Culture Magazine

An Abbreviated History of America’s Railways

By Rob Meehan

An Abbreviated History of America’s Railways

Train travel in the USA has a long and interesting history. If you’re traveling by train, take a moment to observe your surroundings both at the station as well as aboard the ‘iron horse’ itself.

What do you know about them?

The answer is, probably very little. Learning about the history of locomotion can add a degree of depth to your departures and arrivals, however, especially if you travel by train a lot.

General History

The railroad began in the mid 1820s after the first steam engines were purchased from England. The first railroad itself was completed in 1832 by Colonel John Stevens via the New Jersey Railroad Company. This later grew to become part of the huge Pennsylvania Railroad network. Stevens also pioneered use of the first type of steam locomotive in 1826.

An Abbreviated History of America’s Railways

Following this, various companies experimented with engines and carriers, but the first actual train to carry paying passengers was the ‘Best Friend of Charleston‘, built by the West Point Foundry in New York, on Christmas day 1830.

Expansion and Erection of Stations

By 1840, there were over 2,800 miles of track in states east of the Mississippi River, and ten years later there were 9000. Stations began to become established as part of the rail network, also. Some of the grandest stations in existence came about during the early 20th century, however, for instance Los Angeles Union Station, which is a stunning stylistic mix of towering palm trees and colorful tiling; and King Street Station, Seattle, which was built in 1903 and boasts a clock tower, a ‘marble room’, and recently refurbished mahogany wood doors. Union Station in Washington, and Union Station in Chicago, are equally grand and glorious.

An Abbreviated History of America’s Railways

The Modern Day

These days, there are hundreds of stations all over the USA and thousands of miles of rail track. You can travel at speeds of up to 150mph on Amtrak’s Acela Express which runs between Boston and Washington. Stations themselves are palaces containing shops and restaurants of every conceivable description. Weary travellers can even book dayuse hotels via daybreakhotels.com near large stations and nap between the different legs of their journey or before / after them. It is a world of convenience, now, thanks to the American railroad! Amazing to think that it is still less than 200 years since its inception. Do remember this, next time you take a trip, therefore. The humble railway has truly helped to make our country great.

An Abbreviated History of America’s Railways


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