Between 1862 and 1885, the United States undertook construction of a railroad to connect the East with the West. The Central Pacific Railroad was built 742 miles eastward from Sacramento. The Union Pacific was built 1,038 miles westward from Omaha. Owners met at Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10, 1869 and hammered home the Golden Spike creating a new transportation network that revolutionized the West and the country.
Completion of the transcontinental railroad created a boom in railroad construction across the country. There were 30,000 miles of track in the nation in 1860. This number increased to 201,000 miles by 1900. However the zenith of the American railroad occurred in 1916 when there were 254,000 miles of track across the country. Railroads employed over 2,000,000 people in 1920, and an amazing 98 percent of all intercity passenger traffic was by rail.
The 1840s and 1850s were a boom time in Southern railroad construction. Lines were built between Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina. The most ambitious line was completed in 1857 when 760 miles of track connected Charleston with Memphis, Tennessee. This line joined the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River.
The railways declined after World War I. By 1957, the number of airplane travelers passed the number of train passengers for the first time.
"... the more economical outlets we can open through this chain, the more will the resources of the west develop themselves and the more will the east and the west become united by indissoluble bonds of common interest."
* William Howard, 1829*