Infrastructure Past, Present, and Future Casebook/Transcontinental Railroad

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Transcontinental Railroad

Transcontinental Railroad (Summary)...[edit | edit source]

Annotated List...[edit | edit source]

Timeline[edit | edit source]

Beginning stages

The Transcontinental Railroad began at the urging of the then-President Abraham Lincoln, which may have suggested such a project because, "... it cost nearly $1,000 to travel across the country."

Once signed into law by Lincoln around 1862 (Pacific Railroad Act), two companies began to form to construct the project, according to the...

Pacific Railroad Act.

The Central Pacific Railroad Company (CPRC) made tracks from Sacramento, California, heading east to the Sierra Nevada River. The Union Pacific Railroad Company(UPC) was to assemble tracks around the border between Iowa and Nebraska heading west toward the Sierra Nevada River. These two tracks were to meet at an undetermined place (since the Act itself did not specify where they would meet). Both CPRC and UPC would get 6,400 acres of land (soon doubled to 12,800) and $48,000, " government bonds for every mile of track built." Both CPRC and UPC, after working 3 years on the railroad, had not accomplished much; however, it did give way for both companies to become corrupt and exhibit behavior resembling the "Wild West." After these issues occurred, and Charles Crocker (which oversaw the construction of the CPRC potion) had continued issues retaining labor; he began employing Chinese Workers to begin laying tracks. The Chinese Railroad Workers proved to be indispensable workers, and after sometime they consisted of four out of every five railroad workers (on the CPRC potion). According to CBS Sunday Morning, the Chinese workers, "were able to lay down, 'ten miles of rail in one day."

The Meeting Point

After seven long years of work on the railroad track the two companies were able to decide on a place to meet in the middle. The place they decided on was called Promontory Summit, Utah and this was where the final spike was driven into the ground on May 10th, 1869 at 12:47pm.

Different Trains Used

Finally, the train they used back in the beginning of the transcontinental railroad were wildly different than they use today. While they used mainly steam engines, instead we now use diesel engine nowadays.

Map of Locations[edit | edit source]

Risk Allocation[edit | edit source]

Delivery Process[edit | edit source]

The railroad was a government contract. Before the delivery for construction began, a process of perceiving the potential layout for the track had to occur. “It was not until 1853, though, that Congress appropriated funds to survey several routes for the transcontinental railroad” ( Editors, 2009). After this process, legislation was passed by congress in order to build this infrastructure. “The Railroad Act of 1862 put government support behind the transcontinental railroad and helped create the Union Pacific Railroad, which subsequently joined with the Central Pacific...” (“Library of Congress”, n.d.). Once this occurred, the rail companies involved started giving out construction contracts. “In December 1862, the Central Pacific Railroad awarded its first construction contract to Charles Crocker & Company. The construction company subcontracted the first 18 miles to firms with hands on experience...” (“Transcontinental Railroad”, n.d.). This entire development, from the legislation enactment, until the conclusion of the project, took a total of seven years. “... The Union Pacific and Central Pacific workers were able to finish the railroad-laying nearly 2,000 miles of track- by 1869, ahead of schedule and under budget” ( Editors, 2009).

1. Production

Regarding the producing labor force of the Central Pacific Railroad, “[Foreman James Harvey] Strobridge... Agreed to hire 50 Chinese men as wagon-fillers. Their work ethic impressed him, and he hired more Chinese workers for more difficult tasks” (“Workers of the Central and Union”, n.d.). Overtime, Chinese workers began to make up most of the human resources of the Central Pacific Railroad construction. “Chinese workers on CP payrolls began increasing by the shipload. Several thousand Chinese men had signed on by the end of that year; the number rose to a high of 12,000 in 1868, comprising at least 80% of the Central Pacific workforce” (“Workers of the Central and Union”, n.d.). In the Union Pacific Railroad, Chinese workers were not the dominant personnel of this side of the project. Regarding this producing force of the UP, “The end of the Civil War brought... Thousands of demobilized soldiers [who] were eager for work. Additionally, by 1866 the railroad had managed to import Irishmen from the teeming cities of the eastern seaboard” (“Workers of the Central and Union”).

2. Efficiency

The economic inputs were translated into efficient economic outputs. Though at the start of this project, this input was a huge risk. “By one estimate, the project cost roughly $60 million, about $1.2 billion in today’s money...” (Kiger, 2019). While the inputted cost was high, the output annually produced efficient prosperous outputs that more than made up for the initial cost. “By 1880, the transcontinental railroad was transporting $50 million worth of freight each year” (Kiger, 2019). This project became so well profitable that “... The railroad also facilitated international trade... [as] The first freight train to travel eastward from California carried a load of Japanese tea” (Kiger, 2019). Through this rise and expansion in trade, “... [It] gave the United States the single largest market in the world, which provided the basis for the rapid expansion of American industry and agriculture to the point where the U.S. by the 1890s had the most powerful economy on the planet” (Kiger, 2019).

3. Fiscal equivalence

Before the railroad was built, westward travel was primarily done through stagecoaches. “In the 1860s, a sixth-month stagecoach trip across the U.S. cost $1,000 (about $20,000 in today’s dollars)” (Kiger, 2019). This significantly changed in the coming years. “... Once the railroad was built, the cost of a coast-to-coast trip became 85 percent less expensive” (Kiger, 2019). As a result, the travelers who used this system paid at a level proportionate with the degree of travel. The equity principle regarding travel costs was heavily prevalent in this aspect of the delivery process.

4. Redistribution

The railroad system redistributed resources from the rich to the poor mainly in the geographic context. “... The first transcontinental railroad and the other lines that followed made it easy for immigrants to spread across the nation” (Kiger, 2019). The enormous amount of funds allocated to this project allowed for more convenience of travel to those not of significant wealth. Travel was not the only method in which redistribution from rich to poor occurred. “[It also] made it possible to sell products far and wide without a physical storefront, and enabled people all over the country to furnish their homes and keep up with the latest fashion trends” (Kiger, 2019). The accessibility of broader commerce for impoverished people increased. However, redistribution also occurred in the opposite direction as well. The construction of the railroad led to resources being taken from Native Americans for the benefit of those who were funding the project. “... The forced relocation of Native Americans from their lands resulted in widespread destruction of Native American cultures and ways of life” (Whitehouse, 2014). This redistribution from impoverished Native tribes to wealthy industrialists became so severe that it led to violence. “Many conflicts arose as the railroad project continued westward, and the military was brought in to fight Native American tribes” (Whitehouse, 2014).

5. Accountability

The effects of this system reflected the overall desires of the stakeholders. It reflected the consumers by expanding a unifying culture. “The rails carried more than goods; they provided a conduit for ideas, a pathway for discourse... America gave birth to transcontinental culture” (“The Impact of the Transcontinental Railroad”, n.d.). This transition into a new form of society allowed for people to grow closer as a coherent nation “Here was manifest destiny wrought in iron; here were two coasts united; here was an interior open to settlement. Distances shrank, but identification to land and fellow American grew in inverse proportion” (“The Impact of the Transcontinental Railroad”, n.d.). The effects also reflected the desires of the corporate investors as “It pioneered government-financed capitalism” (Kiger, 2019). This realization of new economic forms of maneuvering was manifested mainly through the individuals of The Central Pacific Railroad. “The Central Pacific’s ‘Big Four’-Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker-figured out how to tap into government coffers to finance a business that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible” (Kiger, 2019). This company then took this realization approach into action. The transcontinental railroad “... Was built on land grants, government loans, and government guaranteed bonds. When their loans came due, they refused to pay and the government had to sue. In effect, they stumbled into a business model where the public takes the risk and those taking the subsidies reap the gain” (Kiger, 2019). This wasn’t the end of this form of business tactic though as “Other entrepreneurs would follow the Big Four’s lead in tapping government help to build their business” (Kiger, 2019).

6. Adaptability

The construction of the railroad had to adapt to ever changing environment of western United States. “Harsh winters, staggering summer heat, and the lawless, rough-and-tumble conditions of newly settled western towns made conditions for Union Pacific laborers... Miserable” ( Editors, 2009). The Central Pacific railroad had to adapt to the cold climate and treacherous mountains. “The immigrant... Chinese work force of the Central Pacific... Had... Brutal 12-hour workdays laying tracks over the Sierra Nevada Mountains... Whole crews would be lost to avalanches, or mishaps with explosives would leave several dead” ( Editors, 2009). Construction of tunnels through the mountains of the Sierra Nevada was done through explosive mechanisms. “Toil commenced on ...Tunnel No. 6... With men blasting inward from what would become the east and west portals of the passage” (“Tunneling in the Sierra Nevada”, n.d.). However, this process led to slow progress and even more insubstantial results. “Tunneling would take place on four faces at a time, as two teams worked inward from the eastern and western ends of the tunnel and two more teams worked back-to-back from the middle, moving outward” (“Tunneling in the Sierra Nevada”, n.d.). Nevertheless, a new compound was introduced into the construction project, that allowed for quicker results. “... Nitroglycerine... Allowed for shallower holes of narrow width, but its blasts achieved a much greater destructive yield... [It] was also much easier to move than the debris of black powder, saving a lot of cumulative time and sweat” (“Tunneling in the Sierra Nevada”, n.d.). This compound also made the work easier for the laborers as well. “Workers were able to advance up to two feet per day on all four faces, instead of measuring each hard one inch” (“Tunneling in the Sierra Nevada”, n.d.).

Cost[edit | edit source]

Financial Structure[edit | edit source]

A portion of the transcontinental railroad was financed by the United States Government. “Construction of the first transcontinental railroad, financed with large federal subsidies, is an important event in American history” (Duran 177). The biggest aspect that allowed for these loans was the passage of a piece of legislation in 1862. “... The Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 provided a construction loan and land grants to two private companies, the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific” (Duran 177). Thus, this component was financially produced through both public and private means. “Usually, a joint venture between a state or local government and private interests, railroads were expected to generate fair returns for public and private investors, but their ultimate goal was to create a transportation infrastructure that enhanced general prosperity.” (Trains 2019). Even though their initial goal was to unite the country through fast transportation, they were still faced with financial issues through ineffective behavior. “The Union Pacific of the late 19th century was challenged by inept management, serial scandals, two financial panics, two bankruptcies, political pot shots, and the kinds of external events that damage… Strong corporations” (Trains 2019). However, these hurdles allowed for a rational solution that led to more coherent and ethical financial actions that permitted consistent results. “... The cleverest scheme UP’s management executed was Credit Mobilier of America, the independent construction company hired to build the Union Pacific… The original idea was to keep everyone honest by separating the management and operation of the railroad from its construction” (Trains 2019).

Institutional Structure[edit | edit source]

Some of the institutions involved were the federal government through legislation and private railroad companies through materials, construction, and labor. “These laws granted rights of way and use of building materials along the way... To companies that would build the transcontinental railroad and its feeder lines” (“Transcontinental Railroad”, n.d.). The two biggest corporate institutions involved were the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads, each covering two different geographical areas to construct in. “... The Union Pacific Railroad, [was] to be built from the Platte River Valley in Nebraska to the border between Nevada and California, with two feeder lines from Omaha to Sioux City…” (“Transcontinental Railroad”, n.d.). While “... The Central Pacific Railroad, [was] to be built as a feeder line from Sacramento over the Sierra Nevada to meet the Union Pacific eastwards and to San Francisco in the West...” (“Transcontinental Railroad”, n.d.). However, these weren’t the only two institutions involved as “... The Leavenworth, Pawnee & Western, later to be known as the Union Pacific Eastern Division... [Existed] to link the 100th meridian Southeast with Kansas City” (“Transcontinental Railroad”, n.d.). In order to prepare a labor force to construct an aspect of this system, “... Charles Crocker (who oversaw construction for the central Pacific) began hiring Chinese laborers… The Chinese laborers proved to be tireless workers, and Crocker hired more… some 14,000 were toiling under brutal working conditions…” (HISTORY, 2010). When the structure started to reach tougher terrains, such as mountains, different operating measures had to be taken in order to construct the railroad efficiently. “To blast through the mountains, the Central Pacific built huge wooden trestles on the western slopes and used gunpowder and nitroglycerine to blast tunnels through the granite” (HISTORY, 2010).

Policy Issues[edit | edit source]

Not only was this mega project something which concerned hard infrastructure, no, there were some other policy issues which also went into the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad. Among the most important policy issue for the Transcontinental Railroad was a desire for westward expansion of the United States.

The project began, and was indeed completed, once the last shots of the Civil War were fired. This meant that not only were Presidents Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, and Ulysses S. Grant, concerned with unifying a badly divided country, but connect the young country from coast or coast at long last. At the time, those who lived in densely populated areas around the United States also had a strong desire to spread out a little more, in terms of home ownership, they wanted to create space between themselves and their neighbors. This want of more space and push to go out west will eventually bring with it unintended conflicts between Westward settlers, Transcontinental Railroad workers and Native Indians.

The second most important policy issue for this mega project is how economics and the efficiency of goods and service to and from east to west (and back) went into the creation of the megaproject. The creation of the Transcontinental Railroad, is thanks to not only President Abraham Lincoln but Asa Whitney, which was a Connecticut merchant which did business with the Chinese. Whitney believed that, there should be a more efficient way to transport goods which arrive from Asia to the state of California and then to be transported East, to say a state like Connecticut. The Connecticut businessman reasoned that, "bring[ing] Chinese goods to American markets, ... would reorient the world, making North America its transportation hub."

Narrative[edit | edit source]

Lessons Learned/Takeaways[edit | edit source]

After the effort, the Chinese Exclusion Act passes the House and Senate, gaining the signature of President Chester Arthur (HISTORY, 2018) essentially erasing their contributions to this project. Due to big racial resentment in the country at the time.

After the railroad was completed, the price to travel across the country dropped to one-hundred, fifty dollars.

The effort also cut the three thousand mile journey across the country, once from a few months, and once the project was completed, to under a week.

Connecting the country's coasts made the movement of Western goods to Eastern ports (or vice versa) almost seamless.

This project, finally, made the expansion of the country further westward almost a known quantity, allowing there to be heightened tensions westward settlers and indigenous tribes.

Discussion Questions[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Bowen, Mark. “Rails of Progress.” Policy Review, December 1, 1999, 83.

CBS Sunday Morning. “Building the Transcontinental Railroad.” June 16, 2019. YouTube. Video, Running Time: 6:38 (only used: 2:44).

Duran, Xavier. "The First U.S. Transcontinental Railroad: Expected Profits and Government Intervention." The Journal of Economic History 73, no. 1 (2013): 177-200. Accessed September 8, 2021.

Finlay, Nancy. “Planning the Transcontinental Railroad.” Connecticut Historical Society, October 8, 2013. Editors. “Chinese Exclusion Act.” Historical Facts. History, August 24, 2018. Editors. “Transcontinental railroad completed, unifying United States.” History, November 24, 2009.

Kiger, Patrick J. 2019. “10 Ways the Transcontinental Railroad Changed America.” HISTORY. Accessed October 12, 2021.

Klein, Maury. “Financing the Transcontinental Railroad.” The Gilder Institute of American History, 2019.

“Transcontinental Railroad.” Historical Facts. History, April 20, 2010.

United States Senate. “John C. Calhoun,” 2021.

“Stephen A. Douglas: A Featured Biography.” United States Senate, 2021.

“The Impact of the Transcontinental Railroad | American Experience | PBS.” n.d. Accessed October 12, 2021.

“The Transcontinental Railroad.” Library of Congress. Accessed September 8, 2021.

Trains Magazine. 2019. “Transcontinental Railroad history: Importance, workers, challenges, and funding.” February 28, 2019.

“Transcontinental Railroad” Bob Moore Construction, n.d.

“Tunneling in the Sierra Nevada | American Experience | PBS.” n.d. Accessed October 12, 2021.

“Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America | Economic History Services.” Accessed June 15, 2012.

Wendy Simmons Johnson. “Women and the Transcontinental Railroad Through Utah, 1868–1869.” Utah Historical Quarterly 88, no. 4 (2020): 306–320.

White, Richard. Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America. W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

Whitehouse, Jessica. 2014. “Overnight How the Transcontinental Railroad Changed America.” Accessed October 12, 2021.

“Workers of the Central and Union Pacific Railroad | American Experience | PBS.” n.d. Accessed October 12, 2021.

Further Reading[edit | edit source]

Ambrose, Stephen E. Nothing Like It in the World : the Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869 New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000.

Borneman, Walter R. Rival Rails: the Race to Build America's Greatest Transcontinental Railroad. 1st ed. New York. Random House, 2010.

Chang, Gordon H., Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Hilton Obenzinger, and Roland Hsu. The Chinese and the Iron Road : Building the Transcontinental Railroad Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2019.

Webb, Robert N. The Illustrated True Book of American Railroads. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1957. Especially the Section Titled: "The Race Across the Continent," Chapter VI, pages 72 - 91.