Today it takes just 6 hours, a quarter of a day, to travel from the East coast of America to the West. In the 19th century, however, it could take up to six months, hopping from one train to another and taking risks along the way.
At least this was the case up until the early 1860s when the US Government approved plans for what was known at the time as the ‘Pacific Railroad’. The concept had been around for many decades previously, but it wasn’t until this time that the Government and the Pacific Railroads Acts decided that it was essential for improving trade and reducing the crime that people experienced when trying to cross America.
The First Transcontinental Rail Road did a lot to improve the tourism industry in America and traffic problems in many of its large cities, as well as improving the postal system (reducing the average cost of posting a letter from the east coast to west considerably) and the trade of goods overall. Perhaps one of the main reasons that the first transcontinental rail road was chosen as one of the seven wonders of the industrial world is that it comprised so many different types of engineering; from building tunnels through mountains to assembling wooden bridges across rivers.
Today the First Transcontinental Rail Road is still in use, but not entirely. Over 100 miles around the Sierra Nevada Mountains is still in operation, and hundreds more miles of the original tracks can still be seen across America.
Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington and Charles Crocker are four names that crop up continuously when the First Transcontinental Rail Road is discussed, and this is because they were the four main investors in the project.
The ‘Big Four”s investments allowed the hundreds of construction workers (the majority of whom were Mormon) to build the 1800 miles of train track that ran from Sacramento, California in the west to Omaha, Nebraska in the north east of America. At their peak, the construction workers could manage ten miles of track in just one day, but sometimes the logistics of carrying food, materials and tools to the site where they were working meant that this was delayed. Construction of this railroad meant blasting through mountains to construct tunnels, and erecting wooden bridges across large bodies of water. This project didn’t just involve laying track on dry, flat land.
The construction of the First Transcontinental Rail Road took a total of six years, with celebrations held at Promontory, Utah on May 10th 1869 where the final golden spike was hammered into the ground. It was at this point where the Central Pacific Railroad met the Union Pacific tracks and the project could be declared complete. To this very day, one of the very last golden spikes can be seen at Stanford University (in the Cantor Arts Centre), California.
Upon completion the First Transcontinental Rail Road became the best and fastest way to travel across America, until 1959 when American Airlines released their first non-stop flight from East to West.
How to Get There:
It is still possible to travel on the same track that was laid well over 100 years ago across America, but only in certain parts. Areas of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and also Utah and Wyoming still have operating train tracks, so if you were to visit them you would need to fly as close to one of those areas as possible.
Natrona County Airport is small, but you could get a connecting flight to there, via a larger airport in the US and then start your train journey from there, through Utah and ending up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the west coast. From here you can quite easily travel down through bustling, exciting California to LAX airport and then fly home.
Where to Stay:
If you spend the majority of your stay near the Sierra Nevada Mountains, then you should definitely check out the Rodeway Inn right by Yosemite National Park. In Winter this hotel is right by a skiing hot spot, but in summer it’s also perfect for mountain biking, golfing and other outdoor pursuits.
Alternatively, for a luxury stay further into the metropolitan area, you could try the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Sacramento where rooms are approximately $270 per night. This hotel is located near shopping malls, an IMAX theater, museums, jogging trails and wine tasting day trips which should keep you busy during your stay.