The Historical Atlas of World Railroads: 400 Maps and Photographs Chart the Networks that Span the World


A fascinating history of railroad development on every continent.

At one point railroads were the most important form of transport in the world, responsible for opening up vast areas to settlement and industry. With the threat of global warming and a potential energy crisis looming, rail transportation is experiencing a welcome resurgence.

The Historical Atlas of World Railroads charts the rise, fall and revival of railroads over the past 200 ...

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A fascinating history of railroad development on every continent.

At one point railroads were the most important form of transport in the world, responsible for opening up vast areas to settlement and industry. With the threat of global warming and a potential energy crisis looming, rail transportation is experiencing a welcome resurgence.

The Historical Atlas of World Railroads charts the rise, fall and revival of railroads over the past 200 years, from the earliest experiments with wooden rails and horse-drawn wagons, through the rail-building boom of the steam age, to the onset of the modern high-speed lines, diesel-electric locomotives and electric tilting trains of today.

This comprehensive analysis and history covers:

  • The development of passenger and freight coaches and locomotives
  • How railroads and their infrastructures are built and operated
  • The development of rail types
  • The construction of tunnels and bridges
  • The latest advances in signaling technology, safety systems and freight-handling techniques and equipment.

Packed with archival photographs and high-quality color maps, The Historical Atlas of World Railroads brings history to life by revealing all aspects of rail transportation and technology.

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Editorial Reviews

American Reference Books Annual - Gregory Curtis
In a large accessible format, the work sketches the interrelated history of technology and railroads throughout the world from earliest lines to the present day. Filled with maps and photographs, many in color, the entries average four pages in length.... This volume will find use with those interested in railroads, the history of technological development and its impact on transportation, the growth of transportation in general, or the geographical expansion of railway services. Although a location in the reference section might make sense for some library collections both from the content and from the size of the volume, the work will find more use by its inclusion in the circulating reference collection where one may check it out to read at their leisure. A sturdy binding ensures that the volume will last over repeated readings by individuals.
Booklist - Christy Donaldson
From showcasing the very beginning of railroads to forecasting their future, this atlas does an impressive job of chronicling the history and advances of railroads and trains. Author Westwood....has created not only a wonderful compendium but also a beautiful work of art. The volume offers more than 400 detailed maps of rail routes and full-color pictures of the trains themselves. Beyond its visual appeal, the atlas includes excellent research on railroad transportation and technology.... Well researched and attractive, this volume is an excellent source of information on railroads across the globe. Recommended for transportation collections in academic libraries and public libraries and for any library with patrons who are interested in trains.
Choice - H. R. Grant
[starred review] At the heart of the study is the notion that geography as much as sociology and industry has dictated railroad evolution. The narrative features succinct overviews of railroads in all major geographic regions past and present and changes over time....The quality of these visuals is consistently high and richly varied. Moreover the book's general layout is breathtaking, enhanced by heavy glossy paper. There are some minor factual errors, including corporate names, and there are also omissions of countries that had or continue to have rail service, but these limitations hardly mar this remarkable coffee table-type publication. Highly recommended. General public and undergraduate libraries.
Library Journal
This beautifully illustrated reference work charts the rise, fall, and revival of railroads over the past 200 years, from the earliest creation and development of trains, through the rail-building explosion of the steam age, to the onset of the modern high-speed lines, diesel-electric locomotives, and electric machines of the present era. Written by Westwood, who is considered one of the foremost authorities on the railroad transport industry, the work covers the entire history of railroads through the five continents, including the development of passenger and freight coaches and locomotives, the development and construction of railroads across the world, and the latest advances in signaling technology, safety systems, and freight-handling techniques and equipment. The atlas also offers detailed information on how the industry evolved and adapted to fulfill the needs of every major geographical region in the world. The index, table of contents, and map list provide ample help in navigating the atlas. BOTTOM LINE Packed with archival photographs and high-quality color maps, the atlas fully succeeds in providing a clear and complete portrait of all aspects of rail transportation and technology. Similar works include Richard C. Carpenter's The Railroad Atlas of the United States and Gerald L. Foster's A Field Guide to Trains of North America. Recommended for school and all public libraries.—Luis J. Gonzalez, Hunter Coll. Libs., NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781554075232
  • Publisher: Firefly Books, Limited
  • Publication date: 9/10/2009
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 831,504
  • Product dimensions: 9.60 (w) x 13.00 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

John Westwood is an authority on the history of railroad transport worldwide. He is the author of Trains, The Historical Atlas of North American Railroads, World Railways and Great Train Disasters.

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Map List


The Worldwide Spread of Railroads

The Beginning of Railroads, 1700-1824

The Iron Horse, Steam Power Arrives, 1825-30

Pioneering Ideas, 1831-50

Overcoming Natural Obstacles, 1851-80

Finding Solutions, 1881-1913

Railroads During and After the Great War, 1914-22

The Quest for Speed, 1923-45

New Age of the Railroads

Railroad Restructuring, Late Twentieth Century

European Railroads

Railroads of Britain and Ireland, from 1852

London to Glasgow, the West Coast Main Line

Poste Haste!

The Power of Steam, 1800-34

Railroads of France, from 1832

The Orient Express, a Glorious Past

The Aquitaine, French Heavyweight Flyer

Paris-Lyon, Pioneer TGV

Improving Performance, 1835-74

Railroads in Belgium and Luxembourg, from 1835

Meeting the Customer's Needs, 1800-75

Railroads in Germany, from 1835

Trans-Europe Express Trains

Efficiency Drive, 1875-1905

Railroads in Russia and The Former Soviet States, from 1837

Backbone of an Empire, the Trans-Siberian Railroad

Locomotive Development, 1906-26

Railroads in Switzerland and Austria, from 1838

Railroads Through the Alps, from 1871

Climbing the Mountains

Specialized Rail Traffic, 1876-1924

Railroads in the Netherlands, from 1839

The Zenith of Steam, 1927-34

The Great Locomotive Works

Railroads in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary, from 1839

Fit for Purpose, Rolling Stock, From 1925

Railroads in Italy, from 1839

Speed and Luxury, the Settebello

Railroads in Poland, from 1842

Dawn of a New Age, 1935-44

Railroads in the Former Yugoslav States and Albania, from 1846

The Eclipse of Steam

Railroads in Scandinavia, from 1847

The Diesel Locomotive

Railroads in Spain and Portugal, from 1848

The Modern Approach

Railroads in Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece, from 1866

Electric Power

Railroads in North America

Railroads in the United States of America, from 1830

Railroads in Canada, from 1836

North American Transcontinental Railroads

The Chief, Across America in Style

Conrail, Rescuing the Fallen, 1976-99

The Canadian, Premier Transcontinental Express

Modern Passenger Rolling Stock

Railroads in Central America and the Caribbean, from 1837

Modern Freight Rolling Stock

Railroads in South America, from 1851

Railroads Across the Andes, 1870-1914

High-Speed Trains

Tilting Trains

Railroads of Asia

Railroads in Turkey and the Middle East, from 1856

The Railroad Gauges

The Narrow-Gauge Railroad

Railroads on the Indian Sub-Continent, from 1853

India's Fastest — the Rajdhani Express

Engineering the Tracks

Railroads in the Far East, from 1853

The Trans-Asian Railroad

The Railroads of China

Rails into Tibet

Shinkansen — Japan's Pioneer Flyer, from 1966

Bridges and Tunnels

Railroads in Australia and New Zealand

Railroads in Australia, from 1854

Spanning the Arid Continent

The Ghan

Railroads in New Zealand, from 1863

The Southernmost Route

Signaling Systems

Railroads in Africa

Railroads in Northeast Africa, from 1854

Passenger Service Operations

Railroads in Southern Africa, from 1860

The Height of Luxury

Railroads in West Africa, from 1862

Handling Freight

Freight Yard Operation

Railroads in Central Africa, from 1886

Rail's Past and Future



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The predominating influence of geography led to the growth of railroads, so it is fascinating and worthwhile to study the situation on a worldwide basis, with the aid of maps.

Not so many years ago, there was a widely held opinion in most parts of the world that railroads were relics of the past. For medium-distance travel, the passenger train had been outstripped both in speed and general convenience by the private automobile; in commuter travel, city workers were beginning to prefer road congestion and the difficulties of parking to the gross discomfort, overcrowding and occasional breakdowns in local train services; while for long-distance travel, the airplane enjoyed an immense superiority in speed. Above all, popular opinion had it that rail travel was being outmoded. In the transport of small individual freight consignments, struggling amid antiquated facilities and outmoded legal regulations, railroads could not match the rapidly developing road service provided by fast trucks. Only the handling of heavy freight and bulk minerals remained with the railroads, and that mainly because no one else wanted the business. Nowadays, there is a realization that, apart from heavy-haul, railroads are competitive in intercity passenger service and in fast freights over longer distances, as well as being indispensable for cities with heavy commuter requirements. Their relatively low energy consumption is also a recommendation.

Because the predominating influence of geography led to the growth of railroads in the first place, so, in this critical phase, when so many outside influences are beginning to highlight the importance of railroads in modern society, it is fascinating and immensely worthwhile to study the situation anew, on a worldwide basis, with the aid of maps. Two of the first public railroads in the world, the Stockton & Darlington and the Baltimore & Ohio, were built to convey minerals from inland areas to the sea for shipment. When the merchants of large industrial centers wanted quicker connection with their interests elsewhere, routes were chosen where geography made the going easiest and cheapest from the constructional point of view, and gave prospects of fast transit while minimizing running costs.

The purpose of this book is to show how geography as much as sociology and industry has dictated railroad evolution. That said, it must not be imagined that geography was always on the side of the railroad entrepreneurs and engineers. After the first modest beginnings, often accompanied by phenomenal financial success, business interests demanded the execution of bolder projects and more direct connections. Contentment with roundabout routes, following the contours of river valleys or coastlines (to find easy grades), and with low initial costs began to evaporate, and engineers were faced with calls to cross mountain ranges, span rivers, and traverse wide tracts of level, though unstable, marshland. This last mentioned geographical hazard had been encountered on one of the first railroads, the Liverpool & Manchester, which crossed the notorious Chat Moss peat bog. The methods by which George Stephenson finally conquered this obstacle became the pattern for dealing with similar difficulties in many parts of the world.

Many of the engineering problems were entirely new. The established professional men had built harbors, lighthouses, roads, and canals, but the introduction of the steam locomotive brought new demands. There was a limit to the steepness of the grades it could climb, for while a military road for foot soldiers, pack horses, or even elephants could be taken up a steep mountainside, such a route was impossible for locomotives. Surveys to obtain a practicable grade often had to be made in extremely difficult physical conditions: in the hill country at the foot of mountain ranges or in dense forests, where there were few opportunities for obtaining long sights ahead or for taking levels. Nor could established concepts like the suspension bridge be used for crossing broad valleys or tidal waterways. New ideas for long-span bridges had to be formed.

It is interesting to trace how the principles of construction and early operation, which developed in Great Britain, the USA, and Europe, were gradually extended and adapted to geographical and other conditions around the world. In Britain, conditions and prospects for expansion called for massively built, and relatively straight and level railroads, and there was plenty of capital ready for investment in such enterprises. In the USA, by contrast, railroads were needed to open up the virgin country. Little money was available, however, so tracks had to be built as cheaply as possible with indigenous materials. U.S. heavy industry was in its infancy and could hardly afford large-scale imports. One outcome was the evolution of that masterwork of light civil engineering, the wooden trestle bridge, so skillfully erected across many a deep valley or mountain torrent. Similarly, because of the infrequency of train services and the need to avoid high capital expenditure, engineers developed the system of regulating traffic by telegraphic "train order," in contrast to the more comprehensive system of signaling and interlocking that was essential on the much busier routes of western Europe.

As the railroad networks spread, so the natural geographical resources of the world became part of the overall picture. The conveyance of coal was the first task of railroads in Great Britain and France, and although horses did much of the hauling in the very early days, coal was the locomotive fuel. In the USA, although major deposits of coal had been discovered in certain areas, the vastness of the country made its transport to other parts uneconomic, so the great majority of early American locomotives burned the indigenous fuel of the forests — wood. Thus environmental considerations were in evidence from the earliest days. Those in Great Britain who opposed railroads on principle, secured the insertion of clauses in Acts of Parliament prohibiting the emission of smoke by steam locomotives. To comply with such limitations, locomotives were fueled with coke in place of coal.

Out of this deeply interesting historical foundation, there emerges the majestic edifice of steady technical development, the evolution of codes of practice to ensure the safe running of trains at speeds that even our own grandfathers would not have thought possible. The replacement of steam traction by diesel and electric power became inevitable in the modern age. In recording this, and in recalling some of the grandest moments of the steam era, tribute is paid to one of the most wonderful and most "human" of machines ever devised and used by man.

This book highlights some of the major engineering achievements and great trains of the past. But there are modern developments, too: the purpose built, high-speed lines in Europe and the Far East, the conveyor-belt functions of heavy-duty mineral lines like the Hammersley Railroad in Australia and the Powder River Basin developments in the USA, and the fast low-cost "doublestack" container trains introduced in the USA. Today, railroads around the world are once again a very important feature on the map.

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