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Railroad Evolution

The Industrial Revolution (1800-1870)

The first commercial rail line linked Manchester to Liverpool in 1830 (distance of 40 miles) and shortly after rail lines began to be laid throughout developed countries. By the 1850s, the railroad established the first urban systems and enabled the access of resources and markets of vast territories, particularly from harbors. 6,000 miles of railways were then operating in England and railways were quickly being constructed in Western Europe and North America. Finally, an inland transport system that was at the same time flexible in its spatial coverage and that could carry heavy loads became available. As a result many canals fell into disrepair and were closed as they were no longer able to compete with rail services. In their initial phase of development, railways were a point to point process where major cities were linked one at a time by independent companies. From the 1860s, integrated railway systems started to cohesively service whole nations with standard gauges and passenger and freight services. The journey between New York and Chicago was reduced from three weeks by stage coach to 72 hours by train. Many cities thus became closely interconnected. The transcontinental line between New York and San Francisco, completed in 1869, represented a remarkable achievement in territorial integration made only possible by rail. It reduced the journey across the continent (New York to San Francisco) from six months to one week, thus opening for the Eastern part of the United States a vast pool of resources and new agricultural regions.

Emergence of Modern Transportation Systems (1870-1920)

The increasing size of ships imposed massive investments in port infrastructures such as piers and docks. The harbor, while integrating production and transshipping activities, became an industrial complex around which agglomerated activities using ponderous raw materials. From the 1880s, liner services linked major ports of the world, supporting the first regular international passenger transport services, until the 1950s when air transportation became the dominant mode. This period also marked to golden era of the development of the railway transport system as railway networks expanded tremendously and became the dominant land transport mode both for passengers and freight. As the speed and power of locomotives improved and as the market expanded, rail services became increasingly specialized with trains entirely devoted to passengers or freight. Rail systems reached a phase of maturity.

Evolution of the Railway Network (in km), 1850-1913

From 1830 when the first commercial service between Liverpool and Manchester is established, the size of railway networks grew rapidly. The railroad enabled the exploitation of resources of vast territories, notably by linking ports to their hinterland. Initially, the port hinterland was accessible only through the fluvial system and the development of railways changed the geography of several port cities. The 1870-1900 period saw the acceleration of rail projects in Europe and North America. For less developed parts of the world such as Africa and South America, the railway system was often a tool of colonial control and appropriation of resources by European powers.

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