Transcontinental Railroad

Transcontinental Railroad

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The Pacific Railway

Before the advent of the transcontinental railroad, a journey across the continent to the western states meant a dangerous six month trek over rivers, deserts, and mountains. Alternatively, a traveler could hazard a six week sea voyage around Cape Horn, or sail to Central America and cross the Isthmus of Panama by rail, risking exposure to any number of deadly diseases in the crossing. Interest in building a railroad uniting the continent began soon after the advent of the locomotive.

The first trains began to run in America in the 1830s along the East Coast. By the 1840s, the nation's railway networks extended throughout the East, South, and Midwest, and the idea of building a railroad across the nation to the Pacific gained momentum. The annexation of the California territory following the Mexican-American War, the discovery of gold in the region in 1848, and statehood for California in 1850 further spurred the interest to unite the country as thousands of immigrants and miners sought their fortune in the West.

During the 1850s, Congress sponsored numerous survey parties to investigate possible routes for a transcontinental railroad. No particular route became a clear favorite as political groups were split over whether the route should be a northern or southern one. Theodore Judah, a civil engineer who helped build the first railroad in California, promoted a route along the 41 st parallel, running through Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California. He was so obsessed with the idea of a transcontinental railroad that he became known as "Crazy Judah." Although Judah's plan had merit, detractors noted the formidable obstacles along his proposed route, the most serious of which was the Sierra Nevada mountain range. A rail line built along this route would require tunneling through granite mountains and crossing deep ravines, an engineering feat yet to be attempted in the U.S.

In 1859, Judah received a letter from Daniel Strong, a storekeeper in Dutch Flat, California, offering to show Judah the best route along the old emigrant road through the mountains near Donner Pass. The route had a gradual rise and required the line to cross the summit of only one mountain rather than two. Judah agreed and he and Strong drew up letters of incorporation for the Central Pacific Railroad Company. They began seeking investors and Judah was able to convince Sacramento businessmen that a railroad would bring much needed trade to the area. Several men decided to back him, including hardware wholesaler Collis P. Huntington and his partner, Mark Hopkins dry goods merchant, Charles Crocker and wholesale grocer, soon to be governor, Leland Stanford. These backers would later come to be known as the "Big Four."

Huntington and his partners paid Judah to survey the route. Judah used maps from his survey to bolster his presentation to Congress in October 1861. Many Congressmen were leery of beginning such an expensive venture, especially with the Civil War underway, but President Abraham Lincoln, who was a long time supporter of railroads, agreed with Judah. On July 1, 1862, Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act, authorizing land grants and government bonds, which amounted to $32,000 per mile of track laid, to two companies, the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad.

Almost immediately, conflicts arose between Judah and his business partners over the construction of the Central Pacific line. In October 1863, Judah sailed for New York to attempt to find investors who would buy out his Sacramento partners. Though he had made the voyage to Panama and across the Isthmus by train many times, he contracted yellow fever during this trip and died on November 2, one week after reaching New York City. Judah did not live to see the Central Pacific begin work he departed Sacramento for New York a few weeks before the first rail was spiked on October 26, 1863. The Big Four replaced Judah with Samuel Montague and the Central Pacific construction crews began building the line east from Sacramento.

At the eastern end of the project, Grenville Dodge and his assistant, Peter Dey, surveyed the potential route the Union Pacific would follow. They recommended a line that would follow Platt River, along the North Fork, that would cross the Continental Divide at South Pass in Wyoming and continue along to Green River. President Lincoln favored this route and made the decision that the eastern terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad would be Council Bluffs, Iowa, across the Missouri River from Omaha, Nebraska.

Thomas C. Durant, a medical doctor turned businessman, gained control of the Union Pacific Railroad Company by buying over $2 million in shares and installing his own man as president. "Doc" Durant created the Crédit Moblier of America, a business front that appeared to be an independent contractor, to construct the railroad. However, Crédit Moblier was owned by Union Pacific investors and, over the next few years, it swindled the government out of tens of millions of dollars by charging extortionate fees for the work. Because the government paid by the mile of track built, Durant also insisted the original route be unnecessarily lengthened, further lining his pockets. Soon after the completion of the railroad, Durant's corrupt business schemes became a public scandal with Congress investigating not only Durant, but also fellow Senators and Representatives who had benefited from his shady dealings.

The Central Pacific's Big Four formed their corporation with a similar arrangement, awarding the construction and supplies contract to one of their own, Charles Crocker, who, for the sake of appearances, resigned from the railroad's board. However, the Big Four owned an interest in Crocker's company and each of them profited from the contract.

The race between the two companies commenced when the Union Pacific finally began to lay tracks at Omaha, Nebraska, in July 1865. (A bridge over the Missouri River would be built later to join Omaha to Council Bluffs, the official eastern terminus.) Durant hired Grenville Dodge as chief engineer and General Jack Casement as construction boss. With tens of thousands of Civil War veterans out of work, hiring for the Union Pacific was easy. The men, mostly Irishmen, worked hard and well, despite going on strike occasionally when Durant withheld their pay over petty labor disputes.

Finding workers was a more difficult task for the Central Pacific. Laborers, mainly Irish immigrants, were hired in New York and Boston and shipped out west at great expense. But many of them abandoned railroad work, lured by the Nevada silver mines. In desperation, Crocker tried to hire newly freed African Americans, immigrants from Mexico, and even petitioned Congress to send 5,000 Confederate Civil War prisoners, but to no avail. Frustrated at the lack of manpower necessary to support the railroad, Crocker suggested to his work boss, James Strobridge, that they hire Chinese laborers. Although Strobridge was initially against the idea, feeling that the Chinese were too slight in stature for the demanding job, he agreed to hire 50 men on a trial basis. After only one month, Strobridge grudgingly admitted that the Chinese were conscientious, sober, and hard workers.

Within three years, 80 percent of the Central Pacific workforce was made up of Chinese workers, and they proved to be essential to the task of laying the line through the Sierra Nevadas. Once believed to be too frail to perform arduous manual labor, the Chinese workers accomplished amazing and dangerous feats no other workers would or could do. They blasted tunnels through the solid granite -- sometimes progressing only a foot a day. They often lived in the tunnels as they worked their way through the solid granite, saving precious time and energy from entering and exiting the worksite each day. They were routinely lowered down sheer cliff faces in makeshift baskets on ropes where they drilled holes, filled them with explosives, lit the fuse and then were yanked up as fast as possible to avoid the blast.

While the Central Pacific fought punishing conditions moving eastward through mountains, across ravines, and through blizzards, the Union Pacific faced resistance from the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes who were seeing their homelands invaded and irrevocably changed. The railroad workers were armed and oftentimes protected by U.S. Calvary and friendly Pawnee Indians, but the workforce routinely faced Native American raiding parties that attacked surveyors and workers, stole livestock and equipment, and pulled up track and derailed locomotives.

Both railroad companies battled against their respective obstacles to lay the most miles of track, therefore gaining the most land and money. Although the Central Pacific had a two-year head start over the Union Pacific, the rough terrain of the Sierra Nevadas limited their construction to only 100 miles by the end of 1867. But once through the Sierras, the Central Pacific rail lines moved at tremendous speed, crossing Nevada and reaching the Utah border in 1868. From the east, the Union Pacific completed its line through Wyoming and was moving at an equal tempo from the east.

The Central Pacific's engine Jupiter and the Union Pacific's engine No. 119 meet on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Summit, Utah.

No end point had been set for the two rail lines when President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act in 1862, but a decision had to be made soon. By early 1869, the Central Pacific and Union Pacific were closing in on each other across northern Utah, aided by a Mormon workforce under contract to both companies. But neither side was interested in halting construction, as each company wanted to claim the $32,000 per mile subsidy from the government. Indeed, at one point the graders from both companies, working ahead of track layers, actually passed one another as they were unwilling to concede territory to their competitors.

Transcontinental Railroad history: challenges to Union Pacific’s survival lead to rebirth under Harriman

Transcontinental Railroad financial troubles
After just 18 years of operation, there had been so many irregularities and so much concern over the Union Pacific’s ability to repay its federal loans that in 1887 Congress created the United States Pacific Railroad Commission to investigate the finances and structure of all the major railroads initially described as “the Pacific Railroad” project.

Fast-and-loose financing challenges
Over months, the commission held hearings, took depositions and testimony, traveled over the railroads in question, and tried to reconstruct the financial records of the entire Transcontinental Railroad project. The chairman said the commission’s work was made more tedious by the fact that “the construction companies or inside combinations that built five of the six roads have destroyed or concealed their books.”

At the conclusion of the probe, the chairman, Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Pattison summed his feelings this way: “The public interest has been subordinated by these companies to the stockholding interest upon the claim that the stockholders owned the railroads and could manage their own business in their own way. Nearly every obligation, which these corporations assumed under the laws of the United States, or as common carriers, has been violated. Their management has been a national disgrace.”

The commission submitted its official report to President Grover Cleveland in 1888. It estimated that the cash profit to the officers and directors of Union Pacific Railroad and Credit Mobilier, a special company used to syphon money from building the first Transcontinental Railroad, as a result of the construction fraud alone was $23.3 million. Conservatively, the amount stolen was just shy of $1.17 billion in today’s dollars, or about $1.25 million for each of the railroad’s 1,038 route-miles from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to just west of Ogden, Utah.

And that was just the construction phase. It’s little wonder that the U.S. government grew increasingly annoyed with UP as fraud and corruption chugged along for another 10 years.

E.H. Harriman saves Union Pacific
The Union Pacific we know today dates from 1897, when it was reorganized for the second time. From that point, UP was free from lingering restrictions dating back to the Transcontinental Railroad project.

The railroad’s final manifestation came under the leadership of E.H. Harriman, one of the railroad industry’s most successful executives. Harriman had a vision: a UP with a first-rate physical plant competing in markets throughout the West and taking full advantage of its location, strategic opportunities, and the booming traffic of the early 20th century. All it required was leadership, close attention to detail, and lots of cash. Harriman supplied all three.

Of course, a full accounting of the UP’s 150 years is more complex.

Originally, the UP – and by extension, the Transcontinental Railroad, was a collective expression of national will and resolve. Like the equitable distribution of land and access to higher education, its objectives — to physically unite a continent struggling to become one nation — were rooted in sincere patriotism and a belief that the nation was a unique and successful experiment in self-determination.

The American Civil War and its aftermath subverted the ideals of the laws authorizing the Transcontinental Railroad. Despite the best intentions of the laws’ framers, it took only a few years for corporate crooks and post-Civil War opportunists to turn the UP into a perverse kind of business-school case study: a visionary project launched with high expectations, then cynically manipulated to benefit a few people. That was a common outcome during the late 19th century. And it set the stage for the Progressive Era, which restored some notion of fair play and ethical business practices.

That trajectory is less about the UP and more about the U.S. in which it developed. At almost every step, the UP was a reflection of the society that created it and that it served. It is a testament to the original purpose of the Transcontinental Railroad that it has continually reinvented itself as the future required. In its third act, UP not only survived, it prospered. It became North America’s largest railroad, and one of its most respected.

UP’s sesquicentennial began July 1, 2012, on the 150th anniversary of the Pacific Railroad Act. It will wind down in 2019.

Seven years is a long time to celebrate a railroad’s anniversary. But this is no ordinary railroad and no ordinary anniversary. The story we continue to tell about the Transcontinental Railroad sounds familiar. But beneath the clichés and glossy yellow surface is much more.

Interested in learning more about the history of the Transcontinental Railroad? You’ll find it in our special issue, available online.


Background Edit

The early Forty-Niners of the California Gold Rush wishing to come to California were faced with limited options. From the East Coast, for example, a sailing voyage around the tip of South America would take five to eight months, [1] and cover some 18,000 nautical miles (33,000 km). An alternative route was to sail to the Atlantic side of the Isthmus of Panama, to take canoes and mules for a week through the jungle, and then on the Pacific side, to wait for a ship sailing for San Francisco. [2] During the 1850s the voy:Ruta de Transito through Nicaragua was another option. Eventually, most gold-seekers took the overland route across the continental United States, particularly along the California Trail. [3] Each of these routes had its own deadly hazards, from shipwreck to typhoid fever to cholera or Indian attack. [4] [5]

Transcontinental links Edit

The very first "inter-oceanic" railroad that affected California was built in 1855 across the Isthmus of Panama, the Panama Railway. [6] [7] The Panama Railway reduced the time needed to cross the Isthmus from a week of difficult and dangerous travel to a day of relative comfort. The building of the Panama Railroad, in combination with the increasing use of steamships (instead of sailing ships) meant that travel to and from California via Panama was the primary method used by people who could afford to do so, and was used for valuable cargo, such as the gold being shipped from California to the East Coast. [8]

California's symbolic and tangible connection to the rest of the country was fused at Promontory Summit, Utah, as the "last spike" was driven to join the tracks of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads, thereby completing the First Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869 (before that time, only a few local rail lines operated in the State, the first being the Sacramento Valley Railroad). [9] The 1,600 mile (2,575-kilometer) trip from Omaha, Nebraska, would now take mere days. The Wild West was quickly transformed from a lawless, agrarian frontier to what would become an urbanized, industrialized economic and political powerhouse. Of perhaps greater significance is the unbridled economic growth that was spurred on by the sheer diversity of opportunities available in the region.

The four years following the Golden Spike ceremony saw the length of track in the U.S. double to over 70,000 miles (nearly 113,000 kilometers). [10] By around the start of the 20th century, the completion of four subsequent transcontinental routes in the United States and one in Canada would provide not only additional pathways to the Pacific Ocean, but would forge ties to all of the economically important areas between the coasts as well. Virtually the entire country was accessible by rail, making a national economy possible for the first time. And while federal financial assistance (in the form of land grants and guaranteed low-interest loans, a well-established government policy) was vital to the railroads' expansion across North America, this support accounted for less than eight percent (8%) of the total length of rails laid private investment was responsible for the vast majority of railroad construction. [11]

As rail lines pushed further and further into the wilderness, they opened up huge areas that would have otherwise lain fallow. The railroads helped establish countless towns and settlements, paved the way to abundant mineral deposits and fertile tracts of pastures and farmland, and created new markets for eastern goods. It is estimated that by the end of World War II, rail companies nationwide remunerated to the government over $1 billion dollars, more than eight times the original value of the lands granted. [12] The principal commodity transported across the rails to California was people: by reducing the cross-country travel time to as little as six days, men with westward ambitions were no longer forced to leave their families behind. The railroads would, in time, provide equally important linkages to move the inhabitants throughout the state, interconnecting its blossoming communities.

"Transportation determines the flow of population," declared J. D. Spreckels, one of California's early railroad entrepreneurs, just after the dawn of the twentieth century. "Before you can hope to get people to live anywhere. you must first of all show them that they can get there quickly, comfortably and, above all, cheaply." [13] Among Spreckels' many accomplishments was the formation of the San Diego Electric Railway in 1892, which radiated out from downtown to points north, south, and east and helped urbanize San Diego. Henry Huntington, the nephew of Central Pacific founder Collis P. Huntington, would develop his Pacific Electric Railway in Los Angeles and Orange Counties with much the same result. Spreckels' greatest challenge would be to provide San Diego with its own direct transcontinental rail link in the form of the San Diego and Arizona Railway (completed in November 1919), a feat that nearly cost the sugar heir his life. [14] The Central Pacific Railroad, in effect, initiated the trend by offering settlement incentives in the form of low fares, and by placing sections of its government-granted lands up for sale to pioneers.

When the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad charted its own solo course across the continent in 1885 it chose Los Angeles as its western terminus, and in doing so fractured the Southern Pacific Railroad's near total monopoly on rail transportation within the state. The original purpose of this new line was to augment the route to San Diego, established three years prior as part of a joint venture with the California Southern Railroad, but the Santa Fe would subsequently be forced to all but abandon these inland tracks through the Temecula Canyon (due to constant washouts) and construct its Surf Line along the coast to maintain its exclusive ties to Los Angeles. [15] Santa Fe's entry into Southern California resulted in widespread economic growth and ignited a fervent rate war with the Southern Pacific, or "Espee" as the road was often referred to it also led to Los Angeles' well-documented real estate "Boom of the Eighties". [16] The Santa Fe Route led the way in passenger rate reductions (often referred to as "colonist fares") by, within a period of five months, lowering the price of a ticket from Kansas City, Missouri to Los Angeles from $125 to $15, and, on March 6, 1887 to a single dollar. [17] The Southern Pacific soon followed suit and the level of real estate speculation reached a new high, with "boom towns" springing up literally overnight. Free, daily railroad-sponsored excursions (complete with lunch and live entertainment) enticed overeager potential buyers to visit the many undeveloped properties firsthand and (hopefully) invest in the potential of the land.

Unfortunately, as with the Comstock mining securities boom of the 1870s, Los Angeles' land boom attracted an unscrupulous element that often sold interest in properties whose titles were not properly recorded, or in tracts that did not even exist. [18] Major advertising campaigns by the SP, Santa Fe, Union Pacific, and other major carriers of the day not only helped transform southern California into a major tourist attraction but generated intense interest in exploiting the area's agricultural potential. [19] Word of the abundant work opportunities, high wages, and the temperate and healthful California climate spread throughout the Midwestern United States, and led to an exodus from such states as Iowa, Indiana, and Kansas although the real estate bubble "burst" in 1889 and most investors lost their all, the Southern California landscape was forever transformed by the many towns, farms, and citrus groves left in the wake of this event. [17]

Historians James Rawls and Walton Bean have speculated that were it not for the discovery of gold in 1848, Oregon might have been granted statehood ahead of California, and therefore the first Pacific Railroad might have been built to that state, or at least been born to a more benevolent group of founding fathers. [20] This speculation lacks support, however, when one considers that a significant hide and tallow trade between California and the eastern seaports was already well-established, that the federal government had long planned for the acquisition of San Francisco Bay as a western port, and that suspicions regarding England's intentions towards potentially extending their holdings in the region southward into California would almost certainly have forced the government to embark on the same course of action.

While the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad would rightfully be remembered as a major milestone in America's history, it would also foster the birth of a railroad empire that would have a dominant influence over California's evolution for years to come. Despite all of the shortcomings, in the end the State reaped innumerable and unprecedented benefits from its associations with the railroad companies, which helped put California "on the map."

Agriculture Edit

Even today, California is well known for the abundance and many varieties of fruit trees that are cultivated throughout the state. The only fruits indigenous to the region, however, consisted of wild berries or grew on small bushes. Spanish missionaries brought fruit seeds over from Europe, many of which had been introduced to the Old World from Asia following earlier expeditions to the continent orange, grape, apple, peach, pear, and fig seeds were among the most prolific of the imports.

Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, fourth in the Alta California chain, was founded in 1771 near what would one day be the City of Los Angeles. [21] Thirty-three years later the mission would unknowingly witness the origin of the California citrus industry with the planting of the region's first significant orchard, though the commercial potential of citrus would not be realized until 1841. [22] Several small carloads of California crops were shipped eastward via the new transcontinental route almost immediately after its completion, using a special type of ventilated boxcar modified specifically for this purpose. The advent of the iced refrigerator car or "reefer" led to increases in both the amount of product carried and in the distances traveled.

For years, the overall scarcity of oranges in particular led to the general perception that they were suitable only for holiday table decoration or as indulgences for the affluent. During the 1870s, however, hybridization of California oranges led to the creation of several flavorful strains, chief among these the Navel and Valencia varieties, whose development allowed for year-round cultivation of the fruit. Substantial foreign (out-of-state) markets for California citrus would come into full stature by 1890, initiating a period referred to as the Orange Era. [23]

As the market for agricultural goods outside the state's boundaries increased, the Santa Fe developed a massive fleet of refrigerator dispatch cars, and in 1906 the Southern Pacific joined with the Union Pacific Railroad to create the Pacific Fruit Express. [24] Fully half the farm products produced in California could now be exported throughout the country, with western railroads carrying virtually all of the perishable fruit traffic. [25] The western states of California, Arizona, and Oregon would dominate U.S. agricultural production by the coming of the Great Depression once such diverse and high-demand crops as wheat, sugar beets, olives, and lettuce were cultivated, California would become known as the nation's "produce basket." [26]

Oil boom Edit

With the expansion of agriculture interests throughout the state (along with new rail lines to carry the goods to faraway markets), new communities were founded and existing towns expanded. Agrarian successes led to the establishment of post offices, schools, churches, mercantile outlets, and ancillary industries such as packing houses. The discovery of brea, more commonly referred to as tar, in Southern California would lead to an oil boom in the early twentieth century. Railroad companies soon discovered that shipping wooden barrels loaded with oil via boxcars was not cost-effective, and developed steel cylindrical tank cars capable of transporting bulk liquids virtually anywhere. By 1915, the transportation of petroleum products had become a lucrative endeavor for western railroads. [27]

Most oil tank cars would remain in revenue service for decades until the "Black Bonanza" had run its course. The Southern Pacific is credited with being the first western railroad to experiment in 1879 with the use of oil in its locomotives as a fuel source in lieu of coal (with substantial technical assistance from the Union Oil Company, one of the SP's biggest accounts). [28] By 1895, oil-burning locomotives were in operation on a number of Southern Pacific routes, and on the competing California Southern and Great Northern Railway as well. [29] This innovation not only allowed the SP (and other railroads that soon followed their example) to benefit from the use of this abundant and economically viable fuel source, but to create new markets by capitalizing on the burgeoning petroleum industry. The conversion from coal to oil also help solved the Southern Pacific's problem of intense smoke in the tunnels of the Sierra Nevada. Thanks to the railroads, California was once again thrust into the limelight.

Tourism Edit

As has been previously discussed, the railroads were among the first to promote California tourism as early as the 1870s, both as a means to increase ridership and to create new markets for the freight hauling business in the areas they served. [30] Some sixty years later, the Santa Fe would lead a resurgence in leisure travel to and along the west coast aboard such "name" trains as the Chief and later the Super Chief the Southern Pacific would soon follow suit with their Golden State and Overland Flyer trains, and the Union Pacific with its City of Los Angeles and City of San Francisco. The immense popularity of Helen Hunt Jackson's 1884 novel Ramona in particular fueled a surge in tourism, which happened to coincide with the opening of SP's Southern California lines. [31]

The Santa Fé embraced the aura of the American Southwest in its advertising campaigns as well as its operations. The AT&SF routes and the high level of service provided thereon became popular with stars of the film industry in the thirties, forties and fifties, both building on and adding to the Hollywood mystique. The "golden age" of railroading would eventually end as travel by automobile and airplane became more cost-effective, and popular.

Corruption and scandal Edit

In 1901, Frank Norris vilified the Southern Pacific for its monopolistic practices in his acclaimed novel The Octopus: A Story of California John Moody's 1919 work The Railroad Builders: A Chronicle of the Welding of the State referred to "the American railroad problem" wherein the men who rode the iron horse were characterized as "monsters" that too often suppressed government reform and economic growth through political chicanery and corrupt business practices. [32]

While it is true that much of the traveling public would have been unable to make the trip to California's sunny climate were it not for the fleet, relatively safe, and affordable trains of the western railroads, it is also true that those companies in effect preyed on those same settlers once they arrived at the end of the line. For instance, while the railroads provided much-needed transportation routes to out-of-state markets for locally produced raw materials and avenues of the import for eastern goods, there were numerous instances of rate fixing schemes among the various carriers, the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific included. [33] Opposition to the railroads began early in Southern California's history due to the questionable practices of The Big Four in conducting the business of the Central (later Southern) Pacific. The Central Pacific Railroad (and later the Southern Pacific) maintained and operated whole fleets of ferry boats that connected Oakland with San Francisco by water. Early on, the Central Pacific gained control of the existing ferry lines for the purpose of linking the northern rail lines with those from the south and east during the late 1860s the company purchased nearly every bayside plot in Oakland, creating what author and historian Oscar Lewis described as a "wall around the waterfront" that put the town's fate squarely in the hands of the corporation. [34] Competitors for ferry passengers or dock space were ruthlessly run out of business, and not even stage coach lines could escape the group's notice, or wrath.

The Northern California railroad barons also effectively slowed San Diego's development in the early 20th century. San Diego had a natural harbor and many thought that it would become a major port on the west coast. However, San Francisco was strongly opposed to this as San Diego's development would hurt their trade. Charles Crocker, the manager of Central Pacific Railroad was quoted as saying: “I would not take the road to San Diego as a gift. We would blot San Diego out of existence if we could, but as we can[']t do that we shall keep it back as long as we can.” Instead, the Central Pacific only extended their rail route into Los Angeles." [ citation needed ]

Competition between carriers for rail routes was fierce as well, and unscrupulous means were often used to gain any advantage over one another. Santa Fe work crews engaged in sabotage to slow the progress of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad through the Rockies as the two fought their way toward the Coast [ citation needed ] the Santa Fe (in conjunction with the California Southern) would win the race in establishing its connection to Bakersfield in 1883. Some eleven years earlier, the Southern Pacific essentially blackmailed the then-fledgling City of Los Angeles into paying a hefty subsidy to ensure that the railroad’s north-south line would pass through town in 1878, the company would be rebuffed in its attempts to extend its Anaheim branch southward to San Diego through Orange County's Irvine Ranch without securing the permission of James Irvine, Sr., a longtime rival of Collis Huntington. [35] The Southern Pacific would similarly block the westward progress of the Santa Fe (known to some as the People's Railroad) until September 1882, when a group of enraged citizens ultimately forced the railroad's management to relent. [36] Numerous accounts of similar "frog wars" and other such tactics have been recorded throughout California's railroad history.

Perhaps the most notorious examples of impropriety on the part of the railroads surround the process of land acquisition and sales. Since the federal government granted to the companies alternate tracts of land that ran along the tracks they had laid, it was generally assumed that the land would in turn be sold at its fair market value at the time the land was subdivided circulars distributed by the SP (which was at the time a holding company formed by the Central Pacific Railroad) certainly implied as much. However, at least some of the tracts were put on the market only after considerable time had passed, and the land improved well beyond its raw state. [37]

Families faced with asking prices of ten times or more of the initial value more often than not had no choice but to vacate their homes and farms, in the process losing everything they worked for often it turned out to be a railroad employee who had purchased the property in question. A group of immigrant San Joaquin Valley farmers formed the Settlers' League in order to challenge the Southern Pacific's actions in court, but after all of the lawsuits were decided in the favor of the railroads, one group decided to take matters into their own hands. What resulted was the infamous Battle at Mussel Slough, in which armed settlers clashed with railroad employees and law enforcement officers engaged in eviction proceedings. Six people were killed in the ensuing gunfight. [38] The Southern Pacific would emerge from the tragedy as the prime target of journalists such as William Randolph Hearst, ambitious politicians, and crusade groups for decades to follow. [39] Leland Stanford's term as Governor of California (while still serving on the SP's board of directors) enhanced the corporation's political clout, but simultaneously further increased its notoriety as well.

Regulation Edit

Public response to the corruption that arose from California's economic "explosion" led to the enactment of numerous reform and regulation measures, many of which coincided with the ascendancy of the Populist and Progressive movements. Early examples of railroad regulation include Granger case decisions in the 1870s, and the creation of the first (albeit ineffective) Railroad Commission via amendment of the State's Constitution of 1879, forerunner of today's California Public Utilities Commission. In 1886, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Santa Clara County in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. The documents of the Court decision included a statement that a corporation henceforth could be considered an American citizen, with all the associated immunities and privileges (except the right to vote). The document phrasing has long made it difficult for states to pass legislation that could make corporations accountable to the people. The Stetson-Eshelman Act of 1911 provided for the fixing of shipping rates by state legislatures. In 1911, California's new Progressive government established the second Railroad Commission, more effective and less corrupted than the first one. [40]

Buses replace streetcars and interurbans Edit

Passenger rail in California during the early 20th Century was dominated by private companies. Interurban railways gained popularity in the early part of the century as a means of medium-distance travel, usually as components of real estate speculation schemes. The Pacific Electric Railway Company Red Car Lines was the largest electric railway system in the world by the 1920s, with over 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of tracks and 2,160 daily services across Los Angeles and Orange Counties. [41] The Sacramento Northern Railway operated the world's longest single electric interurban service between Oakland and Chico. These and other services were largely abandoned in the 1940s and 50s as ridership declined and equipment fell into disrepair.

Local services were mostly controlled by a few primary operators. The San Diego Electric Railway, founded by John D. Spreckels in 1892, was the major transit system in the San Diego area during that period. In the Los Angeles area, real estate tycoon Henry Huntington established both the Los Angeles Railway, also known as the Yellow Car system, and the above-mentioned Pacific Electric Red Car System in 1901. The San Francisco Municipal Railway was established in 1912. Business magnate Francis Marion Smith then created the Key System in 1903 to connect San Francisco with the East Bay. The San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge opened to rail traffic in 1939 only to have the last trains run in 1958 after fewer than twenty years of service – the tracks were torn up and replaced with additional lanes for automobiles. All four streetcar systems, and other similar rail networks across the state, declined in the 1940s with the rise of California's car culture and freeway network. They were then all eventually taken over to some degree, and dismantled, in favor of bus service by National City Lines, a controversial national front company owned by General Motors and other companies in what became known as the General Motors streetcar conspiracy. San Francisco's city-owned lines were not privatized, but were still largely converted to bus and trolleybuses.

Modern light rail and subway systems Edit

One urban system that survived the streetcar decline was the San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) in San Francisco. Its five heavily used streetcar lines traveled for at least part of their routes through tunnels or otherwise reserved right-of-way, and thus could not be converted to bus lines. [42] As a result, these lines, running PCC streetcars, continued in operation for several decades. When plans for stations in the double-decker Market Street Subway tunnel through downtown San Francisco, with BART on the lower level and MUNI on the upper level, required high platforms, it meant that the PCCs could not be used in them. Hence, MUNI ordered a fleet of new light rail vehicles, and Muni Metro began service in 1980. The San Francisco cable car system came under full Municipal ownership in 1952, and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966 after almost being replaced entirely by buses in the previous decades. The system had fallen into disrepair by the 70s and a massive overhaul of the system resulted in the lines current configuration opening in 1984.

Planning for a modern, urban rapid transit system in California did not begin until the 1950s, when California's legislature created a commission to study the Bay Area's long-term transportation needs. Based on the commission's report, the state legislature created the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) District in 1957 to build a rapid transit system to replace the Key System and provide region-wide rail connectivity. Initially intended to include all nine counties that ring the San Francisco Bay, the final system would feature service between San Francisco and three branches in the East Bay, serving three counties total. Passenger service on BART then began in 1972, but expansion to the system was planned almost immediately.

Environmental and traffic concerns beginning in the 1970s led to a resurgence in urban passenger rail, specifically the construction light rail networks. Hurricane Kathleen in 1976 damaged the San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway Desert Line to San Diego, and the San Diego portion became an isolated railway. After prior decades of grappling with the option of building rapid transit BART-like line, light rail was eventually chosen as a more cost-effective solution. The San Diego Trolley opened in 1981 partially as a means to preserve freight service on this line, but is widely considered the system that lead to renewal in the concept of urban passenger rail. This system was followed in California by both the Sacramento Regional Transit Light Rail and Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority light rail systems in 1987, as well as more nationwide.

The development of the mixed-mode Los Angeles Metro Rail began as two separate undertakings. The Southern California Rapid Transit District was planning a new subway along Wilshire Boulevard while the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission was also designing a light rail system utilizing a former Pacific Electric corridor. The light rail Blue Line opened to Long Beach in 1990. The Red rapid transit line began construction in 1986, and its first segment opened in 1993, the year both entities were merged. Expansion of the system was initially hampered by compromises and prohibiting legislation, but the light rail Green Line opened in 1995, followed by the Red Line's extension to Wilshire/Western in Koreatown (which received its own designation as the Purple Line in 2006).

Passenger rail Edit

Amtrak era Edit

When Amtrak assumed operation of passenger rail services in the United States in 1971, most long-haul and commuter trains ceased operation. New lines were either based on previous routings or extended from old services. Service to Denver was provided via the San Francisco Zephyr (on a route largely retained from the City of San Francisco), and extended through to Chicago in 1983 with the California Zephyr. Los Angeles services have remained largely unchanged since the corporation's inception. The Southwest Chief is the successor to the ATSF Super Chief, still running from Chicago. The Sunset Limited to New Orleans is the oldest maintained named train service in the United States, inherited from the Southern Pacific service running since 1894. The Texas Eagle is a direct successor to the Missouri Pacific train of the same name. No one passenger train ran the length of the west coast before 1971. Coast Starlight service was initiated as a thrice weekly service from Seattle to San Diego, later expanded to run daily but cut back to Los Angeles by 1972. Services to Las Vegas, Nevada were provided by the weekend-only Las Vegas Limited in 1976 and long-distance Desert Wind, which operated between 1979 and 1997.

Caltrans and Amtrak partnered together to form Amtrak California in 1976. The Pacific Surfliner, serving the coastal communities of Southern California between San Diego and San Luis Obispo, is an extension of the historical San Diegan that was previously operated by ATSF and continued service under Amtrak – it is the busiest corridor outside of the Northeast. Amtrak's formation left the San Joaquin Valley without rail service, but this was rectified in 1974 with the initiation of San Joaquins service. At first serving Bakersfield to Oakland, additional services were added north to Sacramento in 1999. Capitol Corridor service began as simply Capitols in 1991 and connects the Bay Area with the Sacramento area, acting closer to true commuter rail than most other Amtrak routes. The Spirit of California was a short-haul sleeper service that ran between Los Angeles and Sacramento via the Coast Starlight routing. The train lasted under two years from 1981 to 1983. The Amtrak California branding is being deprecated as the three California-based lines have transitioned to control under local joint powers authorities.

One exception Edit

The California Western Railroad is a short line railroad that never joined Amtrak. For most of its existence, the line served to haul lumber from the Mendocino Coast Range to the Northwestern Pacific Railroad in Willits. The company also ran one daily round trip passenger service to Fort Bragg – the Skunk Train. [43] By 1996, freight shipments had declined to the point that passenger excursions became the railroad's primary source of income. A series of tunnel collapses starting in 2013 severed the line, and service was thence reduced to purely excursions without through running. [44]

Commuter rail Edit

One service spared from discontinuance was the Southern Pacific Peninsula Commute, operational in some form since 1863. The railroad had long petitioned the California Public Utilities Commission to end the service, but remained subsidized by the state. Caltrans renamed it Caltrain in 1987. The overseeing joint powers authority acquired the line in 1991, and eventually took over responsibility for operating the service. By 1988, it was the only commuter rail being operated in the state. [45]

An attempt to start commuter rail service in Los Angeles was undertaken in 1982, although CalTrain service would last fewer than six months. Amtrak initiated Orange County Commuter service in 1990 under the San Diegans brand, but a more regional approach was deemed necessary. Southern Pacific sold 175 miles (282 km) of track to the newly formed Southern California Regional Rail Authority in 1991, which became the nucleus of the Metrolink commuter rail network when it opened one year later. [46] [47] The system would consist of six lines by the end of the millennium, including assumed operation of the Orange County service.

The North San Diego County Transit Development Board was created in 1975 to consolidate and improve transit in northern San Diego County. Planning began for a San Diego–Oceanside commuter rail line, then called Coast Express Rail, in 1982. [48] The Board established the San Diego Northern Railway Corporation (SDNR) - a nonprofit operating subsidiary - in 1994, [48] and purchased the 41 miles (66 km) of the Surf Line within San Diego County plus the 22-mile (35 km) Escondido Branch from the Santa Fe Railway that year. [ citation needed ]

By the 90s, growth in the Tri-Valley and the middle Central Valley had led to congestion on local freeways while providing little access to public transit. In May 1997, the Altamont Commuter Express Joint Powers Authority was formed by the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, and Alameda Congestion Management Agency with the intent to establish commuter rail service over the Altamont Pass and Niles Canyon. The Altamont Commuter Express, connecting San Joaquin County and the Bay Area, then began operations in 1998.

Freight Edit

Railways companies, and thus routes, were largely consolidated under a few Class I railroads by the end of the century. In 1982, the Union Pacific Corporation purchased the Western Pacific and the WP became part of a combined Union Pacific rail system: the Union Pacific Railroad, the Missouri Pacific Railroad, and the Western Pacific. [49] Southern Pacific was purchased by Union Pacific and acquisition was finalized in 1996. In the same year, the ATSF merged with the Burlington Northern Railroad to form BNSF Railway. With those two mergers, the two major railroads in California became Union Pacific and BNSF, with some smaller short line and switching operations. Line abandonment has generally increased since then, as redundancies are reduced. The Union Pacific line over Tehachapi Pass operates as one of the busiest single-track railways in the world.

Vehicle for hire companies have gained market share from rail service. [50]

Railway expansion Edit

Rail systems saw initial expansion in the first decades of the century. San Diego Trolley's Green Line began service in 2005, and Silver Line heritage streetcar service began limited service in 2011 with refurbished PCC's. The Sacramento RT Light Rail extended all of its lines including one linking Folsom to the Sacramento Amtrak station, the Blue Line extension project which provided transit to several colleges in the southwest part of the city, and the line to the River District. VTA light rail also saw expansion to San Jose Diridon station and Winchester, as well as the Vasona extension. All of these systems would experience various reroutings of service as new extensions came on line.

Bay Area Rapid Transit has seen expansions beyond its original vision, such as the Silicon Valley BART extension, Oakland Airport Connector, and the East Contra Costa BART Extension. BART and Caltrain jointly opened Millbrae station in 2003. BART placed an order for a replacement fleet of train cars in 2012, with expected full delivery by 2022. The passage of Measure RR on November 8, 2016 gave BART the funds to undertake a massive rebuild of the system's aging infrastructure, effectively freezing expansion plans not already programmed. A result of the agency's decision to hold expansion plans into Livermore prompted the creation of the Tri-Valley-San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority in 2017 – an agency tasked with establishing a public transit service between BART and ACE trains.

San Francisco's Muni Metro has expanded service via the sequential Third Street Light Rail Project and Central Subway (with plans for a third extension underway). The heritage streetcar service was extended to Fisherman's Wharf via constructing light rail infrastructure in place of the demolished Embarcadero Freeway, and the E Embarcadero streetcar service entered regular service in 2015 providing a link between the waterfront and Caltrain. City Supervisor Scott Wiener called for sustained subway construction throughout San Francisco. [51] [52]

LA Metro Rail's aggressive expansion policy was adopted owing to increased funding availability primarily from Measure R in 2008 and Measure M in 2016 as well as dissatisfaction with increasing automotive traffic. The Gold Line opened in 2003 and has been extended several times via East Side Expansion and the Gold Line Foothill Extension. The Expo Line opened in 2012 along the route of the former Santa Monica Air Line, was completed to Santa Monica in 2016, and hit ridership projections 13 years earlier than forecast. [53] The Regional Connector will bring the disconnected Gold line into the rest of the LACMTA light rail system and provide more flexible service patterns. A more direct airport connection will be provided upon completion of the K Line (known as the Crenshaw/LAX Line during construction). Several extensions of the Purple Line are planned to bring subway service along the Wilshire / Westwood corridor and will likely connect to the Crenshaw/LAX Line. Multiple preparations for the 2028 Summer Olympics are being made under the Twenty-eight by '28 initiative, including establishing a rail route over the Sepulveda Pass, the East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor, extending the Green Line to South Bay, the West Santa Ana Branch Transit Corridor, the Inglewood Transit Connector, and the Eastside Transit Corridor extension of the Gold Line.

Diesel multiple unit services Edit

Sprinter began diesel multiple unit (DMU) service in 2008, connecting cities in northern San Diego County. This service follows the 22-mile (35 km) Escondido Branch, which was acquired by the San Diego Northern Railway in 1992 and was later transferred to the North County Transit District. The passenger trains are not FRA-compliant for operation in association with freight trains and therefore freight operations on the route are not permitted during passenger operations. For this reason the American Public Transportation Association and some publications refer to this line as light rail, but it does not conform to the normal engineering specifications usually associated with that term.

Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit was created by state legislation in 2002 to reestablish passenger service along the Northwestern Pacific Railroad right-of-way, providing a 70-mile (110 km) route from Cloverdale to Larkspur Ferry Terminal with a planned 16 stations. After prolonged delays, preview service commenced on a truncated portion of the line on June 28, 2017. Construction is ongoing with plans to reach Cloverdale by 2027. Unlike trains operating the Sprinter service, SMART's Nippon Sharyo DMUs are each powered by one Cummins QSK19-R [54] diesel engine with hydraulic transmission and regenerative braking, and meet US EPA Tier 4 emission standards. Structurally each DMU is FRA Tier 1 compliant with crash energy management features, making it capable of operating on the same line with standard North American freight trains without the need of special waivers.

The aforementioned East Contra Costa BART Extension breaks from Bay Area Rapid Transit convention by using standard gauge rail (the main system uses a broad gauge), allowing for standard modern DMU trainsets to operate on the branch line. Plans originally called for trains to share right of way with pre-existing freight tracks in Eastern Contra Costa County. The freight track's owners eventually refused BART to lay tracks along its own lines, and the project was integrated into the median of an adjacent highway widening and given dedicated tracks. Its opening extended the BART system an additional 10.1 miles (16.3 km) with two new stations.

Arrow is under construction and is planned to provide service to Redlands, California, as well as allow for connections and track sharing with Metrolink. It will run along lightly used Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway tracks and serve five stations along its 9-mile (14 km) route.

High-speed rail Edit

The California High-Speed Rail Authority was created in 1996 by the state to implement an 800-mile (1,300 km) rail system. It would provide a TGV-style high-speed link between the state's four major metropolitan areas, and would allow travel between Los Angeles's Union Station and the San Francisco Transbay Transit Center in two and a half hours. In November 2008, voters approved Proposition 1A, a bond measure that allocated $9 billion to finance the project. In 2012, the California legislature and Governor Jerry Brown approved financing for an initial stage of construction for the project. [55] The High Speed Rail Authority estimates that the initial stages will not be completed until 2022. The groundbreaking ceremony was held on January 6, 2015, and construction continues as of May 2019 [update] despite financial and political difficulties. As part of Governor Gavin Newsom's 2019 State of the State address, he declared, "Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego." [56] Cost increases have plagued the buildout, and in May 2019 the FRA cancelled a $928.6 million grant awarded to the project. [57]

As part of this effort, and due to rising ridership of its own, Caltrain undertook a project to electrify their service corridor between San Jose and San Francisco high-speed rail services are expected to share this corridor once service is extended to the Bay Area. In August 2016, Caltrain awarded a contract to produce the trainsets needed for running on the electrified line, [58] while an official groundbreaking ceremony was held on July 21, 2017 at Millbrae station. [59] [60] Project funding in the amount of $600 million comes from Proposition 1A funds that authorized the construction of high-speed rail. [61]

Altamont Corridor Express and San Joaquins services are planned to be enhanced and expanded as part of the state's general rail plan. CAHSR was originally to run over the Altamont Pass for its service route between the Central Valley and Silicon Valley, but these plans were later changed. New ACE lines are being built progressively to Ceres by 2023 and later to Merced. Additional services to Sacramento along a lesser-used rail line are also expected to be implemented in 2023, known as Valley Rail. Trains are planned to run to Merced and act as a feeder service in the northern section of the high speed rail service area. [62]

Freight Edit

By 2013, California's freight railroad system consisted of 5,295 route miles (8,521 km) moving 159.6 million short tons (144.8 Mt). [63]

Union Pacific Railroad completed a project in 2009 to allow double-stacked intermodal containers to be transported across Donner Summit, allowing for increased loads as well as train lengths. [64]

Programs to further increase freight capacity through the state involved grade separation of the most congested level diamond crossings on the network. Colton Crossing was rebuilt between 2011 and 2013 to elevate the Union Pacific tracks over those owned by BNSF. [65] Stockton Diamond is expected to see a similar treatment starting in 2023. [66]

New systems Edit

The OC Streetcar is under construction as of 2019 [update] , and will reestablish a local service along a segment of the Pacific Electric West Santa Ana Branch rail line in Santa Ana and Garden Grove.

The LAX Train will connect the Los Angeles International Airport to a mass transit system for the first time when it opens in 2023.

BART rejected a plan to expand the system to Livermore in 2018. This prompted the creation of the Tri-Valley-San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority, which was tasked with providing a direct rail connection between the San Joaquin Valley and the BART system. The line is expected to utilize a county-owned segment of the former Transcontinental Railroad right-of-way through Tracy and over Altamont Pass. [67]


Completing the last link in the transcontinental railroad with a spike of gold was the brainchild of David Hewes, a San Francisco financier and contractor. [3] The spike had been manufactured earlier that year especially for the event by the William T. Garrett Foundry in San Francisco. Two of the sides were engraved with the names of the railroad officers and directors. [3] A special tie of polished California laurel was chosen to complete the line where the spike would be driven. [3] The ceremony was originally to be held on May 8, 1869 (the date actually engraved on the spike), but it was postponed two days because of bad weather and a labor dispute that delayed the arrival of the Union Pacific side of the rail line. [3]

On May 10, in anticipation of the ceremony, Union Pacific No. 119 and Central Pacific No. 60 (better known as the Jupiter) locomotives were drawn up face-to-face on Promontory Summit. [4] It is unknown how many people attended the event estimates run from as low as 500 to as many as 3,000 government and railroad officials and track workers were present to witness the event. [3]

Before the last spike was driven, three other commemorative spikes, presented on behalf of the other three members of the Central Pacific's Big Four who did not attend the ceremony, had been driven in the pre-bored laurel tie:

  • a second, lower-quality gold spike, supplied by the San Francisco News Letter, was made of $200 worth of gold and inscribed: With this spike the San Francisco News Letter offers its homage to the great work which has joined the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
  • a silver spike, supplied by the State of Nevada forged, rather than cast, of 25 troy ounces (780 g) of unpolished silver.
  • a blended iron, silver and gold spike, supplied by the Arizona Territory, engraved: Ribbed with iron clad in silver and crowned with gold Arizona presents her offering to the enterprise that has banded a continent and dictated a pathway to commerce.[5] This spike was given to Union Pacific President Oliver Ames following the ceremony. It is on display at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa. [6]

The golden spike was made of 17.6-karat (73%) copper-alloyed gold, and weighed 14.03 troy ounces (436 g). It was dropped into a pre-drilled hole in the laurel ceremonial last tie, and gently tapped into place with a silver ceremonial spike maul. The spike was engraved on all four sides:

  • The Pacific Railroad ground broken January 8, 1863, and completed May 8, 1869.
  • Directors of the C. P. R. R. of Cal. Hon. Leland Stanford. C. P. Huntington. E. B. Crocker. Mark Hopkins. A. P. Stanford. E. H. Miller Jr.
  • Officers. Hon. Leland Stanford. Presdt. C. P. Huntington Vice Presdt. E. B. Crocker. Atty. Mark Hopkins. Tresr. Chas Crocker Gen. Supdt. E. H. Miller Jr. Secty. S. S. Montague. Chief Engr.
  • May God continue the unity of our Country, as this Railroad unites the two great Oceans of the world. Presented by David Hewes San Francisco.[3]

The spike was removed immediately after being hammered in to prevent it from being stolen. A second golden spike, exactly like the one from the ceremony (except for the date), was cast at the same time, and probably engraved at a later time with the correct Promontory date of May 10, 1869. It has been noted that the first Golden Spike engraving appeared "rushed", and the Hewes family spike lettering appeared more polished. It was held, unknown to the public, by the Hewes family until 2005. This second spike is now on permanent display, along with Thomas Hill's famous painting The Last Spike, at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. [7]

With the locomotives drawn so near, the crowd pressed so closely around Stanford and the other railroad officials that the ceremony became somewhat disorganized, leading to varying accounts of the actual events. On the Union Pacific side, thrusting westward, the last two rails were laid by Irishmen on the Central Pacific side, thrusting eastward, the last two rails were laid by the Chinese! [8] A.J. Russell stereoview No. 539 shows the "Chinese at Laying Last Rail UPRR". Eight Chinese laid the last rail, and three of these men, Ging Cui, Wong Fook, and Lee Shao, lived long enough to also participate in the 50th anniversary parade. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Chinese participating were honored and cheered by the CPRR officials and that road's construction chief, J.H Strobridge, at a dinner in his private car. [9]

To drive the final spike, Stanford lifted a silver spike maul and drove the spike into the tie, completing the line. Stanford and Hewes missed the spike, but the single word "done" was nevertheless flashed by telegraph around the country. In the United States, the event has come to be considered one of the first nationwide media events. The locomotives were moved forward until their "cowcatchers" met, and photographs were taken. Immediately afterwards, the golden spike and the laurel tie were removed, lest they be stolen, and replaced with a regular iron spike and normal tie. At exactly 12:47 pm, the last iron spike was driven, finally completing the line. [3]

After the ceremony, the Golden Spike was donated to the Stanford Museum (now Cantor Arts Center) in 1898. The last laurel tie was destroyed in the fires caused by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. [3]

A.J. Russell image of the celebration following the driving of the "Last Spike" at Promontory Summit, Utah, May 10, 1869. Because of temperance feelings the liquor bottles held in the center of the picture were removed from some later prints.

May 10, 1869 Celebration of completion of the Transcontinental Railroad

The Jupiter leads the train that carried the spike, Leland Stanford, one of the "Big Four" owners of the Central Pacific Railroad, and other railway officials to the Golden Spike Ceremony.

Although the Promontory event marked the completion of the transcontinental railroad line, it did not actually mark the completion of a seamless coast-to-coast rail network: neither Sacramento nor Omaha was a seaport, nor did they have rail connections until after they were designated as the termini. The Mossdale Bridge, which was the final section across the San Joaquin River near Lathrop, California, was finally completed in September 1869 connecting Sacramento in California. [10] [11] [12] [13] Passengers were required to cross the Missouri River between Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Omaha, Nebraska, by boat until the building of the Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge in 1872. In the meantime, a coast-to-coast rail link was achieved in August 1870 in Strasburg, Colorado, by the completion of the Denver extension of the Kansas Pacific Railway. [14]

In 1904 a new railroad route called the Lucin Cutoff was built by-passing the Promontory location to the south. By going west across the Great Salt Lake from Ogden, Utah, to Lucin, Utah, the new railroad line shortened the distance by 43 miles and avoided curves and grades. Main line trains no longer passed over Promontory Summit.

In 1942, the old rails over Promontory Summit were salvaged for the war effort the event was marked by a ceremonial "undriving" of the last iron spike. The original event had been all but forgotten except by local residents, who erected a commemorative marker in 1943. The following year a commemorative postage stamp was issued to mark the 75th anniversary. The years after the war saw a revival of interest in the event the first re-enactment was staged in 1948.

In 1957, Congress established the Golden Spike National Historic Site to preserve the area around Promontory Summit as closely as possible to its appearance in 1869. O'Connor Engineering Laboratories in Costa Mesa, California, designed and built working replicas of the locomotives present at the original ceremony for the Park Service. These engines are drawn up face-to-face each Saturday during the summer for a re-enactment of the event. [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23]

For the May 10, 1969, centennial of the driving of the last spike, the High Iron Company ran a steam-powered excursion train round trip from New York City to Promontory. The Golden Spike Centennial Limited transported over 100 passengers including, for the last leg into Salt Lake City, actor John Wayne. The Union Pacific Railroad also sent a special display train and the US Army Transportation Corps sent a steam-powered 3-car special from Fort Eustis, Virginia.

On May 10, 2006, on the anniversary of the driving of the spike, Utah announced that its state quarter design would be a depiction of the driving of the spike. The Golden Spike design was selected as the winner from among several others by Utah's governor, Jon Huntsman Jr., following a period during which Utah residents voted and commented on their favorite of three finalists. [24]

On May 10, 2019, the United States Postal Service issued a set of three new commemorative postage stamps to mark the 150th anniversary of the driving of the golden spike: one stamp for the Jupiter locomotive, one stamp for locomotive #119, and one stamp for the golden spike. [25]

The First Transcontinental Railroad

The First Transcontinental Railroad in North America was built in the 1860s, linking the well developed railway network of the East coast with rapidly growing California. The main line was officially completed on May 10, 1869. The vast number of people who traveled the line, and the complex web of connecting routes that followed, set the USA on the path to economic abundance. It also ended the centuries old way of life of the Native Americans and greatly altered the environment.

The rail line was an important goal of President Abraham Lincoln, fostered during the early portion of his term and completed four years after his death. The building of the railroad was motivated in part to bind California to the Union during the American Civil War. The TCRR is considered by some to be the greatest technological feat of the 19th century. The transcontinental railroad replaced the slower and more dangerous wagon trains, Pony Express and stagecoach lines that crossed the country by land and the equally difficult sea journey around the southern tip of South America.

The route largely followed the well established Oregon, Mormon and California Trails. The new line began in Omaha, Nebraska, followed the Platte River, crossed the Rocky Mountains at South Pass in Wyoming and then through northern Utah and Nevada before crossing the Sierras to Sacramento, California.

The Central Pacific laid 690 miles (1,110 km) of track, starting in Sacramento, and the Union Pacific laid 1,087 miles (1,749 km) of track, starting in Omaha. The two lines connected at Promontory Summit, Utah.

History of the Transcontinental Railroad

Part 3 of 5
The Chinese use gunpowder and experiment with nitro to blow through the mountains. The result was many Chinese killed in explosive accidents.

Part 4 of 5
The Chinese go on strike, but Crocker chooses to starve the Chinese to force them to work again.

Part 5 of 5
The Chinese break through the mountains and begin moving downhill through Nevada. A record is set of 10 miles of track a day while moving towards Utah. Crocker gives full credit to the Chinese and he hopes they are never forgotten.

The Transcontinental Railroad

(Amazing American History Documentary)

Chinese History by Yosemite National Park

Did you know that early Chinese immigrants played an important role in shaping the Yosemite that we know today? Join Park Ranger Yenyen Chan on an exploration of this impressive and surprising history.

Uniting a Nation

One of the greatest technological achievements of the 19th century, the completion of the first transcontinental railroad across the United States. Visitors to the park can see the location of the Last Spike Site, 1869 railroad construction features, walk or drive on the original railroad grade, and get an up close view of Victorian era replica locomotives. Read More

Operating Hours and Programs

The Jupiter and No. 119 are back on the tracks! Come join us for a Locomotive Ranger Program.

Special Events, Summer 2021

Reenactments, Band Concerts, Star Parties, History Days! Check out our special events for the summer!

152nd Anniversary Photo Album

Photo album of the reenactment, champagne photo, and event. Find yourself in history!

With the discovery of gold in California shortly after its annexation, the untapped wealth of the American West spurred interest in westward expansion at home and abroad. By the time President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act in 1862 to establish federal support for the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, there was no question that a railway would help people and goods traveling west do so more quickly and safely, with the added benefit of nationwide geographic and economic growth as new towns sprang up near the train’s route.

The onset of the Civil War helped decide that route, since after secession, northern lawmakers faced little opposition to a route based in the north. The federal government then contracted the Central Pacific Railroad in Sacramento and the Union Pacific Railroad in Omaha to start laying tracks, supported by government land grants and bonds.

In addition to this support, each railroad company received a bounty for each mile of track laid. The Central Pacific and Union Pacific would each be compensated with $16,000 for each mile of track in the Sierra Nevadas and east of the Rockies. Once the railroads entered the mountains, they would rake in $32,000 for every mile of track they put down. The quicker each company put down track, the more money they would make. This structure of compensation started a seven-year race between the companies to see who could lay the most track.

Transcontinental Railroad - HISTORY

1838 John Plumbe sent petition to Washington, possibly the first request/recommendation for a transcontinental railroad.

1845 Asa Whitney sent memo to congress recommending that a survey for a transcontinental railroad between the 42nd and 45th parallels be made as soon as possible.

March 1, 1853 Congress authorizes Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to use the Corps of Topographical Engineers to conduct surveys to ascertain the "most practical and economical route for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean." August 1853 President Franklin Pierce orders Commissioner of Indian Affairs George W. Moneypenny to negotiate with indians for purchase of lands for a railroad. Between 1854 and 1857, treaties are made with the Omaha, Oto and Missouri, Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo, Delaware and Shawnee.

1854 Army Corps of Engineers Survey possible routes to the Pacific coast.

  • Collis P. Huntington (President)
  • Charles Crocker
  • Lelend Stanford
  • Mark Hopkins (Treasurer)

July 1, 1862 President Abraham Lincoln signed the "Act to Aid in the Construction of a Railroad and Telegraph Line from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean." The Union Pacific Railroad Company established and authorized to construct "a single line of railroad and telegraph from a point on the western boundary of the State of Iowa to be fixed by the President of the United States." Upon completion of forty consecutive miles of any part of the railroad, the company would receive title to five alternate sections of land on each side of the line and "bonds of the United States of one thousand dollars each, payable in thirty years after date, bearing six per centum per annum interest . to the amount of 16 said bonds per mile." The Central Pacific was authorized to construct a railroad from the Pacific coast to the eastern boundary of California under the same terms and conditions as the UP. September 1862 68 of the original "commissioners" of the Union Pacific assembled in Chicago, electing William P. Ogden of Chicago as President, and Henry V. Porter, editor of Railroad Journal as secretary.

1863 Thomas Durant, scheming to gain power in the Union Pacific, acquires control of the majority of the outstanding stock. January 8, 1863 The Central Pacific held ground breaking ceremonies in Sacramento. October 30, 1863 At the organizational meeting of the Union Pacific in New York, Thomas Durant gains control and has John A. Dix named President (his "front man"). Durant takes for himself the title "Vice-president and General Manager". November 2, 1863 Theodore Judah died of Yellow Fever contracted in Panama while returning to California. December 2, 1863 The Union Pacific held ground breaking ceremonies in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and across the Missouri River in Omaha, Nebraska. December 1863 Peter Dey is named Chief Engineer of the Union Pacific.

1864 Thomas Durant establishes Credit Mobilier of America, a holding company designed to siphon off profits from construction of public works. 1864 Thomas Durant of the Union Pacific and Collis Huntington of the Central Pacific worked to get the Pacific Railway Act passed, granting the railroads 12,800 acres of land per mile along with all iron and coal deposits under them, and permitted them to sell first-mortgage bonds to the public. The Union Pacific was to get $16,000.00 per mile across the flat prairies, while the Central Pacific was to get $48,000.00 per mile in the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains. December 8, 1864 Peter Dey resigned as Chief Engineer of the Union Pacific Colonel Silas Seymour (who knew little of railroad construction) was assigned by Durant to the position.

1865 Labor shortages in California prompted General Superintendant Charles Crocker of the Central Pacific to employ Chinese out of San Francisco. Construction Superintendant James Harvey Strobridge objects, but by year end they've hired every available Chinese in California, and Stanford is trying to import 15,000 more from China. 1865 The "Big Four" of the Central Pacific (Stanford, Huntington, Crocker and Hopkins) user their Credit and Finance Corporation in the same manner as Durant used the Credit Mobilier , but kept it, and the profits it generated, to themselves. July 10, 1865 The Union Pacific laid their first rail at Omaha. At this time, the Central Pacific is 50 miles east of Sacramento.

Spring 1866 John S. "Jack" Casement and brother Dan were hired by the Union Pacific to handle the construction teams. May 1866 Colonel Grenville Dodge replaces Seymour as Chief Engineer of the Union Pacific Early Summer, 1866 Congress allows the Central Pacific to build east of California , setting up a race between the CP and the UP to gain advantage over one another. August 1, 1866 Union Pacific work trains have reached 150 miles west of Omaha. October 5, 1866 The Union Pacific reaches the 100th meridian, 247 miles west of Omaha. November, 1866 The Central Pacific reached Cisco, 92 miles from Sacramento and 5,911 feet above sea level. Plans and arrangements are made to use the winter for digging 12 tunnels, each from 800 to 1,650 feet long. They work 3 shifts of 8 hours each per day, and employ 8,000 workers. Late November, 1866 The Union Pacific reached North Platte, 290 miles west of Omaha. Year End, 1866 The Union Pacific reached mile post 305, laying track whenever the weather would permit.

1867 Oliver Ames, wealthy Massachusetts shovelmaker and brother of Congressman Oakes Ames, is named President of the Union Pacific . Oakes Ames sponsored a new director, Sidney Dillon, who with the Ames brothers starts buying shares of Credit Mobilier in an effort to challenge Durant's financial dictatorship. November, 1867 Summit Tunnel, the highest point of the Central Pacific at 7,017 feet above sea level, is ready for track layers. December 13, 1867 The first rails are laid eastward across the Nevada line, having by-passed a 17 mile stretch of track to close in the Donner Lake area. Year End, 1867 The Union Pacific has laid 240 miles of track this year and is at mile post 540 , while the Central Pacific has laid only 40 miles, having had to bore through thousands of feet of solid stone, fighting snowdrifts and dodging avalanches during several months of the year. Three locomotives and forty cars have been dismantled and hauled across the summit on sledges in order to continue work east of the mountains. The Union Pacific has sent 3,000 men into the Medicine Bow area to cut ties, timbers for trestles and billets for fuel for the Iron Horses.

1868 Brigham Young of Salt Lake City has a $2,000,000 contract with the Union Pacific to build a grade across Utah. Huntington of the Central Pacific negotiates with him to build a road grade for the CP across Utah through the Weber Canyon. Early Spring, 1868 The Central Pacific reaches Reno, Nevada Spring, 1868 The Union Pacific begins track construction west of Cheyenne, Wyoming. April 16, 1868 The Union Pacific rails top Sherman Summit, 8,242 feet above sea level. Durant celebrates the occasion by laying the final rail and sending a bragging telegram to President Leland Stanford of the Central Pacific. By now Durant is feuding bitterly with associates Sidney Dillon and Oakes Ames, and is looking for an opportunity to remove Granville Dodge as Chief Engineer. Early May, 1868 The Union Pacific reaches Laramie, Wyoming. Durant has sold lots at exorbitant prices based on rumors, spread by Silas Seymour, that division shops and roundhouse planned (by Dodge) for Cheyenne would be transferred to Laramie. A round-about route out of Laramie, requiring twenty extra miles of track but avoiding grading and filling through some rough country, adds nearly two million easy dollars to the builders' pockets. This leads to a showdown between Dodge and Durant, but because Dodge was in Washington when the decision was made he is too late to rescind the order. Mid-June, 1868 The Central Pacific has bridged the gap near Donner Lake and is now eligible to collect a fortune in track mileage bonds from the government. July 22, 1868 The Central Pacific reaches Wadsworth, Nevada. Late July, 1868 General Ulysses Grant, candidate of the Republican party for President, arrives in Laramie City as a guest of the Union Pacific. Horatio Seymour, brother of Colonel Silas Seymour, was the Democratic party's candidate for the same office, creating a bit of political tension as Durant meets with Grant to ask his assistance in getting Dodge removed as Chief Engineer of the UP. July 26, 1868 General Grant, along with Generals Sherman and Sheridan who are traveling with him, meets with Dodge, Durant, and Dillon of Credit Mobilier . After hearing Durant's charges against Dodge, and Dodge's reply, Grant says, "The government expects the railroad company to meet its oblications. And the government expects General Dodge to remain with the road as its chief engineer until it is completed. August, 1868 Chief Engineer Dodge of the Union Pacific seeks out his counterpart, Chief Engineer Samuel Montague of the Central Pacific, suggesting that the two roads decide on a definite meeting place somewhere west of Ogden. Montague declines, and the costly race continues. September, 1868 The Central Pacific reaches Mill City, Nevada. CP track layers are now averaging a mile a day in their efforts to beat the UP into Utah. November, 1868 The Union Pacific reaches Bear River, the heart of the old fur-trade country of Jim Bridger and the Mountain Men. Year End, 1868 The Central Pacific tracks are approaching Carlin, Nevada, 446 miles east of Sacramento the Union Pacific rails have been laid to Evanston, Wyoming, near the Utah border and 995 miles west of Omaha. Between these track ends were less than 400 miles, a considerable part of which had been graded in parallel lines by the rival Mormon contractors and Strobridge's Chinese workers. During Christmas week, the Credit Mobilier paid out its fifth dividend of 1868 to its tight little ring of stockholders (several of them congressmen), leaving the Union Pacific Railroad Company six million dollars in debt, and the workmen several weeks in arrears in their pay. Winter, 1868-69 The Union Pacific, determined to gain as many track miles (and the resultant mile subsidies and land grants) as possible, continues work through the Wasatch Range.

March 8, 1869 The Union Pacific track reaches Ogden, Utah , after disregarding an order by the secretary of the Interior that they stop construction at Echo Summit, forty miles east of there. At Grant's first cabinet meeting after his inauguration, the order is rescinded. April 9, 1869 After an all-night meeting prompted by President Grant (directing the two railroads to set a meeting point), General Grenville Dodge of the Union Pacific and Collis P. Huntington of the Central Pacific agreed to join their tracks at Promontory Point, Utah, north of the Great Salt Lake. Spring, 1869 Jim Fisk files lawsuit as stockholder of the Union Pacific , charging that the Credit Mobilier is looting the railroad. His intention is to throw the railroad into bancruptcy in order to gain control of it. To that end, he forms an alliance with New York political boss William Marcy "Boss" Tweed April 28, 1969 After much preparation, and with more accompanying hoopla, the Central Pacific laid 56 feet above Ten miles of track in one 12-hour day. A picked crew of eight rail carriers laid the entire distance. Sullivan, Dailey, Kennedy, Joyce, Shay, Eliott, Killeen, and McNamara were the iron men, and heroes of the day. Charles Crocker thereby won a $10,000 bet from Thomas Durant. April 30, 1969 The Central Pacific reaches Promontory Point (also called Promontory Summit and Promontory Station). May 6, 1869 The special train carrying Union Pacific dignitaries (including Durant and Dillon) bound for the ceremony at Promontory Point arrives at Piedmont, Wyoming from the east, and is detained by an armed mob of several hundred railroad workmen demanding overdue wages. May 7, 1869 The Union Pacific track reaches Promontory Point. May 10, 1869 "Last Spike" ceremony celebrating the joining of the rails of the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific is held at Promontory Point. The Union Pacific train, led by the UP's No. 119 locomotive and carrying Durant, Dillon, Dodge, Seymour, Reed, the Casement brothers, and several other officials and guests, arrived shortly after 10 o'clock. The Central Pacific train, led by the CP's "Jupiter" locomotive, arrived at 11:15, carrying Leland Stanford and other CP officials and guests. At 12:47 (2:47 eastern time), a telegrapher sent the message, "done", after both Stanford and Durant in their turn missed driving home the Golden Spike into the laurel tie with the sledgehammer. Celebrations erupted there, and around the country, as the East was finally linked to the West.

Watch the video: Building the Transcontinental Railroad (July 2022).


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