The Development of Kansas Railroads


In Roman times: a major improvement in rolling resistance and a corresponding increase in load carried (particularly in bad weather)  was achieved by building a stone-paved road on a deep foundation for hard-wheeled carts and chariots. The paving had to be more than twice the width  of the vehicles and was very laborious and expensive to construct.

In the eighteenth-century: South Wales tramways used a single flange on the "Plateway" short segments of cast iron, usually mounted on stone blocks  to keep plain-wheeled carts on the track. A major problem was keeping the track clear of debris.

Single-Flanged iron wheels running on the head of "I" or "T" section of iron rails held in gauge by wooden crossties  rapidly proved to be a more satisfactory system. The iron flange served as a self-cleaning, readily crossed by roadways, relatively inexpensive,  cushioned slightly by the  wood’s flexibility. It was soon found that mounting the wheels rigidly on a rotating axle kept them in gauge better and  made efficient bearing and lubrication possible.

One-car trains, as exemplified by the electric interurban railway and the streetcars, proved relatively short-lived. The ‘iron horse" came as the first  great transportation achievement of the machine age. The early wood-burning locomotives with their big smokestacks puffed and tooted across the countryside,  pulling one or two cars. They carried heavy loads faster, and over longer distances, than any other means of transportation.

It was then feasible to hook railcars together into trains, with important savings in cost. Combining railcars into a train was important to increase the  capacity of the narrow transportation corridors, which was particularly important in providing needed mobility without wasting vast areas of real estate.

In the nineteenth century: The early question was whether or not the railroad idea would work. Cast iron rails sometimes broke under the first  impact from the weight of the new steam locomotive. Boilers blew up, and huge costs were predicted for the tunnels, in the belief that trains could climb only  the slightest of grades. At what path of laying down the track was to be taken when building the railroad. There were many obstructions in building the railroad:  mountains, hills, lakes, ponds, rivers, the nature like weather, animals (buffalo and prairie dog) and not to mention the Indian attacks.

A railroad consists of two steel rails that are held a fixed distance apart upon a roadbed. Guided and supported by flanged steel wheels, and connected into trains, are propelled as the means of transportation.

The machine used to move the trains on the railroad tracks is called the locomotive.  The first was the steam locomotives that weighed from three to six tons,  and could pull only a few rail cars. Later in the nineteenth century the electric locomotive was introduced to the railroads, being more powerful, faster  starting and with no smoke or exhaust gases.

Within a few years, tough wrought iron rails became available. The timber crosstie proved not only cheaper that the massive stone blocks originally planned as  "permanent" supports for the rails, but did a far better job of keeping the rails the right distance apart. Experience proved that useful loads could be  hauled over mountain ranges on grades of more than 100 feet of rise per mile of track. The "pilot truck" guided the locomotive around sharp curves, and  workable designs were developed for many auxiliary devices. The track switches, headlights and whistles were designed to make the railroad a complete  commercial enterprise, and safer.

The twentieth century: In the building and expanding years it became clear that a railroad could be built to go just about anywhere.  With the wide-open choice, the real question became one of economics: railroads should be built where there was, or reasonably could be expected to be,  enough demand for transportation to support the line and pay back the cost of construction.  Prosperity and people usually followed rather than preceded  the coming of the railroad, so faith and luck were important too. The railroad network then began to grow on its own. Once a line was in operation, the  population grew more rapidly along it then elsewhere. The types of services that trains perform are passenger, road freight, and yard-switching service.

In practice, developing a logical system of railroad trackage was not straightforward. Useful transportation is a matter of moving something from where it is  produced, to where it is needed. Population and demand affected both ends of the trip for the trains. Needless to say the first railroads had limited objects;  they headed inland from established ocean port cities to sources of raw materials and agricultural products. The establishment of the diesel locomotive is its  own traveling power plant; the diesel engines supply power to the electric generators that direct current that runs the motors, which turns the wheels.  The diesel locomotives have a number of advantages. These locomotives can make long runs without refueling or servicing, can operate anywhere that there are  rails, and weigh more than 300 tons.

On the basis of purely technical reasons, locating a railroad line so that it can provide useful transportation at minimum cost is a complicated business.  Competitive, political and even such emotional factors as civic pride, sheer optimism and especially greed have often completely overwhelmed engineering  considerations. Parallel lines were built which really were not needed and now some have been abandoned.

With these factors, plus the effects of governmental regulation, the rail system remains as a largely interconnected network which can move goods in quantity  from anywhere via a reasonably direct route or routes. The railroad transformed the West from a wilderness to a land of opportunity. That whistle from the  train meant freedom, speed, safety, commerce, and civilization. Go West young man, go West and grow up with the country and many did just that.

While the total number of operating railroads companies in the United States is far smaller than it once was, it has remained relatively stable in recent years.  There have been some mergers in this part of the century, but we need to stay stable with railroads, because with the current highway conditions of  today travel will become more congested. The railroads still make up the backbone of the transportation system of the day. In the 1960’s the United States  railroads owned about 28,000 diesel locomotives, 435 electric locomotives, 50 gas turbine locomotives, and 20 steam engine locomotive units.

The twenty-first century and the future: A modern train may be able to travel at speeds of over 300 miles per hour, which is much faster  than any vehicle is capable of traveling. There are far fewer train accidents than vehicle crashes. As the number of vehicle-miles increase each year, the  number of fatalities and injuries also increase so consider travel by train and use of the railroads to ship products. Even in today’s high-tech environment,  there is no substitute for the old-fashioned values, good will and the caring attitudes for now and in the future from the railroads. Other aspects of railroad  development is the use of concrete, plastic and other man-made materials for ties.

Source: The Railroad, What It Is, What It Does, Encarta 2000 Encyclopedia, and The World Book Encyclopedia