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Related to railroad: Transcontinental railroad




form of transportation most commonly consisting of steel rails, called tracks, on which trains of freight cars, passenger cars, and other rolling stock are drawn by one locomotivelocomotive,
vehicle used to pull a train of unpowered railroad cars. Types of Locomotives

The steam-powered locomotive played a key role during the development and golden age of railroading, but, despite its long and picturesque history, it has been superseded in
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 or more. However, there are other types of railways, including those whose units consist of single self-propelled cars, cable-drawn railways used to ascend steep grades, and monorails whose cars are usually propelled along a single rail.

Early Railroads

As early as 1556 Georgius AgricolaAgricola, Georgius
, Latinized from Georg Bauer
, 1494–1555, German physician and scientist, known as the father of mineralogy. He was a pioneer in physical geology and the first to classify minerals scientifically.
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, in his book on minerals, De re metallica, mentioned a mining railway running on wooden poles. The replacement of wooden poles by cast-iron rails in the late 18th cent. and the development by Richard TrevithickTrevithick, Richard
, 1771–1833, British engineer and inventor, b. Cornwall. He is known as the father of locomotive power because of his invention (1800) of the high-pressure steam engine.
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 in 1804 of a locomotive capable of heavy haulage (20 tons) prepared the railroad for uses other than mining. But it was not until 1825 that steam-powered freight and passenger service started on the Stockton and Darlington Railway in England.

American Railroads

The Early Nineteenth Century

In the United States, as in England, the first railroads, employing horse-drawn wagons, were used to haul minerals. The earliest such railroad, built from Quincy, Mass. to the Neponset River dates from 1826, and in the next year another was built in Pennsylvania from the coal mines in Carbon County to the Lehigh River. In 1829 two locomotives were imported from England, but they were found to be too heavy for the existing tracks. Thereafter, locomotives suited to the American railway were produced domestically, and Matthias BaldwinBaldwin, Matthias William,
1795–1866, American industrialist and philanthropist, b. Elizabethtown (now Elizabeth), N.J. After earlier business successes, Baldwin became interested in steam-engine production and completed in 1832 the locomotive Old Ironsides
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 of Philadelphia soon took the lead in building them. The Baltimore & Ohio RRBaltimore & Ohio Railroad
(B&O), first U.S. public railroad, chartered in 1827 by a group of Baltimore businessmen to regain trans-Allegheny traffic lost to the newly opened Erie Canal.
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 began operation in 1828 with horse-drawn cars, but after the successful run (1830) of the Tom Thumb, a locomotive built by Peter CooperCooper, Peter,
1791–1883, American inventor, industrialist, and philanthropist, b. New York City. After achieving success in the glue business, Cooper, with two partners, erected (1829) the Canton Iron Works in Baltimore.
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, steam power was used.

In the United States a turnpike era and then a canal era had immediately preceded the coming of the railroads, which proved to be fast, direct, and reliable in all weather. After 1830 the railroads grew so quickly that within a decade their mileage surpassed that of the canals. While the stagecoach type of railroad car was giving way to the square type in the 1830s, many short-run railroads began to appear throughout the United States. The big cities on the Atlantic Coast became the nerve centers, while inland points were readily connected with one another. Only the Erie RRErie Railroad,
rail transportation line designed to connect the mouth of the Hudson River with the Great Lakes region. The New York and Erie RR Company was enfranchised and incorporated in 1832, and construction was begun in 1835 near Deposit, N.Y.
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 was projected on a grand scale.

Because of the long distances involved, the United States and Russia had sleeping cars earlier than other countries. A type of sleeping car containing three tiers of berths on one side of the coach appeared in 1836 on the Cumberland Railway's run between Philadelphia and Harrisburg. Sleeping cars of a more modern type were patented (1856) by George M. PullmanPullman, George Mortimer,
1831–97, American industrialist and developer of the railroad sleeping car, b. Brocton, N.Y. As a young man he became a cabinetmaker, and after he moved (1858) to Chicago he began converting (1859) old railroad coaches in order to facilitate
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 and soon put in operation. The first all-steel car appeared in 1859.

An Era of Rapid Expansion

The Atlantic Coast was connected with the Great Lakes in 1850, with Chicago in 1853, and with the western side of the Mississippi in 1856. Cast iron proved too brittle in railway construction and was gradually replaced by wrought iron, which in turn, by 1863, was generally replaced by steel. At the same time, two acts of Congress (1862 and 1864) initiated the building of the first transcontinental railroad: the Union Pacific RRUnion Pacific Railroad,
transportation company chartered (1862) by Congress to build part of the nation's first transcontinental railroad line. Under terms of the Pacific Railroads Act, the Union Pacific was authorized to build a line westward from Omaha, Nebr.
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 built westward from Nebraska and the Central Pacific RR built eastward from California; the two met at Promontory Summit, Utah, and were joined with a golden spike on May 10, 1869. For many years railroad tracks had varied in width, so that cars could not pass from one line to another. However, in the mid-1880s a standard gauge of 4 ft 8 1/2 in. (1.44 m) was adopted, mainly because the transcontinental railroad had, on federal orders, used such a width for its tracks.

Technological Innovations

In addition to tracks, cars had also differed in design; in 1867 the car builders organized to plan standardized cars. Separate compartments in cars first appeared in Europe in 1873 and in the United States in 1883. George WestinghouseWestinghouse, George,
1846–1914, American inventor and manufacturer, b. Central Bridge, N.Y. In the Civil War he served in the Union army and navy. Among his inventions in the railroad field were a reversible frog, the air brake (1868), and automatic signal devices.
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 patented his air brake in 1872, but not until 1884 were all passenger cars provided with such equipment, and not until 1887 were air brakes being added to freight cars. Electric light, from power provided by storage batteries, was first used by a railroad in 1881 in England on the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway. Automatic couplers were first added to cars in 1887; such equipment was in use on nearly all railroads in the country within little more than a decade. Subsequent developments included the introduction of steam heat (water was heated in the locomotive and conducted to the passenger cars through pipes) and the construction of refrigerator freight cars; large-scale use of such cars, originally cooled by salted ice, began in 1887.

Abuses and Regulation

Starting with the Panic of 1837, which was precipitated by the collapse of the railroad boom in England, overexpansion and unsound financing of the railroads had affected the national economy. During the turnpike- and canal-building booms the federal and state governments had done much of the financing; consequently, during the panic many states found it necessary to repudiate the debts thus incurred. That experience discouraged government participation in the railroad boom that was just beginning and accounted in large part for private instead of public ownership of railroads in the United States.

Growing sectionalism and the conflict between the North and the South before the Civil War had tended to block large-scale projects (e.g., that of Asa WhitneyWhitney, Asa,
1797–1872, American merchant and transcontinental railroad projector, b. North Groton, Conn. He entered the mercantile business in New York City, acted as a foreign buyer for several years, and then was (1842–44) a merchant in China.
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), but the war itself gave tremendous impetus to railroads (e.g., the Pennsylvania RRPennsylvania Railroad,
former U.S. transportation company; inc. 1846 by the Pennsylvania legislature. It opened in 1854 as a single-track line between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
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), which aided in the transportation of troops and supplies. After the Civil War the great battles of the railway financiers began. Cornelius VanderbiltVanderbilt, Cornelius,
1794–1877, American railroad magnate, b. Staten Island, N.Y. As a boy he ferried freight and passengers from Staten Island to Manhattan, and he soon gained control of most of the ferry lines and other short lines in the vicinity of New York City.
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 consolidated the New York Central RRNew York Central RR,
U.S. transportation compay formed in 1853 by the consolidation of many small New York state railroads. In 1867, Cornelius Vanderbilt became president of the railroad and, through a series of mergers, formed the New York Central and Hudson River RR Company,
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 system, but he, like others—e.g., Jay GouldGould, Jay,
1836–92, American speculator, b. Delaware co., N.Y. A country-store clerk and surveyor's assistant, he rose to control half the railroad mileage in the Southwest, New York City's elevated railroads, and the Western Union Telegraph Company.
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, Daniel DrewDrew, Daniel,
1797–1879, American railroad speculator, b. Carmel, N.Y. He became a cattle dealer in early life and by 1834 was successful enough to engage in the steamboat business on the Hudson, which he developed rapidly. In 1844, Drew entered Wall St.
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, and James FiskFisk, James,
1834–72, American financial speculator, b. Pownal, Vt. In his youth he worked for a circus and as a wagon peddler of merchandise. During the Civil War he became wealthy purchasing cotton in occupied areas of the South for Northern firms and selling Confederate
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—was accused of acting with complete disregard for the American public. The 1880s saw the revival of Southern railway construction and the last period of feverish expansion, attributable in part to such financiers as James J. HillHill, James Jerome,
1838–1916, American railroad builder, b. Ontario, Canada. He went to St. Paul, Minn., in 1856. He became a partner of Norman Kittson in a steamboat line and, with Kittson, Donald Alexander Smith (later Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal), and George
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 and Henry VillardVillard, Henry
, 1835–1900, American journalist and financier, b. Germany. His first name was originally Hilgard. He attended universities in Germany, and after he reached (1853) the United States he did newspaper reporting.
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. One of the greatest financial battles over American railways was fought by Hill and Edward H. HarrimanHarriman, Edward Henry,
1848–1909, American railroad executive, b. Hempstead, N.Y.; father of William Averell Harriman. He became a stockbroker in New York City and soon entered the railroad field, where he attracted attention by able management of the Illinois Central RR,
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In 1887 the Interstate Commerce CommissionInterstate Commerce Commission
(ICC), former independent agency of the U.S. government, established in 1887; it was charged with regulating the economics and services of specified carriers engaged in transportation between states.
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 (ICC) was established to cope with the abuses that had resulted in part from the rapid expansion of the railroads, whose steadily increasing political power, excessive rates, and rebaterebate,
partial refund of the total price paid for goods or services. In the United States, rebates were historically given by railroads to favored shippers as a return on transportation charges.
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 policy had caused much popular discontent. For years the ICC sought to establish adequate controls over the railroads but lacked the necessary power. Its authority was accordingly increased by additional legislation until, in 1906 the Hepburn Act gave it, among other powers, that of fixing rates. Subsequent acts further expanded federal regulatory powers.

In 1917 the federal government took over the railroads for the duration of World War I. Although the Transportation Act of 1920 returned the railroads to their private owners, it also granted the ICC general control over the lines, including the right to mediate labor disputes, which had become an important factor. Organization of railway labor began with the unionization (1864) of locomotive engineers; by 1900 railroad personnel were organized on an almost nationwide basis. The many unions were headed by the Big Four—the brotherhoods of the engineers, the firemen and enginemen, the conductors, and the trainmen.

Decline and Revival

After 1920 the railroads failed to recapture their former prosperity largely because of added competition from the automobile, the bus, long-distance trucking, and the airplane. The widespread introduction of diesel power on long-distance passenger train routes and the electrification of heavily traveled urban lines in the 1930s still failed to revive the industry. During World War II, however, when gasoline rationing forced many travelers to abandon their cars, railroads increased their passenger traffic. After the war, railroads tried to maintain their gains through the introduction of air-conditioning and lighter, faster, more streamlined cars, built of steel and aluminum.

In spite of the changes, however, business, especially passenger travel, continued to decline. The industry's financial difficulties peaked with the bankruptcy of the Penn Central RR in 1970, but since then railroads have staged a modest revival. The Railroads Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act (1976) and the Staggers Act (1980) deregulated the industry by making it easier for railroads to set their own rates, abandon unprofitable lines, and buy other railroads, thus creating economies of scale. Under deregulation, railroads could offer rate discounts to get more customers. Moreover, variable gasoline prices and technological change made the industry more competitive with trucking. Containers that adapt to truck, ship, or train travel, multilevel automobile-rack train cars, computerized tracking systems, and piggyback carriers that allow trains to carry fully loaded trucks also aided the modernization of freight service.

The amount of freight moved by railroads increased by 34% between 1970 and 1992, and rail's share of the freight industry, relative to trucking and other forms of transport, remained stable through the 1990s, reversing decades of decline. In 1996 the 10 major railroad companies had operating revenue of nearly $33 billion. The 1980s and 90s saw the consolidation of the U.S. freight industry, which resulted in four major railroad companies: Burlington Northern Santa Fe, CSX, Union Pacific, and Norfolk Southern, as well as the expansion of the Canadian National into the United States with its purchase of the Illinois Central. As a result, the Surface Transportation Board blocked the proposed merger of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Canadian National systems in 2000 and issued (2001) new regulations designed to assure that future mergers would increase competition.


In the 1960s growing concerns over air pollution caused by automobile use, overcrowding of highways and airports, and the inconvenient out-of-town location of many large airports caused many people to call for government support of large-scale railroad passenger service. Finally, by the terms of the Rail Passenger Service Act (1970), a National Railroad Passenger Corporation was created to operate virtually every intercity passenger rail line in the United States.

Known as AmtrakAmtrak,
the National Railroad Passenger Corp., authorized to operate virtually all intercity passenger railroad routes in the United States. Amtrak was created by Congress in 1970 in response to more than two decades of continuous operating deficits by privately run passenger
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, the quasipublic agency reduced the number of intercity passenger trains by one half in its first year of operation, retaining service only in areas of high-density travel. Amtrak, which now operates up to 300 intercity passenger trains per day on 21,000 miles of track in 46 states, carried nearly 26 million intercity passengers in 2007.

Railroads in Other Countries

Other nations with important railway lines include Great Britain, whose well-integrated railroad system, built mostly with private capital, was amalgamated into four lines by the Railway Act of 1921; nationalized in 1948, the system was largely privatized again by 1995. In Canada, the promise of a transcontinental railroad was a major impetus to confederation (see Canadian Pacific RailwayCanadian Pacific Railway,
transcontinental transportation system in Canada and extending into the United States, privately owned and operated. The construction of a railroad crossing the continent in Canadian territory was one of the conditions on which British Columbia entered
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). Railroads in France date from 1827, and after the 1840s France had one of the largest railroad systems in Europe. In 1994 the Channel TunnelChannel Tunnel,
popularly called the "Chunnel," a three-tunnel railroad connection running under the English Channel, connecting Folkestone, England, and Calais, France. The tunnels are 31 mi (50 km) long. There are two rail tunnels, each 25 ft (7.
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 between England and France opened for passenger service, using a high-speed rail link. The first German railroad, running from Nuremberg to Furth, began operation in 1835. Soon Germany had a well-developed system, and by the beginning of the 20th cent. a majority of its railroads were owned by the state. The entire system was under state control by 1922. The first monorail line began operation (1899) in Elberfeld-Barmen (now Wuppertal), Germany.

In most other European countries, railroads date from about the middle of the 19th cent. and came increasingly under government ownership and operation. In Russia and other countries that were once part of it and the Soviet Union, railroad construction, also begun in the mid-19th cent., received a great stimulus following the 1917 revolution, when railroads were first extended into Siberia. British capital and U.S. engineering skill laid the basis for many of the railroads of South America. Railroads of historical importance include the Baghdad RailwayBaghdad Railway,
railroad of international importance linking Europe with Asia Minor and the Middle East. The line runs from İstanbul, Turkey, to Basra, Iraq; it connected what were distant regions of the Ottoman Empire.
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, the Trans-Caspian RRTrans-Caspian Railroad,
transportation line linking the countries of Central Asia to one another and with the nations to the west. Built in the late 19th cent., the line begins at Turkmenbashi (Krasnovodsk) on the Caspian Sea and passes through Ashgabat, Bukhara, Samarkand, and
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, the Chinese Eastern Railway, the Transandine RailwayTransandine Railway,
former rail line, 156 mi (251 km) long, between Mendoza, Argentina, and Los Andes, Chile, traversing the Andes at Uspallata Pass. Opened to traffic in 1910, the railway rose to c.10,500 ft (3,200 m) at the long tunnel on the international boundary.
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, and the Trans-Siberian RRTrans-Siberian Railroad,
rail line, linking European Russia with the Pacific coast. Its construction began in 1891, on the initiative of Count S. Y. Witte, and was completed in 1905.
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High-Speed Passenger Service

Although the railroad played a significant role in the transportation of both passengers and freight during the 19th and early 20th cent., in the latter part of the 20th cent., the automobile and the aircraft eroded the railroad's importance for passenger travel until the introduction of high-speed rail. Faster than the automobile and more convenient than the airplane, high-speed passenger service was pioneered in Japan with the introduction of the Shinkansen, popularly known as the "bullet train," in 1964. The French Train à Grande Vitesse, or TGV, introduced the high-speed train to Europe in 1981. Other Continental countries soon followed—Italy (1988), Germany (1991), and Spain (1992)—and Great Britain began a high-speed service in 1984. It was not until 2000, however, that high-speed service began in the United States with the Acela Express, running between Washington, D.C., and Boston. Other countries that have or are developing high-speed rail lines include Australia, China, Finland, Morocco, South Korea, Sweden, and Taiwan. China now has the most extensive high-speed rail network in the world. Maglev trains (see magnetic levitationmagnetic levitation
or maglev
, support and often propulsion of objects or vehicles by the use of magnets. The magnets used in magnetic levitation suspend an object free of contact with any surface, making it particularly appropriate for high-speed (275–300
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) have been run experimentally on short tracks in several countries. A maglev line linking Shanghai's financial district with its new airport was opened in 2002; scheduled commericial operation began in 2004.

High-speed trains have operational speeds of 186 mi per hr (300 km per hr) or more. The non-maglev speed record, set by the French TGV Atlantique during tests, is 320 mi per hr (515 km per hr). A Japanese maglev train has reached 374 mi per hr (603 km per hr). To attain these speeds requires high-quality track, roadbed, and right of way. Among the features associated with high-speed trains are the absence of grade, or level, crossings; wide spacing between tracks; four tracks at through stations so that slower, local trains can be bypassed; concrete foundations topped by tarmac and then ballast to minimize movement of the track; curves with a radius greater than 3 mi (5 km); and the avoidance of tunnels.


See M. Josephson, The Robber Barons (1962); P. Hastings, Railroads: An International History (1972); F. Hubbard, Encyclopedia of North American Railroading (1981); N. Faith, The World the Railways Made (1991); D. Hayes, Historical Atlas of the North American Railroad (2010); R. White, Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America (2011); H. R. Grant, Railroads and the American People (2012); C. Wolmar, The Great Railroad Revolution (2012).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a rail route for train traffic. In the modern sense, a railroad is a complex transportation enterprise with all technical facilities for hauling passengers and freight. According to their use, railroads are classified as general pur-pose; industrial transportation (sidings at enterprises and organizations), including lumbering, mining, factory, and other types of rail facilities; and municipal (streetcars and subways). They are also classified according to distance between the rails as broad gauge (1,520 mm in the USSR; the general gauge abroad is 1,435 mm, but in some countries it is 1,676 mm) and narrow gauge (including 1,000 mm, 914 mm, 891 mm, and 762 mm); and according to type of traction as electric, diesel (oil-burning), turbine, and steam. There are also cog railroads, used mainly in mountainous regions.

History. The raillike (wooden or stone) tracks along which heavy loads were pulled in ancient times are the prototype of the railroad. In the 15th century cast-iron rails were used for the first time in mines in England and Ireland and later in France and Russia for hauling loads with horses or with ropes. Steam locomotives were first used successfully on a railroad in England in 1825 (Darlington to Stockton), and a major railroad was opened from Liverpool to Manchester in 1830, the same year that the first railroad went into operation in the USA.

In Russia, a factory railroad was built at Nizhnii Tagil in 1834, and locomotives built by M. E. Cherepanov and E. A. Cherepanov operated on it. The first general-purpose railroad in Russia (1837) ran from St. Petersburg to Tsarskoe Selo and Pavlovsk. Construction of the double-track St. Petersburg-Moscow line, ambitious for that time, was completed in 1851.

It had 272 major structures and 184 bridges; P. P. Mel’nikov, D. I. Zhuravskii, N. O. Kraft, and other Russian engineers and scientists took part in its construction. By the end of the 19th century railroad lines had been built from Moscow to Kursk (1868), Kursk to Kiev (1870), Moscow to Brest (1871), and Tashkent to Krasnovodsk (1899), among others, and between 1891 and 1904 the Trans-Siberian Railroad was pushed through from Cheliabinsk to Vladivostok. Railroad junctions and classification yards began to take shape late in the 19th century at St. Petersburg (classification yard, 1878), as well as hump yards at Rtishchevo (1893). In the late 19th and early 20th century many scientists and engineers in Russia worked to improve the technical facilities of the railroads. The first experiments in the use of electric traction were carried out (1876) by the engineer F. A. Pirotskii; A. P. Borodin set up the world’s first laboratory for testing locomotives (1882). P. M. Golubitskii used telephone communications for controlling train traffic (1884), and late in the 19th century la. N. Gordeenko successfully introduced the block system and centralized control of switches and signals. Russian scientists N. P. Petrov and N. A. Beleliubskii and Soviet scientists V. N. Obraztsov, G. P. Perederii, M. P. Kostenko, B. N. Vedenisov, D. D. Biziukin, A. P. Petrov, and A. V. Gorinov, as well as the inventors F. P. Kazantsev, I. K. Matrosov, I. O. Trofimov, and F. D. Barykin, have made a great contribution to the development of technology and science on the railroads.

A total of 70,300 km of railroad lines were in operation in Russia by 1917. Traffic was handled in two-axled cars with hand brakes. Steam locomotives inefficient for that time were used, and train movement was controlled mainly with staffs and the telegraph. Major changes have taken place in the technical equipment and organization of traffic on USSR rail-roads in the years of Soviet power. The world’s first 1,000-hp diesel locomotive was built in 1924. Electrification of the rail-roads, which began in 1926, was a part of the plan of GOELRO (State Commission for the Electrification of Russia). Intensive work has been in progress since the 1930’s to reequip the railroads of the USSR. After the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), 65,000 km of track, 13,000 bridges, and 4,100 stations were restored. Development since the war has meant modernization: mass introduction of progressive types of traction (electric and diesel locomotives), construction of large freight cars equipped with automatic brakes and automatic couplings, the laying of heavier rails, and the introduction of devices for mechanization, automation, remote control, and communication.

Contemporary railroads. More than 1.3 million km (1968) of railroads are in operation throughout the world, including more than 135,000 km in the USSR (1970); about 120,000 km of the world’s railroads are electrified (1968), including al-most 34,000 km in the USSR. Railroads in the USA employ mostly diesel traction (more than 99 percent), whereas in European countries, especially in France, West Germany, Italy, Sweden, and Switzerland, some railroads employ electric traction. Diesel traction is widespread. The speed of passenger trains increased in the 1960’s; maximum speeds of 210 km/hr are achieved on the Tokyo-Osaka railroad and 160 km/hr on the Paris-Lyon and Moscow-Leningrad lines.

Among the main characteristics of the technical equipment of railroads are the type of traction, the number of trunk lines, the construction of track (type of rails, number of ties per kilometer, composition and depth of ballast bed), and the type of automation and remote control devices. Railroads being built in the USSR are divided into four categories. Trunk lines in the first category, which include lines having a freight density of more than 10 million ton-km per km (net) and ten passenger trains each way per day (in addition to suburban trains), are very well equipped technically: they have welded track with heavy rails (at least 50 to 65 kg per m of track), 1,840 to 2,000 reinforced-concrete or wooden ties per km of track, and a ballast bed of crushed rock 35 to 40 cm thick.

The main work in railroad construction is building a roadbed and way structures. Excavators, bulldozers, scrapers, and other equipment are used for heavy earthwork. Track is laid with tracklayers using track-section assembly machines, and ballasting of the track and alignment of the rail and tie grid are done with electroballasting equipment. With the significant increase in the speed and intensity of train traffic in recent times, new railroad lines are being put into operation, lines are being double-tracked, new station tracks and sectors are being built and old ones made longer, switching operations at stations are being changed to modern types of traction, and stations, rail junctions, and hump yards are being built and improved. In addition, the track is being strengthened; the length of welded track is being increased; heavy heat-treated rails of high-carbon steel, ties and plates of prestressed reinforced concrete, and ties of treated wood are being used; the roadbed is being strengthened and stabilized; track is being improved; and high-speed crossovers are being installed. Many track machines are used for repairing and maintaining track in excellent condition.

The rolling stock of USSR railroads consists of locomotives and cars. The railroads use electric locomotives, diesels, gas-turbine locomotives, electric railcars with trailers, rail diesel cars with trailers, small gas-motor switchers, and steam locomotives. Electric traction is used on the most heavily traveled lines (more than 30 percent of the total length of the network), on which half of all freight is handled. The remaining railroads of the USSR are served mainly by diesel traction. Modern locomotives make it possible to haul trains weighing as much as 8,000 to 9,000 tons. USSR industry produces about 500 electric locomotives and more than 1,800 diesel locomotives annually. Steam locomotives are used only on a few secondary lines and at stations (for switching operations).

USSR railroads use boxcars, gondolas, tank cars, and other types of cars, mainly with four axles and with capacities of 60 to 63 tons, as well as six- and eight-axle cars with capacities of 93 and 125 tons. Refrigerator cars and trains and ice cars are used to handle perishable freight. Modern passenger cars are all-metal four-axle cars with electric heating, luminescent lighting, and forced ventilation or air conditioning. All cars and locomotives have automatic couplers and pneumatic or electropneumatic automatic brakes.

Increased traffic density, higher speeds, and the need for improved safety measures and procedures have led to faster development of automation, remote control, and communications. About 90 percent of all USSR railroad lines in terms of length are equipped with an automatic and semiautomatic block system. The railroads use locomotive signaling, centralized switching and signaling, centralized dispatching, automatic crossing signals, and automatic barriers. They are introducing electronic equipment, including equipment to auto-mate the control of train traffic and direct the operations of large stations. Computers are being used to draw up bills of lading, handle ticketing and cashier operations, and the like.The network of computer centers on the railroads is expanding.

The railroads use about 5 percent of all electricity generated and 15 percent of the diesel fuel produced in the USSR. The railroads, especially the electrified lines, are supplied with power by transmission lines of the country’s power system.

In terms of number of tracks, the railroads are divided into single track, double track (about 30 percent of the total length of the network), and multitrack. The main production units of railroad transportation are the railroad stations. There are about 10,000 of them in the USSR, including about 7,000 (1970) that engage in freight operations. About 1,500 long-distance and local passenger trains and more than 14,000 suburban and more than 15,000 freight trains (1970) are in operation daily in the USSR.

The railroads of the USSR are linked by more than 30 international passenger lines with 25 countries of Europe and Asia. The main task of the railroads in the near future is to increase their handling and hauling capacity by double-tracking, developing station yards, extending electrification, and equipping sectors with automatic block signaling and centralized dispatching. Larger freight cars and more powerful locomotives will be built to increase the weight and speed of trains still more.


Transport SSSR. Edited by A. L. Golovanov. Moscow, 1967.
Zheleznye dorogi. Edited by M. M. Filippov. Moscow, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(civil engineering)
A permanent line of rails forming a route for freight cars and passenger cars drawn by locomotives.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


(US), railroad
1. a permanent track composed of a line of parallel metal rails fixed to sleepers, for transport of passengers and goods in trains
2. any track on which the wheels of a vehicle may run
3. the entire equipment, rolling stock, buildings, property, and system of tracks used in such a transport system
4. the organization responsible for operating a railway network
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in classic literature ?
Among the idlers about the train, most of whom were puffing cigars which they had lighted at the flame of the crater, I was perplexed to notice several who, to my certain knowledge, had heretofore set forth by railroad for the Celestial City.
On the contrary, as the new railroad brings with it great trade and a constant influx of strangers, the lord of Vanity Fair is its chief patron, and the capitalists of the city are among the largest stockholders.
I am merely a sojourner here in Vanity Fair, being bound to the Celestial City by the new railroad."
Foot-it-to-heaven, "has refused, and will ever refuse, to grant an act of incorporation for this railroad; and unless that be obtained, no passenger can ever hope to enter his dominions.
This incident made a considerable impression on my mind, and contributed with other circumstances to indispose me to a permanent residence in the city of Vanity; although, of course, I was not simple enough to give up my original plan of gliding along easily and commodiously by railroad. Still, I grew anxious to be gone.
You see, way down there away from everywhere they just got to save their locomotives in times of trouble, because, without them, a railroad can't be run.
"And luck was with me on that railroad. Why, I saw fellows fresh from the States pass out, some of them not a week on their first run.
The railroad skirted it twelve thousand feet above sea level, and the top of it ten thousand feet higher than that.
The railroad hadn't killed him yet, and he pieced out a lot for me.
(she must have packed that gold chip in my trunk), until they found out I was a man without a mind, and the railroad sent me back to Nebraska.
On my agreeing to finance the adventure, he promised to call on me at my hotel next morning with the letters of Seth Manners and the railroad, and conclude arrangements.
They advocated government ownership of such trusts as the railroads and telegraphs, and excessive income taxes, graduated with ferocity, to destroy large accumulations.