All across our country, trains have woven themselves into the fabric of the American landscape. The desperately urgent whistle of steam... the gravelly rumble of an endlessly passing freight train, stirring the ground beneath one's feet...the clackety-clack of the massive steel-wheels as they course over glistening rails - these are just a few of the cues that for so many of us conjure up a uniquely American promise of adventure, discovery and excitement. But why?

Why is there such resonance with the sights and sounds of trains? Perhaps it is because, since their arrival in the early 19th century, these inspirational American trains have been "Engines of Progress", greatly helping to develop our country. Besides initiating comfortable and inexpensive long distance travel and assisting with our nation's journey westward, trains have been an economic force that have guided both the shaping of American society, and the building of America's economy.

The handsome passenger "Name Trains" were the glamorous flagships of the great railway systems that through the years brought together far flung American cities, enabling communications and commerce to flow freely between them for the first time in history. It is the railraods that to no small extent made possible the extraordinary industrial development of the United States over the last century and a half, resulting in this country's emergence as a major economic presence internationally.

As emphasis in the United States focused on creating the interstate highway system and developing swift jet airliner service post-World War II, there was less demand for passenger train travel. The railroads could not operate profitably, so they consolidated, losing their regional identities. Now Amtrak is the sole carrier for passenger services, nationally.

To view the interesting histories of famous trains such as the Acela Express, California Zephyr, Super Chief, Texas Special, and Twentieth Century Limited, please click on "The Train List."


The Lawrence Scripps Wilkinson Foundation
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