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California Railroads and Their Significance Research Paper

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Updated: May 5th, 2021

The construction of a railroad in California was a crucial step that was aimed at linking all parts of this state to a single transportation system. Such an infrastructural development would lead to its social, economic, and political advancement. For approximately two decades after being acknowledged as a state in the U.S., California remained greatly isolated until the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in 1869.

As the paper reveals, the construction of the railroad in California was meant to achieve the goal of improving its transport system, bringing distant towns and mainstreams closer, improving its economy, and ending the then traffic jam problem. Such infrastructural progress has had a substantial impact on the lives of Californians, including the creation of employment opportunities, the enhancement of transportation networks, the advancement of the state’s economic status, and the reduction of poverty and road traffic.

The Goal of Constructing Railroads

In 2008, California endorsed Proposition 1A that sought to steer the financing of a rail line to upgrade its prevailing transport standards. A variety of reasons led to the construction of this railroad. According to an article by Karner, the need for bringing distant towns and mainstream cities closer was one of the chief reasons that informed this infrastructural endeavor.1 Some regions were extremely far from others to the extent of being inaccessible.

Deverell’s book mentions areas in California such as deserts, plains, and rocky regions, which could not be reached before the railroad was constructed.2 As a result, it was difficult to unite places of the same state or to engage in the exchange of goods and services. Californians believed that constructing a railroad would make it easier for regions to not only remain linked but also involve themselves in activities that would promote wholeness and the economic development of the state.

As Wunderlin reveals, another reason that influenced the decision to construct the railroad was to improve the transport system in the state.3 Transport had become a huge problem to the extent that some places could not be reached. As a result, it took considerably more time and energy to access them, implying that those who relied on transport networks for their business were hugely affected. In a study by Borodako and Rudnicki, it is apparent that transport systems influence the status of trade in various regions.4

Before implementing the railroad project, the movement of people, goods, and services was a major challenge because it proved difficult to move across other states or countries for business purposes. In particular, the article by Wunderlin reveals that indeed the railroad “business plan was designed around food stuff, specifically farm produce and processed foods, because the produce was the last commodity that had very long lengths of haul.”5

Consequently, the situation was negatively affecting the state’s economy. With the introduction of the railroad, the exchange of commodities and services was expected to be easier. In addition, nothing would hinder people from traveling to other regions. The railroad project was meant to ensure that Californians would not take an unnecessarily long time before arriving at their respective destinations.

The need for economic development of the state of California was another reason for the railroad construction. Great distances between regions and poor transport systems had led to the lack of business interactions among people. As a result, California’s economy seemed to decline gradually.6 Many businesses in this state were performing poorly. In addition, production levels from agricultural activities were hugely affected because farmers feared that their goods would expire before they were purchased. Specifically, people who were supposed to buy them could not easily access various regions in California because of poor roads.

This worrying situation called for a decision to find a better transportation system, which could ensure that people not only traveled conveniently to other regions but also engaged in their respective business activities without interruptions. The construction of the railroad in California was founded on the need for an improved economy whereby citizens would purchase and sell their goods and services. Taxes collected from the anticipated booming trade would contribute to further developments in this state.

Finally, the need to do away with the increased traffic jam and/or reduce the rate at which accidents were happening also formed the basis of the construction of the railroad. People would experience snarl-ups that made them spend quite a long time on roads before arriving at their various business destinations. Perishable goods would not reach customers in good conditions. The rate of accidents had also increased following the lack of order regarding the way vehicles needed to move along Californian roads. The railroad was to be introduced to eliminate such devastating situations. In addition to addressing the issue of accidents, commodities would be supplied to various markets within or outside California in good conditions.

Impacts of the Railroad

The construction of the railroad in California brought about numerous impacts to the state. To begin with, it led to the direct creation of employment to jobless individuals. According to Karner, it led to “an improved interregional system capable of meeting post-war travel demand and employment needs”.7 Their involvement in this project helped to reduce poverty among several Californians who had previously lacked finances to satisfy their daily needs. Low levels of education had further contributed to widespread poor living conditions in the state. With the introduction of the railroad, Potter reveals that the employment created not only enhanced people’s livelihoods but also boosted its economy.8 To date, California is the wealthiest state in the U.S.

Another impact of the railroad construction plan to Californians was that it enhanced transportation. Previously, some regions could not be reached. However, the construction of the railroad paved the way for further developments that ended up boosting not only the value but also the global image of California. Today, California is the third most expensive and extensive state in the U.S., after Texas and Alaska.

According to Karner, the vastness of the state presented a major transport problem, particularly to suppliers of goods and services.9 However, with the introduction of the railroad, transport was made easier and faster because people could take only a few hours to travel from one region to another. Further, the railroad led to a smooth movement of people, thus solving the challenge of labor shortage in some parts. Additionally, it enhanced business operations, especially regarding farmers who were supplying perishable goods. Thus, the Californian economy benefited from the improved transport network.

The railroad led to the infrastructural and economic development of the state of California. According to Ngai, the ease of movement improved the mobility of a skilled workforce, as well as raw materials.10 Such an uninterrupted supply of labor helped to stimulate industries across various regions in California because of the increase in business production levels. Money supplied to local economies of the state also widened its financial system. According to Wunderlin, the fact that people began to travel easily to far regions to either purchase or sell particular goods and services also helped to boost the Californian economy and that of the entire U.S.11

Businesses in all regions remained active. Productivity and profitability levels were higher compared to the situation during the pre-railroad period. Other industries such as banks and learning institutions also developed along the railroad.

Another impact of this infrastructural endeavor is that it improved Californians’ living standards. Most poor citizens are usually found in local regions. According to Ngai, with the implementation of the railroad, people in these areas could secure themselves employment whose income helped to cater for their daily needs.12 Some of these jobs included working as drivers and railroad maintenance officers. These workers earned a living by transporting people, goods, and services from one region to another.

The income acquired helped to meet their needs for food, education, and health services. Moreover, this infrastructural project spurred economic growth in areas where it passed through. The construction of the railroad in California led to a reduction of snarl-ups mentioned earlier. In this regard, transport was easier and faster. It also helped to improve people’s safety since highways and tracks were now separated as a strategy for reducing accidents.

Conclusion

The construction of the railroad in California was a crucial endeavor that aimed to achieve various goals. Overall, this paper has revealed that it helped to improve California’s economy. The transport system was enhanced to the extent that people could now take a shorter time to travel to far regions within this expansive state. The construction project also created jobs for Californians. They could earn revenue that helped to reduce their poverty levels.

Consequently, they could access basic services such as education and healthcare. In addition, congestion in roads became a less pressing issue because tracks were separated from highways as a way of eliminating accidents. Further, the fact that goods from local regions in California were highly purchased because of increased income levels led to the booming of businesses and industries. The railroad also enhanced unity in the state because people interacted more in the course of traveling from their regions to others and vice-versa.

Bibliography

Borodako, Krzysztof, and Michał Rudnicki. “Transport Accessibility in Business Travel — a Case Study of Central and East European Cities.” International Journal of Tourism Research 16, no. 2 (2014): 137-145.

Deverell, William. Railroad Crossing: Californians and the Railroad, 1850-1910. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

Karner, Alex. “Multimodal Dreamin’: California Transportation Planning, 1967-77.” Journal of Transport History 34, no. 1 (2013): 39-57.

Ngai, Mae. “Chinese Gold Miners and the “Chinese Question” in Nineteenth-Century California and Victoria.” Journal of American History 101, no. 4 (2015): 1082-1105.

Potter, Cuz. “River of Traffic: The Spatial Fragmentation of US Ports.” Regional Studies 49, no. 9 (2015): 1427-1440.

Wunderlin, Amy. “The Food and Beverage Industry Looks Toward Rail as American Roadways Continue to Deteriorate.” Food Logistics, no. 186 (2017): 30-33.

Footnotes

  1. Alex Karner, “Multimodal Dreamin’: California Transportation Planning, 1967-77,” Journal of Transport History 34, no. 1 (2013): 39.
  2. William Deverell, Railroad Crossing: Californians and the Railroad, 1850-1910 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 2.
  3. Amy Wunderlin, “The Food and Beverage Industry Looks Toward Rail as American Roadways Continue to Deteriorate,” Food Logistics, no. 186 (2017): 30.
  4. Krzysztof Borodako and Michał Rudnicki, “Transport Accessibility in Business Travel — a Case Study of Central and East European Cities,” International Journal of Tourism Research 16, no. 2 (2014): 137.
  5. Wunderlin, “The Food and Beverage,” 30.
  6. Ibid., 31.
  7. Karner, “Multimodal Dreamin,” 42.
  8. Cuz Potter, “River of Traffic: The Spatial Fragmentation of US Ports,” Regional Studies 49, no. 9 (2015): 1427.
  9. Karner, “Multimodal Dreamin,” 42.
  10. Mae Ngai, “Chinese Gold Miners and the “Chinese Question” in Nineteenth-Century California and Victoria,” Journal of American History 101, no. 4 (2015): 1087.
  11. Wunderlin, “The Food and Beverage,” 31.
  12. Ngai, “Chinese Gold Miners,” 1084.
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