The American Railroads: A Long and Storied History
The earliest American railroads in this country date back to the New
Jersey Railroad Company of 1815 chartered by Colonel John Stevens. This
line was ultimately never constructed and while small gravity and
mule-powered roads popped up here and there in the eastern United States
it was the coming of the steam locomotive that truly allowed railroads
to prosper. In August of 1829 Horatio Allen tested an English-built
steamer named the Stourbridge Lion in Pennsylvania and the rest
as they say, is history. By the time of the Civil War there were more
than 60,000 miles of railroad in the country and this ballooned to more
than 190,000 by the turn of the 20th century. There was a time in this country when railroads crisscrossed the
nation, one could find a pair of railroad tracks only a very short
distance from their home, and almost every town, large and small,
boasted a train station of some type.
Santa Fe's combined El Capitan/Super Chief is powered by an A-B-B-A set of F7s, led by F7A #34C, as the train arrives at Chicago's Dearborn Station on a cold December 26, 1967.
During the height of the industry,
commonly referred to as the "Golden Age" from the late 19th century
through the 1920s there were more than 254,000 miles of railroad in
service. Sadly, as the 20th century progressed rail began to lose its
luster and in the waning days between the 1950s and 1970s enormous
amounts of our rail heritage was either abandoned or ripped up, most
notably structures and landmarks such as Pennsylvania Railroad's iconic
Pennsylvania Station in New York City, the Central Railroad of New
Jersey’s magnificent Newark Bay Bridge, the Milwaukee Road's entire
Pacific Coast Extension (which, itself, contained several noted
engineering feats), a number of Chicago's great passenger terminals, and
the list goes on and on.
Milwaukee Road F7A #89A and a counterpart lead a wooden gondola along with a few stock cars through the small yard at Lanark, Illinois on June 24, 1964.
For some railroads the scrapping of its property in an attempt to meet mounting debts as profits were falling (such as the loss of Penn Station). For others, it was a way to streamline operations with massive mergers like the Penn Central and Burlington Northern (this only gained steam after the 1980 deregulation that sped up the merger process). The industry's low point was certainly during the 1970s with the collapse of Penn Central that forced the federal government to reorganize many of the systems in the northeast to create the Consolidated Rail Corporation, or Conrail, in 1976. Interestingly, PC after exiting the railroad business was eventually renamed as American Premier Underwriters, Inc. (today, it is owned by the American Financial Group that specializes in commercial insurance for a wide range of businesses).
Since that time the public has taken a greater interest in
preserving our remaining rail history, including important railroad
lines (either still standing and/or in place today) and stations/depots.
Even the railroads themselves have begun to restore service over some
lines that were once abandoned realizing that the period of the 1970s
and 1980s went too far in removing trackage. For myself, I have always
held a personal interest in trains as long as I can remember from
everything to the miniature models to the real thing. Over that time I
have begun to use the Internet more extensively as a resource tool to
find answers on railroad-related questions. While there are numerous
excellent websites out there for one to locate these answers I was
finding it a bit frustrating that there was no one website which did
After some time I began to think, why not just create such a
website myself? And that, in a nutshell, is the basis behind
American-Rails.com, a website dedicated not only to bringing awareness
about our country’s railroad history, both past and present, but also as
a resource tool describing and educating about the country's railroads in
general. Similarly, it is my hope that American-Rails.com can be a
beneficial guide for both those “railfans” out there like myself who may
want to know the detailed particulars on a subject (for instance, say,
the true history of the downfall and collapse of the fabled Milwaukee
Road) as well as someone with a passing interest looking for an answer
to a common railroading question.
Rock Island E8A #658 soldiers on in suburban service as it boards passengers at Blue Island, Illinois on June 24, 1977.
I will state up front that I in no way claim to be a bonefide expert
on the industry (I simply enjoy studying the fascinating history of
trains and try to keep up with the latest) and while the information
presented here at American-Rails.com is as accurate as I can possibly
make it I am aware that there is the likelihood for a minor error here
or there so please feel very free to send me an e-mail if you see a
correction which needs to be made (and my sincere thanks in advance).
This is perfectly fine with me because I am very interested in always
learning more about railroading myself as well as helping others with
questions they might have.
Since I first began writing the website back in 2007 it has grown
well beyond the initial intended scope. Today, you can find
information on everything from streamliners, fallen flags, and notable
engineering landmarks to surviving depots/stations, interurbans and
trolleys, and logging railroads. In total, there are currently more
than 1,000 pages of information available on all of those subjects and
many others (if you are looking for a particular topic just use the
Google search tool presented at the top of each page). It has been an
incredible amount of work putting together the site, not just
researching the topics but also the background technical tasks.
However, the enjoyment of the subject and the many thanks I receive from
readers makes it all worth it. As time allows plans call for writing
about many other topics so please stay tuned! (If you may like to know
when new pages are added, subscribe to the site's RSS feed or join our
Facebook and/or Twitter pages.)
An A-B-A set of Burlington E8's led by #9968 hustle the "Denver Zephyr" past the Congress Park Commuter Station at La Grange, Illinois on August 2, 1965.
There are also sections within this site that go beyond the history
of the industry such as areas covering tourist railroads, museums
(broken down by state), and dates where you can find Thomas the tank
engine running as well as Polar Express trains during the holiday
season. Additionally, there is a large section covering jobs within the
industry. This includes individual positions like engineers and
conductors as well as a breakdown by state of railroads which operate
there to locate contact information and find possible openings. You can
also find more information about schools and classes to gain
certificates in the above mentioned fields as well as others.
Overall, it should be strongly mentioned that the jobs section of
this site does not provide the information on how to obtain employment
within the industry only the background on some of the best known
fields, what you can expect working in the industry, and as
aforementioned the contact information for those companies. With all of
the above said, I really appreciate your time and interest in visiting
the site and without bugging you further feel free to explore around the
site using either the navigation buttons located along the left side of
the page or the links here at the bottom of the homepage. Have fun and
I hope you enjoy the site!
While everything you do is beyond any amount of thanks that could ever be spoken please know that it is deeply and very much appreciated. Truly, mere words just cannot express our thanks... God Bless you, please stay safe, and Godspeed in returning home.