Fifty Railroads that Changed the Course of History


Praise for previous titles in the series:
Fifty Minerals That Changed the Course of History
Interesting, affordable and readable.... Offers the reader an opportunity to delve further into each mineral's historical significance in an accessible way.
-- Booklist

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Praise for previous titles in the series:
Fifty Minerals That Changed the Course of History
Interesting, affordable and readable.... Offers the reader an opportunity to delve further into each mineral's historical significance in an accessible way.
-- Booklist

Fifty Animals That Changed the Course of History
An original approach that links the biological sciences to the social sciences... students and general readers will find many interesting stories within these pages.
-- American Reference Books Annual

The new title in the series, Fifty Railroads that Changed the Course of History, is a handsome, illustrated survey of the most important historical and contemporary railway lines around the world. Filled with unusual and unexpected stories and facts, it will captivate a wide audience, from the curious browser to researching students.

The book organizes the railroads chronologically, considering each according to its greatest impact on Social, Commercial, Political, Engineering, and Military history. Maps plus more than 200 elegant drawings, photographs and paintings as well as dozens of sidebars highlight the concise, engaging text.

The fifty railroads span history, from the first in public passenger travel (Wales, 1807) to Japan's speed-record breaking "Bullet." Exotic locales reflect the map of colonialism (Guyana to transport sugar, India to carry cotton and arms). Railroads moved troops (the Crimea, the American Civil War, the Boer War) and united vast lands (Canadian Pacific Railway, Trans-Siberian). They transported horror (Auschwitz Ker), saved the Railway Children, and went underground to cross the English Channel.

Fifty Railroads that
Changed the Course of History
features rail barons, politicians, disasters, crime, weather, geology, great artists, fraudsters and animals, a dynamic cast of characters and a mind-spinning whirlwind of fact, trivia and conversation starters.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781770851696
  • Publisher: Firefly Books, Limited
  • Publication date: 8/11/2013
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 317,405
  • Product dimensions: 6.80 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill Laws is a journalist and writer. He is the author of Fifty Animals That Changed the Course of History, as well as numerous titles on philosophy and history. He lives in the UK, where he is conducting doctoral research in sociology at South Bank University, London.

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Table of Contents


Merthyr Tydfil Railway
Swansea and Mumbles Railway
Stockton and Darlington Railway
Liverpool and Manchester Railway
Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company
Dublin and Kingstown Railway
Brussels to Melchelen Railway
Nuremberg and Fürth Railway
Paris to Le Pecq Railway
Grand Junction and London to Birmingham Railways
Tsarskoye Selo Railway
Ferrocarril de Camagüey a Nuevitas
York and North Midland Railway
Great Western Railway
Leicester and Loughborough Railway
Sheffield, Ashton under Lyne and Manchester Railway
Paris to Le Havre Railway
Georgetown and Plaisance Railroad
Great Indian Peninsula Railway
Semmering Railway

Panama Railroad
Grand Crimean Central Railway
Chicago to St. Louis Railroad
Hannibal to St. Joseph Railroad
Metropolitan Railway
Central Pacific Railroad
Port Chalmers Railway
Canadian Pacific Railway
Jerusalem to Jaffa Railway
Highland Railway
Valtellina, Italy
Cape to Cairo Railway
Jingzhang Railway
Grand Central Terminal
Trans-Siberian Railway
Allied Railroad Supply Lines
Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta Railway
Sydney City Railway
Berlin to Hamburg Railway
Prague to Liverpool Street Station, London
Southern Railway
Auschwitz Spur
Burma to Siam Railway
Dutch Railways
Tokaido Railway
Bay Area Rapid Transit
Paris to Lyon Railway
Channel Tunnel

Further Reading
Image Credits

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"When I closed my eyes this sensation of flying was quite delightful, and strange beyond description: yet strange as it was, I had a perfect sense of security, and not the slightest fear."
Actress and writer Fanny Kemble, opening of the Liverpool to Manchester railroad, 1838

Railroads have impacted on the lives of almost everyone on the planet. Since they arrived in the early 1800s, their steely sinews have threaded their way through history, nudging and elbowing it in unexpected directions.

Changing Landscapes and Passenger Travel
Railroads modernized the towns they touched and caused the downfall of the ones they left behind: they carried cargo into the most inaccessible places and transformed forever the traditional ways of life there. Trains brought a distinctive cacophony to the urban scene: station bells, bursts of steam, the scream of a whistle, carriage couplings clattering in rail yards, and the ring of the wheel-tapper's hammer checking for cracked steel.

The British monarch Queen Victoria was perfectly satisfied with this progress. On her first railroad journey, 18 miles (29 km) along the GWR or Great Western Railway to Buckingham Palace in 1842, she declared: "We arrived here yesterday morning, having come by the railroad from Windsor, in half an hour, free from dust and crowd and heat, and I am quite charmed with it." The Duke of Wellington, reflecting the sentiments of many of The Queen's citizens, had taken the opposite view. In 1830 he declared he saw "no reason to suppose these machines will ever force themselves into general use." While the railroads increased and multiplied, the anxieties of passengers remained much the same: Have I missed the train? Am I on the right platform? Is my luggage safe? Railroads undoubtably imposed themselves on the landscape. "There was probably more picturesqueness about the old method of traveling, for a stage coach harmonized better with the landscape than a puffing, smoking steam engine with its train of practical looking cars," wrote the regretful R. Richardson B.A. in Cassell's Family Magazine of 1875. He nevertheless acknowledged: "What we have lost in picturesqueness we have undoubtedly gained in convenience."

Making Tracks Across the Globe
With their speeding locomotives, luxury carriages and romantic boat trains, the railroads reached a zenith in the early twentieth century using the latest technology. Although the essential elements--train, tracks and rolling stock--were standard, idiosyncratic national characteristics were apparent from the start. The dominance of the railroad was complete, paving the way across the world with its routes and adopting country-specific structures, while two world wars battled on.

By the mid-twentieth century railroads were exhausted. Polluting, inefficient, uncomfortable, monopolistic and expensive, they had run out of favor. Their demise was accompanied, and exacerbated, by the rush for the road, a development that squandered dwindling natural resources and left a bill for everyone but the polluter to pay. Then in 1964 a streamlined train slid, like a vision from the future, into Tokyo station. Within a decade high-speed railroads and rapid transit systems were racing to change history again, leaving in their wake a charm of pleasant old lines and railroad memories. As railroad engineer George Stephenson's biographer Samuel Smiles put it in 1868: "Notwithstanding all the faults and imperfections that are alleged against railroads ... we think they must nevertheless be recognized as by far the most valuable means of communication ... that has yet been given to the world."

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