In the years following the Civil War, the land west of the Mississippi River was being settled and the Pacific Northwest explored. There remained, however, a large portion of Montana, Idaho, and Washington that contained enormous quantities of timber and minerals, but was not accessible by rail. By far the most grueling stretch was the Stevens Pass area in the Cascade Mountains.
A transportation tunnel under the Hudson River connecting Manhattan and New Jersey was first considered in the 1860s, fueled by New York City's rapidly growing congestion and the inadequacy of existing ferry service to population centers across the river. DeWitt Clinton Haskin, an engineer formerly with the Union Pacific Railroad, started the project in 1874 and subsequently endured an extended lawsuit, several failures of the tunnel wall, and an exhaustion of funds before quitting in 1887 with only 1,600 feet completed.
When first proposed in 1819, the Hoosac Tunnel seemed so logical. It would provide an efficient and direct route for the Boston and Albany Railroad, whose pathway meandered 20 miles along precipitous grades. Early proponents, however, could not have imagined that blasting a 4.75 mile tunnel through the Hoosac Mountain would require over 20 years of labor. The project took so long to complete that it was commonly referred to as "The Great Bore."
The Dublin to Belfast Rail Link established a vital connection between the capitals of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The line's most notable engineering feature was the 1,760-foot-long Boyne Bridge; it represented one of the earliest uses of calculated stresses, the first large-scale use of wrought iron latticed girders, and the first full scale test of continuous beams. Tests performed on the wrought iron columns and struts were published and provided invaluable information for engineers who would design similar structures in the future.
Combining British financing, American engineering, and Canadian contracting, the White Pass and Yukon was the first major civil engineering project on the continent above the 60th degree of northern latitude. Completed in 27 months using only hand tools, black powder, and regional timber, the White Pass and Yukon rises almost 2,900 feet from sea level at the port of Skagway to the White Pass summit on the U.S.-Canada border in just 20 miles, accomplishing one of the steepest climbs of any railroad in the world.
The Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Branch of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad extends from the town of Durango to the mining camp of Silverton. Built in 1882 through one of the most rugged mountain areas of the nation, its complexity remains a testament to the role civil engineering played in the development of the western United States.
The tracks rise up the sheer, steep Animas Canyon, running along a rock ledge just wide enough to carry the train. The line is used today as a tourist attraction, carrying visitors through the picturesque San Juan Mountains.
The Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy Railroad was the first railroad to link Chicago and the Mississippi River, in the 1850s. This forty-stall roundhouse, large even for its time, became a major center for railroad activity for the CB&Q. It served as a repair and construction facility from which more locomotives and cars than any other CB&Q installation were built. Steam engines, passenger cars, freight cars, precision parts, tools, and machines were designed and built, beginning about 1858.
"The roundhouse is an amazing survivor of an important era in American engineering and architectural history. Eric DeLony, chief of the National Park Service's Historic American Engineering Record, has called it 'the most important surviving cast-iron framed building in North America.'"
From: The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Martinsburg Shop Complex: Historic Structure Report. By John P. Hankey, August, 2000.
This was a pioneering venture in mainline railroad electrification. It established single-phase alternating current as a technical and economical alternative to direct current. This concept exerted considerable influence over subsequent systems both in the United States and abroad. The major components of the system were developed by the engineering staffs of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad and the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company of East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Built with a single set of tracks consisting of hardwood rails and wooden ties, and using wooden trestles to carry it over low-lying areas, the 136-mile Charleston-Hamburg Railroad was one of the longest railroads in the world when it was completed in 1833. It also became the first railroad in the United States to be powered entirely by steam, the first to carry mail under contract, and the first to provide regularly scheduled passenger service.