Connellsville set to debut model-railroad train in 2014
On May 10, 1869, crowds gathered at Promontory Point, Utah, to watch a gold spike be hammered into a steel track, completing America's first transcontinental railroad.
The 2,000-mile railroad project began 150 years ago — in 1863 — in Omaha, Neb. Construction was stymied until after the Civil War ended in 1865, but really took off afterward.
When the gold spike joined the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads, it changed America forever. For the first time, people could travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean in several days rather than several months.
At first, the back-breaking construction was handled mostly by white workers — until silver was discovered in Nevada in 1865. Many men dropped their pickaxes and shovels to run off prospecting, so the railroad companies began to hire Chinese immigrants. By the time the railroad was finished, more than 10,000 of workers were Chinese.
The first trip along the new railroad in 1869 was from Omaha to Sacramento, Calif. The trip set the tone for coast-to-coast travel for passengers and ushered in a new era for transporting freight — from dry goods to vegetables and livestock.
The railroad boom lasted until the mid-20th century, when trucking became the transportation of choice because of lower freight costs. With the rising cost of fuels in recent years, however, railroads are having better times again.
National Train Day is celebrated on the Saturday near to May 10 each year. Amtrak started the holiday in 2008 to promote rail travel and to honor the history of America's railroads.
Connellsville is expected to observe the celebration next year, when the city's model-railroad train premieres in May.
Many cities and towns host National Train Day activities, especially in metropolitan areas with major railroad hubs — such as Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Pennsylvania has several National Train Day celebrations for Saturday, including Harrisburg and Philadelphia, as well as several smaller towns in central and eastern Pennsylvania.
Laura Szepesi is a freelance writer.