The Trans-Continental Railway – Where and When

What is a transcontinental railway?

A Transcontinental railway is a contiguous railway network that goes all the way across a continent, and has terminals at different continental borders and oceans.

Where and when?

The very first transcontinental railway was previously known as “Pacific Railroad” and later the “Overland Route." It connected the whole of Eastern United States and served the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. This railway was 1912 miles (3077 km) long, constructed between the year 1863 and 1869. The railway was ceremoniously opened for traffic on May 10, 1869 by Leland Stanford, the then governor of California and president of the Central Pacific Railroad Company.

The Pacific Railroad was built over public lands by three different companies that were privately owned. These companies were the Central Pacific Railroad Company of California (constructed 690 miles), the Union Pacific Company (built 1085 miles from Omaha to Nebraska), and the Western Pacific Railroad Company (built 132 miles from Oakland to Sacramento).

The workers who were involved in building the railway were mostly Irish immigrants and Civil War army veterans. A large number of the supervisors and engineer professionals were Union Army veterans who had experience in operations and maintenance of trains during the Civil War.

Benefits of the transcontinental railway.

The transcontinental railway revolutionized trade and settlement in the United States thereby boosting the economy and resulted in the westward expansion. People previously traveled to the West by sea and wagons, a journey so harsh through mountains, rivers, and desert. Travelers risked contracting yellow fever and other diseases. The transcontinental railway was faster, cheaper, safer, and more flexible for the transportation of people and trade.

The railway made it possible for the early settlers in the west to take up farming and animal rearing. They could now plant grains and perishable goods as well, which was easy to transport to distant markets.