Wednesday, April 28, 2010
The decision to build a railroad across the United States was made by officials of the United States government in the 1860's. The route that was proposed ran close to the 42nd parallel from Omaha, Nebraska, to Sacrament, California. Railroad lines from the east were to be extended west from Chicago to connect with the new railroad at Omaha. The Pacific Railroad Act was passed by Congress in 1862. This act gave the responsibility to build the railroad to two companies. The Union Pacific Railroad had the responsibility to start near Omaha and lay track westward. The Central Pacific Railroad had the responsibility to start at Sacramento and lay tracks eastward. Through this railroad act, Congress granted large tracts of land and millions of dollars in government loans to the two railroads. The Central Pacific Railroad started laying track in 1863, and the Union Pacific started in 1865. The biggest challenge of the project was to cross the rugged Rocky Mountains and the towering Sierra Nevada range. The Central Pacific hired thousands of Chinese unskilled laborers known as coolies to lay track for them. The Union Pacific hired thousands of European immigrants. The two railroads finally met on May 10, 1869, at Promontory, Utah. This achievement made America the first continent to have a coast to coast rail line. When the 1880's came to a close, the United States had five transcontinental railroads. Canada's first transcontinental line was finished in 1885 and extended from Montreal, Que. To Vancouver, B.C. These transcontinental railroads opened large areas of North America to settlement and trade. There are approximately 500 railroads in the United States today. All except one of the major rail lines are owned by private investors or corporations. The one exception is the Alaska Railroad, which is owned by the people of Alaska and operated under the direction of the State of Alaska. Facts for this post came from an article by Gus Welty in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 16, pp 113, 117.