Despite these setbacks railroads of the era did have some notable gains. For instance, ton-mileage per railroad worker had doubled every fifteen years since the end of World War I. Also, the 1950s saw an introduction of a new type of service, TOFC or trailer-on-flat-car. This service allowed railroads to haul unit trains of truck trailers, which was extremely efficient and beneficial to both industries and remains a highly lucrative service today. What began as an experiment in 1953 (one of the first lines to do so was the Chicago Great Western Railway) saw fifty railroads trying or testing TOFC service by 1959. And, track upgrades allowed for faster and heavier trains as mechanical machines began replacing track gangs, and rail of over 100 pounds covered more than half of all lines in operation by late in the decade.
The '50s also saw the beginning of the mega-merger movement with one of the first being the Norfolk & Western Railway's purchase of the Virginian Railway in 1959. While consolidations are a natural part of capitalism and the free market mergers began to increase in number by the middle of the decade partly because of the railroad industry's loss of market share to highways and airplanes. For instance, the overbuilt Northeast was probably the hardest hit by this market share setback. The Northeast's collapse culminated with the Penn Central bankruptcy of 1970 but it all likely started in 1951 when one Northeastern line, the Lehigh Valley Railroad, showed its final profits.
While the industry by the '50s was becoming more efficient it unfortunately did not stem the tide of losses, which only became worse a decade later. The decade saw many railroads in financial trouble as well as a number of mergers. Names like the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad, New York Central, Chicago Great Western, Erie, Lackawanna, Seabord Air Line, Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, and others would all disappear into merger in the 1960s. Also, passenger rail services began to worsen as lines cut back on spending as folks continued to abandon trains for cars and airplanes. By 1970 only the most popular named trains like the Empire Builder and Super Chief still carried full service, including sleepers.
For more reading on railroad history you might want to consider picking up a copy of Bill Yenne's Atlas of North American Railroads, which is simply a compilation of detailed system maps of many of the best remembered classic railroads. I have this book in my collection after receiving the privilege from publisher Voyageur Press to review the title. As mentioned above it does not contain much text but does offer a fascinating look at system maps of many of the classic fallen flags. If you're interested in perhaps purchasing the book please visit the link below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com.