How Did We Get Here?

Lackawanna-Railfest-2011 (155)

Railroading at the crossroads?…

Railroading as we know it in the 21st century didn’t always exist…. Today’s mega-systems like NS, CSX and BNSF (what many railfans like to call “alphabet soup railroads”), and even 19th century charters like Kansas City Southern weren’t born, they were created.

In the beginning most railroads were short lines and few early rail lines dared to venture more than a few dozen miles from their place of origin. Only the Baltimore & Ohio, whose Baltimore to Ohio River trek through the Alleghenies (which turned out to be nearly 400 miles once they built and measured it.) was bold enough to go where no railroad had gone before….

Most of the early railroads joined forces with neighboring lines in their region to form longer systems. Seven such railroads formed a route from Albany to Buffalo and in 1853 merged to form the New York Central.
Some 19th century small lines were able to survive (and even thrive) in the 20th century because some were making enough money to do so (an example of this is the Sandersville Railroad of Sandersville, Georgia). Some were content with local control and some just weren’t able to attract the attention of a stronger merger partner.

The main reason for mergers has usually been for growth but sometimes mergers were formed to eliminate redundant track and/or to cope with competition from other railroads or from other modes of transportation. Whatever the reason, merging has been a constant trend in railroading all the way from the earliest days to the mega systems of our time. This is what got us where we are today (however good or bad that may be in your own opinion).