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.