed. Eventually, however, diesel and electric power would be combined to create several generations of electro-diesels and hybrids that employed the best of both technologies and would go on to become the standard for many railway lines.

Advanced Train Technologies

In the 1960s and early 1970s, there was considerable interest in the possibility of building passenger trains that could travel much faster than conventional trains. From the 1970s, interest in an alternative high-speed technology centered on magnetic levitation, ormaglev, in which cars ride on an air cushion created by the electromagnetic reaction between an onboard device and another embedded in its guideway.

The first high-speed rail ran between Tokyo and Osaka in Japan and opened in 1964. Since then, many more such systems have been built around the world, including in Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Scandinavia, Belgium, South Korea, China, the United Kingdom, and Taiwan. The United States has also discussed installing a high-speed rail between San Francisco and Los Angeles and on the East Coast between Boston and Washington, D.C.

Electric engines and advancements in train transport technologies have since allowed humans to travel at speeds of up to 320 miles per hour. Even more advancements in these machines are in the developmental stages, including the Hyperloop tube train, projected to reach speeds close to 700 miles per hour, which completed its first successful prototype test run in 2017.

(Video) Hyperloop train plans unveiled by PayPal founder Elon Musk

FAQs

What is the history of trains? ›

Early history

Trains are an evolution of wheeled wagons running on stone wagonways, the earliest of which were built by Babylon circa 2,200 BCE. Starting in the 1500s, wagonways were introduced to haul material from mines; from the 1790s, stronger iron rails were introduced.

Who invented the first railroad? ›

The railroad was first developed in Great Britain. A man named George Stephenson successfully applied the steam technology of the day and created the world's first successful locomotive. The first engines used in the United States were purchased from the Stephenson Works in England.

When was the first railroad constructed? ›

1827: The first railroad in North America — the Baltimore & Ohio — is chartered by Baltimore merchants.

What was the purpose of the railroad? ›

Beginning in the nineteenth century in the United States, a vast system of railroads was developed that moved goods and people across great distances, facilitated the settlement of large portions of the country, created towns and cities, and unified a nation.

What was the first railroad in the world? ›

The first public railway in the world was the Lake Lock Rail Road, a narrow gauge railway built near Wakefield in West Yorkshire, England. The first use of steam locomotives was in Great Britain. As noted above, its earliest “railways” followed straight lines and were built using parallel timber rails.

Which is the oldest railway in the world? ›

The Middleton Railway is the world's oldest continuously working railway, situated in the English city of Leeds. It was founded in 1758 and is now a heritage railway, run by volunteers from The Middleton Railway Trust Ltd. since 1960.

Who owns the railroad? ›

national railways, rail transportation services owned and operated by national governments. U.S. railways are privately owned and operated, though the Consolidated Rail Corporation was established by the federal government and Amtrak uses public funds to subsidize privately owned intercity passenger trains.

Who owned railroads in 1800s? ›

Railroad Tycoons Of The 19th Century. Railroad tycoons were the early industrial pioneers amassing or overseeing construction of many large railroads through the early 20th century. These men, names like James Hill, Jay and George Gould, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Edward Harriman, and Collis P.

What were railroad tracks originally made of? ›

Early tracks were constructed with wooden or cast iron rails, and wooden or stone sleepers; since the 1870s, rails have almost universally been made from steel.

Where did the first railroad start and end? ›

It would begin in Omaha, Nebraska and end up in Sacramento, California.

What was the first train called? ›

Locomotion No. 1 was built by George Stephenson at his son Robert's company, the Robert Stephenson and Company. George Stephenson drove the first train. The engine was called Active (later renamed Locomotion).

Where the first railway transport in the world started? ›

Railways existed as early as 1550, in Germany. These pathways of wooden rails called “wagonways” were the beginning of modern rail transport, making it easier for horse-drawn wagons or carts to move along dirt roads.

What was the impact of the railroad? ›

Railroads became a major industry, stimulating other heavy industries such as iron and steel production. These advances in travel and transport helped drive settlement in the western regions of North America and were integral to the nation's industrialization.

What were the benefits of the railroads? ›

It made commerce possible on a vast scale.

In addition to transporting western food crops and raw materials to East Coast markets and manufactured goods from East Coast cities to the West Coast, the railroad also facilitated international trade.

What was a major benefit of railroads? ›

Railroads were effective, reliable, and faster modes of transportation, edging out competitors such as the steamship. They traveled faster and farther, and carried almost fifty times more freight than steamships could. They were more dependable than any previous mode of transportation, and not impacted by the weather.

What is the oldest train still in service? ›

The Fairy Queen, also known as the East Indian Railway Nr. 22, is a steam locomotive built in 1855, restored by Loco Works Perambur, Chennai in 1997, and housed at the Rewari Railway Heritage Museum.

What is the oldest underground station in the world? ›

The oldest underground stations: Metropolitan Line, London

The honour of oldest underground station belongs to the UK's largest city, and an underground railway that's a cultural icon in itself. The London Underground, or the Tube as it's known the world over, opened during Queen Victoria's reign in 1863.

What is the biggest railway station in the world? ›

Japan's Nagoya Station is the world's largest station in terms of floor area, which according to some sources stands at an astonishing 446,000m². It is the headquarters of the Central Japan Railway Company (JR Central), which has two towers that run atop of the station.

Where is the oldest railway bridge in the world? ›

Skerne Bridge in Darlington has just celebrated its 195th birthday, along with its historic line – the Stockton and Darlington Railway. This was the world's first public railway to use steam locomotives, making it the birthplace of today's modern passenger railway.

What railroad Does Bill Gates Own? ›

Bill Gates Gives $5 Billion of Canadian National Stock to Foundation >CNI. Bill Gates has given more than $5 billion worth of Canadian National Railway Co. stock to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as part of the Microsoft Corp.

Who owns the largest railroad in the US? ›

Largest American Rail Companies
  • Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company (BNSF) 2021 Revenue: $23.3 billion. ...
  • Union Pacific. 2021 Revenue: $21.804 billion. ...
  • CSX. 2021 Revenue: $12.522 billion. ...
  • Norfolk Southern Railway. 2021 Revenue: $11.1 billion. ...
  • Kansas City Southern. 2021 Revenue: $3 billion. ...
  • Amtrak.
18 Jul 2022

What family started the railroad? ›

Central Pacific Railroad, American railroad company founded in 1861 by a group of California merchants known later as the “Big Four” (Collis P. Huntington, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker); they are best remembered for having built part of the first American transcontinental rail line.

What family built the railroads? ›

Cornelius Vanderbilt (May 27, 1794 – January 4, 1877), nicknamed "the Commodore", was an American business magnate who built his wealth in railroads and shipping.
...
Cornelius Vanderbilt
Children13
RelativesVanderbilt family
Signature
7 more rows

How long did it take to cross the US by train in 1880? ›

The railroad, which stretched nearly 2,000 miles between Iowa, Nebraska and California, reduced travel time across the West from about six months by wagon or 25 days by stagecoach to just four days.

What are the 4 main parts of a railway? ›

Typical Railway Track Components Overview – Sleepers, Fishplates, Fasteners and Spikes. Railroad track is known a stable structure that mainly consists of rail sleepers, fishplates and fasteners.

What is a bed on a train called? ›

berth. noun. a bed on a train or ship.

Why do train tracks have rocks? ›

The crushed stones are what is known as ballast. Their purpose is to hold the wooden cross ties in place, which in turn hold the rails in place.

Where did the two railroads meet? ›

The story goes that on May 10, 1869, the Central Pacific Railroad's tracks from the west were connected to the Union Pacific Railroad's tracks from the east in Promontory Summit, Utah.

Where do the two ends of the railroads meet? ›

In May 1869, the railheads of the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroads finally met at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory.

What were the 2 routes of the transcontinental railroad? ›

A central route following the Platte River in Nebraska through to the South Pass in Wyoming, following most of the Oregon Trail. Snow on this route remained a concern. A southern route across Texas, New Mexico Territory, the Sonora desert, connecting to Los Angeles, California.

Which country built the first train? ›

The first full-scale working railway steam locomotive was built in the United Kingdom in 1804 by Richard Trevithick, a British engineer born in Cornwall. This used high-pressure steam to drive the engine by one power stroke.

What do you call the head of a train? ›

The conductor title is most common in North American railway operations, but the role is common worldwide under various job titles. In Commonwealth English, a conductor is also known as guard or train manager.

How long did it take to travel by train in the 1800s? ›

By 1830, train travel in the U.S. was almost twice as fast, but still quite slow by modern standards. Rather than taking two weeks, going to Georgia or Ohio from New York City took one week, and in two you could get to the state borders of Louisiana, Arkansas and Illinois (see Map B).

What are the types of railways? ›

Types of railway/railroad
  • Fell mountain railway system.
  • Heavy rail.
  • Inter-city rail.
  • High-speed rail.
  • Higher-speed rail.
  • Heritage railway.
  • Monorail.
  • Mountain railway.

How did people travel long distances before the age of railways? ›

Prior to railways people used animals like horses, camel, donkeys etc. to travel and carry loads from one place to another. They even used bullock carts, boats, ships etc to travel or carry goods.

How did New methods of rail transportation? ›

How did new methods of rail transportation help people commute in cities? They made it possible for people to live in one part of the city and work in another. They made the city feel more convenient. They made it easier for people to get around the city to shop or do business.

What was one negative effect of the railroad? ›

The transcontinential railroad was a negative effect for the Native Americans because it destroyed their land and homes. The bulding of the Transcontinential railroad was a negative effect because to build the Railroad that also means that the buffalo that was everywhere had to be killed off.

What were the pros and cons of the railroads? ›

Advantages and Disadvantages of Railway Transport
  • Dependable: ...
  • High Speed over Long Distances: ...
  • Cheaper Transport: ...
  • Larger Capacity: ...
  • Administrative Facilities of Government: ...
  • Unsuitable for Short Distance and Small Loads: ...
  • Under-utilised Capacity:

What is one reason why the expansion of the railroads? ›

Terms in this set (9) What is one reason why the expansion of the railroads caused prices of products to drop during the Gilded Age? Railroads provided cheap and fast transportation for both raw materials and products.

What would happen if the railroad shut down? ›

A shutdown — even a brief one — would delay critical shipments and ripple across the economy. The Association of American Railroads trade group estimates that a strike would cost the economy $2 billion a day. The Business Roundtable says a strike would be an “economic catastrophe.”

Do railroads make money? ›

Yes, railroads make a profit, and a significant one as well. Private railways are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, with shareholders and a well paid chief executive officer (CEO). Railways, especially in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom experience immense profits from their services.

How were the railroads built? ›

The transcontinental railroad was built in six years almost entirely by hand. Workers drove spikes into mountains, filled the holes with black powder, and blasted through the rock inch by inch. Handcarts moved the drift from cuts to fills.

Who built the first railroad in America? ›

John Stevens is considered to be the father of American railroads. In 1826 Stevens demonstrated the feasibility of steam locomotion on a circular experimental track constructed on his estate in Hoboken, New Jersey, three years before George Stephenson perfected a practical steam locomotive in England.

When was the first railroad? ›

1827: The first railroad in North America — the Baltimore & Ohio — is chartered by Baltimore merchants. 1830: The first regularly-scheduled steam-powered rail passenger service in the U.S. begins operation in South Carolina, utilizing the U.S.-built locomotive The Best Friend of Charleston.

When did the railroads begin? ›

The first regular carrier of passengers and freight was the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, completed on February 28, 1827. It was not until Christmas Day, 1830, when the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company completed the first mechanical passenger train, that the modern railroad industry was born.

Where did trains originate? ›

Railways existed as early as 1550, in Germany. These pathways of wooden rails called “wagonways” were the beginning of modern rail transport, making it easier for horse-drawn wagons or carts to move along dirt roads.

What did people use before trains? ›

Before the invention of railways, people relied on other means of transportation such as walking and using horses. Some railway tracks had already been placed for minecarts and hand cars, but the steam engine and other coal-powered locomotives were not yet invented.

How did trains change the world? ›

From their start in England in 1830, railroads spread like kudzu across the globe. They unified countries, created great fortunes, enabled the growth of new industries, and thoroughly revolutionized life in every place they ran.

Why is a train called a train the boys? ›

Everytime he uses his superhuman speed, the sound of the sound barrier being broken can be heard, creating a sound similar to that of a train moving at high velocity (hence the name "A-Train"), meaning that he can move around the speed of sound with little to no effort (which would be around Mach 1).

What was the first train called? ›

Locomotion No. 1 was built by George Stephenson at his son Robert's company, the Robert Stephenson and Company. George Stephenson drove the first train. The engine was called Active (later renamed Locomotion).

Who owns the railroad? ›

national railways, rail transportation services owned and operated by national governments. U.S. railways are privately owned and operated, though the Consolidated Rail Corporation was established by the federal government and Amtrak uses public funds to subsidize privately owned intercity passenger trains.

How were the railroads built? ›

The transcontinental railroad was built in six years almost entirely by hand. Workers drove spikes into mountains, filled the holes with black powder, and blasted through the rock inch by inch. Handcarts moved the drift from cuts to fills.

What are old trains called? ›

Steam locomotives were first developed in the United Kingdom during the early 19th century and used for railway transport until the middle of the 20th century.

What is the oldest means of transport? ›

Walking might be the oldest form of transportation, but that hasn't stopped technological innovation from changing how we walk.

Who built the first railroad in America? ›

John Stevens is considered to be the father of American railroads. In 1826 Stevens demonstrated the feasibility of steam locomotion on a circular experimental track constructed on his estate in Hoboken, New Jersey, three years before George Stephenson perfected a practical steam locomotive in England.

What is the most famous train ever? ›

As the world's most celebrated train, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express carries passengers across Europe in the style of a bygone era. The memory of the glamorous carriages, sumptuous cuisine, and personal service will stay with you forever.

What is the most famous train station in the world? ›

Grand Central, New York

Possibly the best-known train station in the whole world. Even if you've never been to New York's Grand Central, you'll almost certainly recognise it from movies like 'North by Northwest' and 'The Avengers'.

How did railroads change time? ›

With the proliferation of railroads, faster travel became possible across many cities and travelers could sometimes arrive at an earlier local time than the one they had left.

How does A-Train break his leg? ›

While Hughie confronts A-Train leading up to the series finale, she sneaks up behind him and hits him with a crowbar. Being the fastest man alive, The Female hits him where it hurts and breaks one of his legs which is seen in excruciating details with the snapped bone sticking out of his leg as he writhes in pain.

Why is he called mother's milk? ›

His name is a reference to the fact that he breastfeeds from his mother even as an adult. Mother's Milk was the only member of the Boys and to be born with Compound V in his blood.

Is flash faster than A-Train? ›

Flash is much faster than A-Train. This is because flash can travel at the speed of light, whereas A-Train can travel only at the speed of sound. Both Flash and A-Train are speedsters in their universes. However, Flash is far superior to A-Train in every right.

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