When compared to what happened during World War I, railroads in World War II were phenomenally more efficient. Not only did they move more tons of material and goods during the second conflict but railroads also did so with fewer locomotives, cars, and overall rail mileage. By the end of World War II there was only 226,000 miles of track while at the beginning of World War I the industry had over 254,000. It should be noted that railroads did have improved technology to move freight in the 1940s such as heavier freight cars and locomotives and the new diesel-electric locomotive. However, the accomplishments they were able to achieve from the first conflict are still impressive.
A Snapshot Of The Past
The Beginning, The 1820s and '30s
A New Industry Takes Flight, The 1840s
The 1850s, A Blossoming Industry
The 1860s, Railroads In The Civil War
Heading West, The 1870s
A Standard Time Achieved, The 1880s
Safety And Steel, The 1890s
The "Golden Age" Comes To A Close, 1900-1920
The "Silver Age," Streamliners And The 1930s
The Industry In Decline, The 1950s
Mergers And Bankruptcies, The 1960s And 1970s
Railroads Of Today, The 1980s Onward
Another new technology that helped railroads during the decade was the development of Centralized Traffic Control, or CTC. CTC gave a dispatcher complete control over a section of track, known as a block, to set switches and watch over signals. The new system allowed for a single track main line to achieve 75% capacity of a fully double-tracked line. CTC was originally implemented in 1927 but with the help of the government hundreds of miles of additional main line were covered with system allowing for much more efficient railroad operations.
What's more the war years saw the railroad industry's overall operating ratio drop to a record low of 67.5% while profits were so lucrative that, overall, lines were able to repay $2 billion in debt. Perhaps it was the government that gained the most from the industry's efficient operations during World War II. Because of the land grant discounts that still applied to western lines the fed saved approximately $900 million. Following the war, however, Congress ended the discount.
The 1940s also saw the peak of piston-driven steam locomotive technology. Because of wartime restrictions the government did not allow the building of new diesel locomotives because the steel and other metal components required was needed for the war effort. Instead, railroads were forced to buy steam locomotives to fill their motive power needs. Thus, for instance, the Baltimore & Ohio purchased its newest and last steam locomotives in the early 1940s of the 2-8-8-4 Yellowstone Type.
Designated the EM-1 Class by the B&O it had a rather low boiler pressure comparative to other models in its class but this low pressure had a great benefit, a high factor of adhesion (4.22). This high ratio allowed the locomotive to start rather efficiently in that it was not as susceptible to wheel slippage as other designs. For instance, this added incentive was an extra benefit in the type of service the B&O originally designated the EM-1, the torturous grades of the railroad’s West End (its Cumberland Division), through the Appalachians. The locomotive did a marvelous job at this, having little trouble hauling merchandise or coal drags over the steep climbs of Cranberry Grade, along the West Virginia/Maryland border, or over Sand Patch in Pennsylvania.
Railroads slowed their pace of christening new streamliners in the 1940s to concentrate on winning the war, although train travel remained a popular mode of transportation for most during the decade. However, following World War II and into the 1950s railroads watched helplessly as passenger traffic plummeted and not even new equipment and promotional advertising could sway passengers back to the rails. Some lines continued to spend money on new streamliners, such as the Pennsylvania Railroad, for passengers that never came. The 1950s also saw a slow decline in freight traffic as the new interstate highway system began to take its toll.
For continued reading about the industry in the 1950s please click here. For more reading about railroads in World War II I would highly recommend the book America's Fighting Railroads: A World War II Pictorial History by author Don DeNevi. Mr. DeNevi's book goes into great detail of how the railroad industry helped win the war for the U.S. and its allies, and the publication is full of historical photos. I have had this title in my collection for many years and have always enjoyed it, as much for the interesting images as the information presented. If you're interested in perhaps purchasing this book please visit the link below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com.
Railroads In World War II