This month marks the 150th anniversary of the US Transcontinental Railroad… surely one of the most important ‘infrastructure’ projects of all time. Railway Age reprints the contemporary coverage from their predecessor publication, Railway Times.
Union Pacific has completed the restoration of their ‘Big Boy’ steam locomotive, #4014, and will be running it, together with Living Legend #844, from Ogden, Utah to Cheyenne, Wyoming, as part of the transcontinental commemoration.
Gordon Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy is, as the title suggests, about the Canadian transcontinental railroad rather than the American, but is a fitting song for the occasion nonetheless. Also, the Smithsonian website Folklife has a playlist of 20 songs that are in some way related to the transcontinental, with some information about each. (only short samples available unless you have Spotify)
It seems likely that, absent the transcontinental railroad, the United States would not have been able to stay together as a nation on a continental basis–certainly, long-distance transportation technology acts as a centripetal force to counterbalance the many centrifugal forces that tend to separate geographies politically. I’ve previously cited the thoughts of Edward Porter Alexander, a Confederate general turned railroad president, on this topic, while raising the question as to how far this effect can and should extend.