Friday, July 3, 2015

Coast-to-coast in only 3 ½ days

The famous “Golden Spike” was nailed in at Promontory, Utah, on May 10, 1869, to complete route of America’s first coast-to-coast railroad line. A mere five days later, transcontinental trains started running daily. Gradually, service improved and the schedule became more regular and predictable.

In June 1876, a Transcontinental Express train traveled from New York City to San Francisco in only 83 hours, a remarkable order of magnitude better than the Conestoga wagon trek—most trekkers walked!—that took up to six months in previous decades on routes like the Oregon Trail.

First transcontinental train

For less than $100 dollars (about $2,000 in 2014 dollars), a traveler could enjoy the first-class coach with velvet seats, sleeping berths, steam heat, fresh linen every day and attentive porters.

For $40, less fortunate passengers rode third class on plain wooden benches in coach cars that might be attached to slow-going freight trains.

The Transcontinental Express was traveling a bit more than 40 miles per hour, and it probably had preferential right-of-way on the rails (freight trains and other scheduled passenger trains would have been shunted aside to let the Express roll through. A typical passenger train on shorter runs ran about 15-20 mph.

Just for comparison: in the 19th century, the typical speed of a stagecoach was 3-5 mph, a horse-drawn wagon could do 2-4 mph and a river boat moving upstream was clocking 1-5 mph.
Hard to imagine, isn’t it?

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

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