America was built on the back of the railroads; probably more than any other country or land in the world. The great rail companies, and their tycoons, distributed wealth and opportunity from one side of the continent to the other and up and down its breadth. The railroads fed on the backbreaking labor of newly arrived migrants to the ‘land of the free’. Their sweat and lives went into laying the lines that would carry the great iron and steel engines and their carriages all over America. The train in the United States is a symbol of the success of the free enterprise capitalist economic system.
Promoting and Celebrating Railroads of America
During the US Civil War (1861-1865), the railroads played a vital part in the North’s success over the South. They transported essential items throughout the North, and the shorter rail lines in the South were starved by the North of the replacement parts they needed during the war. The hoarding of the cotton crop by the South, economically depressed the Southern railways even further. After the Confederate defeat in 1865, the Southern railroads were rebuilt and extended through investment from the North.
New York financier JP Morgan was a powerful force in the railroad industry toward the end of the nineteenth century, not only investing heavily but driving change in how the industry operated. He encouraged consolidation and pushed it toward integration. Governments then followed suit with greater regulation of the industry ensuring its interstate functionality. Economic disaster within the industry in the Panic of 1893 saw around twenty five percent of private railroads failing in the USA. This led to further consolidation within the industry.
Today the American railroad is a sleek industry that has been pared down over decades, through competition with airlines for passengers and trucks for freight. There have been periods of nationalization during wartime, and in the 1970s, and masses of bankruptcies over the years, thinning out the players. After many years of being unprofitable, the railroads have made a comeback in the freight business and are now hauling all sorts of things across the country. Technological innovations have made the railroads competitive again in the freight business. Promotional products and services have helped market that fact to US businesses across the continent. Fast trains, or very fast trains, could be the next thing on the agenda in the US railroad industry. The future is fast and trains need to be able to keep up with the curve on that score.