Completion of the Transcontinental Railroad


Transcontinental Railroad

In the year 1862, two rival companies were presented the task of building a railroad that would link the United States from the east to the west. The Pacific Railroad Act, signed by Abraham Lincoln marked the beginning of the process. Over the next seven years two companies, Union Pacific and Central Pacific, would race toward each other, beginning at Sacramento, California in the west and Omaha, Nebraska in the east.
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Two Competing Companies

The Pacific Railroad Act stated that the Central Pacific Railroad Company would begin construction in Sacramento and then move east across the Sierra Nevada. On the other hand, the Union Pacific Railroad company would build towards the west starting from the Missouri River. Although the bill did not state an exact location of where the track would meet, it was determined that the two companies would meet in the middle. Both companies received 6,400 acres of land which was later doubled and $48, 000 in government bonds for every mile of train track built.

Construction of the Railroad

The main workers on the Union Pacific were many ex-army veterans and Irish emigrants while most of the engineers were ex-army men who had learned their trade keeping the trains running during the Civil War. The Central Pacific, facing a labor shortage in the labor short West, relied on Chinese laborers who did prodigious work building the line over and through the Sierra Nevada mountains and then across Nevada to a meeting in Utah.

What effect did the railroad have?

The transcontinental railroad was considered one of the greatest American technological feats of the 19th century—surpassing the building of the Erie Canal in the 1820s and the crossing of the Isthmus of Panama by the Panama Railroad in 1855. It served as a vital link for trade, commerce and travel that joined the eastern and western halves of late 19th century United States. The transcontinental railroad quickly ended most of the far slower and more hazardous stagecoach lines and wagon trains that had preceded it. The railroads led to the decline of traffic on the Oregon and California Trail which had populated much of the west as they provided much faster, safer and cheaper (7 days and about $65 economy) transport east and west for people and goods across half a continent. 5_tenMileDay.jpg


Needing rapid communication, as the railroad was built they built telegraph lines along side the railroad rights of way. Since these lines were much easier to protect and maintain than the original First Transcontinental Telegraph lines which went over much of the original routes of the Mormon Trail and the Central Nevada Route though central Utah and Nevada, they soon became the main telegraph lines and the earlier lines were mostly abandoned.


The building of the railroad was motivated in part to bind the eastern and western states of the United States together. The Central Pacific faced with the prodigious feat of building a road over the Sierra Nevada mountains started work in 1863. The Union Pacific company faced with the competition for workers, rails, ties, railroad engines and supplies by the needs of the American Civil War didn't start construction till July 1865. Completion of the railroad substantially accelerated the populating of the West while contributing to the decline of territory controlled by the Native Americans in these regions. In 1879, the Supreme Court of the United States formally established, in its decision regarding Union Pacific Railroad vs. United States, the official "date of completion" of the Transcontinental Railroad as November 6, 1869.