The History of Trains in America

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Christian Wolmar and tells the extraordinary story of the rise and the fall of the American railroads, and argues that we should reclaim and celebrate our rail heritage. In The Great Railroad Revolution: The History of Trains in America, Wolmar tells how the opening of the first American railroad in the 1830s changed the way people lived. The railroads dominated the American landscape for more than a hundred years but by the middle of the 1950s, the car, the truck, and the airplane had eclipsed the railroads.


Christian Wolmar

Comments [13]

Michael D. Willis

The Touraround interview for 25 Sept, 2012 with Christian Wolmar is not available, instead, "Mystic Pinball" is in this location and the following sequence.

Sep. 26 2012 03:31 AM

thanks gene. i'll check it out

Sep. 25 2012 01:20 PM

Amtrak's DC-NYC route, while MUCH improved, is expensive and is now under heavy pressure from the cheaper Chinatown buses.

Sep. 25 2012 01:16 PM

Yes, hjs, GM, for one, bought up all the "Red Line" trolley tracks in LA in the 30s-40s so they could sell buses and cars. We know how well THAT turned out.

Previously, it was a truism that LA had "the best transportation system in the world," a line repeated in the movie "Who Killed Roger Rabbit."

From best to worst. Good old, unregulated American Business, always looking out for the consumer's best interest.


Sep. 25 2012 01:13 PM
Amy from Manhattan

What about regional rail--LIRR, Metro-North, SEPTA, MARC, etc.?

Sep. 25 2012 12:58 PM
Christine from Westchester

"In Pittsburgh the railway station is long gone." Hmmm. I took a train in there a few years ago. The old station is still there (a bit worn). A second of course is now in use as a restaurant, touting it's wonderful architecture and decor. But "long gone?" I think you must mean a different Pittsburgh.

Sep. 25 2012 12:57 PM
Christine from Westchester

Mick, I think you've got it right. The government put funding into autos and subsidizing that industry. Doing so put a nail in the railroad coffin. These days I would think that having to deal with the airlines, airports and TSA would drive more passengers to trains. I think that's true on the east coast.

Sep. 25 2012 12:49 PM
Cortlandt St.

Christian Wolmar...have you been watching Hell on Wheels? (AMC)

Sep. 25 2012 12:49 PM
Cortlandt St.

I rode Amtrak from NYC to SF a few years ago.
It was a great trip. Yes, it was more expensive than flying and it took longer...but I would do it again!
The traveler gets to see the USA up close, much of it not accessible by vehicle.
It is a crying shame that rail travel is not supported more by the government.

Sep. 25 2012 12:47 PM

Ive heard the auto companies bought and bankrupted intercity light rail and trolleys. Is that true?

Sep. 25 2012 12:46 PM
mick from Manhattan

In the mid-1970s the Scientific American feature 50 Years ago printed the synopsis of a story from the 1920s in which a railroad industry spokesman said that if the current level of subsidy for roads and highways continued the railroad industry would be destroyed. As a child in the 60s and 70s in Indiana, I had two uncles who worked for railroad companies. They said that it was a crime that the railroads were not maintaining the roadbeds, switches, signals and other equipment. Obviously, the companies were milking the cash cow until they could cash out because they could not compete with subsidized automobile travel.

Sep. 25 2012 12:30 PM
Antonio from bayside

Am i missing something? But why hasn't the private sector jumped at the chance to make millions with investments in local (streetcars, light-rail), regional-rail?

For example, with the opening up of more land in upstate New York for tourism, wouldn't there be a boom in real estate, small business if an investment was made to get up there and traverse locally?

C'mon job creators now's your chance!!!

Sep. 25 2012 12:16 PM
Jon Pope from Ridge, NY

From what I have read it sounds like the railroad's (passenger service) was not killed by air travel but died because of sheer neglect of its own infrastructure back in the 50's and 60's. Is this true?

Sep. 25 2012 12:06 PM

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