Transcontinental Railroad: Challenges and Results The Challenge



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Transcontinental Railroad: Challenges and Results

The Challenge
1     The challenge was to build a railroad from the East Coast to the West Coast. There was already a network of railroads on the East Coast and as far west as Missouri, but the challenging part lay ahead. It would not be easy to build railroad lines through waterless deserts, solid-rock mountains, or Native American hunting territory.
2     Two railroad companies were up for the challenge. The Union Pacific and the Central Pacific both won government contracts to work on the railroad. The Union Pacific would build west from Missouri. The Central Pacific would build east from California. Both companies would be paid for each mile of track they laid, $16,000 per mile on the prairie, twice as much on the high plateaus, and three times as much through the mountains. Whichever company built the most track would earn the most money. The race was on.
3     The Union Pacific hired thousands of workers, many of them Irish immigrants, and started building track across the Great Plains. Each day, it built a few more miles of track.
4     The Central Pacific hired workers in California and began to build. Its first step was to tunnel through the steep, rocky Sierra Nevada Mountains. Some days, they progressed only a few inches. Many workers on the first crew quit; then the Central Pacific began hiring Chinese immigrants. Thousands of these newly-arrived Americans chipped away at the rock day after day. It was slow going, but they kept at it.
5     They cut tunnels through solid rock. The workers used black powder to blast the rock loose and nothing but their own muscle power to remove the rock. They had no electric or gasoline powered tools and only a small engine to carry the rock away. Sometimes, there was no way to climb to a tunnel's location. Then, they worked from platforms supported only by ropes attached at the top of the mountain. From these suspended platforms, they set the black powder charges and dug away rock. It was dangerous work, and over 1,000 workers died on the job.
6     Both companies sent grading crews ahead of the track builders. These crews prepared the land, leveling it for the tracks. In the spring of 1869, both crews were approaching a meeting point in the state of Utah. Both crews wanted to get as many of these last few miles as possible, so they kept grading even after the two lines had actually passed each other. The Union Pacific and the Central Pacific were grading land for tracks side by side! Finally, the government stepped in and chose Promontory Point, Utah, as the final meeting point.
7     On May 10, 1869, the tracks were joined with a final spike. It was a big event, and telegraphs sent messages to the East Coast and the West Coast that the Transcontinental Railroad was complete.




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