How Much Do You Know About Railroad History?


By: Ryan Choate

6 Min Quiz

Image: David Osberg / E+ / Getty Images

About This Quiz

With the early development of the steam engine and subsequent creation of the steam-powered locomotive, the railroad system transformed both the United States and the world during the early 19th century. George Stephenson was a British inventor who aimed to improve a steam-powered boiler on wheels, which he saw carrying coal out of the mines. After making several modifications over a few year periods, he was able to create a highly efficient locomotive that ran along steel tracks. In 1825, railroad transportation was born in Britain. The passengers were carried by one of Stephenson's locomotives. 

A few short years after the United States established railroads on the East Coast, the economy was flourishing due to the connectivity of cities. In 1869, the U.S. finished the Transcontinental Railroad, which is considered by some historians to be among the country's greatest technological achievements. The entire U.S. was now connected from New York to San Francisco with rails. With this advance in transportation, the opportunities for growth were boundless. So, get on the right track and test your knowledge of railroad history!

What is the term used to describe the distance between railroad tracks?

The distance between the tracks of a railroad is known as the gauge. There are traditionally three different gauges of railroad tracks: narrow, standard and broad. Different manufacturers of locomotives often determined the size of the gauge.


The Transcontinental Railroad did not pass through one of the following states. Which state is it?

Montana was not a state that the Transcontinental Railroad passed through. With starting points in Omaha and San Francisco, the Transcontinental Railroad met in Utah and was completed in 1869 with the final golden spike.


What post-Civil War scandal involved a construction company for the Union Pacific Railroad?

In the early railroad days, construction of the rails was more profitable than running an actual railroad company. Crédit Mobilier took advantage of this and offered themselves construction contracts on behalf of the Union Pacific railroad.


Who famously died from exhaustion after competing with his hammer against a mechanical steam hammer to build track?

John Henry is a folklore hero in the annals of railroad construction. Thousands of men worked to construct railroads. John Henry challenged a steam-powered drill to the work of drilling a tunnel. His superhuman effort beat the machine, but it cost him his life as he died of exhaustion.


What is the name of the material consisting of gravel and cinders on which the railroad track was placed?

A combination of materials was spread out on the ground in order to create drainage and a stable surface for railroad tracks. The material is called ballast. The ingredients of ballast often included gravel, cinder, slag and sand.


What was the name of the first locomotive that ran in the United States?

The first locomotive that ran in the United States was called Tom Thumb. It ran on a short piece of track near Baltimore, MD in 1830. The locomotive was designed to carry a few passengers for a short distance as a demonstration of what a steam locomotive could do.


The last train car on a freight train is know as what?

The last train car on a large freight train is known as the caboose. The caboose was originally designed as a shelter for the crew members aboard a train. In pop culture, the word is also used as a slang reference to a person's behind.


What country developed the bullet train?

Japan is responsible for developing the first bullet trains. Known as "Shinkansen" in Japan, these trains can travel at speeds over 185 miles per hour. The high speed rail system was developed in time for the 1964 Olympics, which were held in Tokyo.


Which president signed the Pacific Railroad Act into law?

In 1862, the Pacific Railroad Act was signed by Congress under President Abraham Lincoln. This act allowed the government to provide subsidies in funds and land to help construct the Transcontinental Railroad, which was completed in 1869.


Which railroad company started the Transcontinental Railroad in the west and began working east?

The Central Pacific Railroad was tasked with starting tracks in the west and eventually meeting the tracks that had started in Omaha. The tracks finally converged in Utah in 1869, which completed the Transcontinental Railroad.


Companies who built the railroads were paid how?

The companies building the Transcontinental Railroad were paid by the mile of track laid down. This caused a competition of sorts to create the most miles of track. The companies would constantly set new records with how much track they could put down in a day.


The railroads employed thousands of immigrants to help with construction. Which of these countries had a large number of immigrants who worked on the rails?

A large portion of immigrants who worked on the railroads were Irish, and this was particularly true for the Transcontinental Railroad project. Of the two companies working on this project, the Union Pacific company relied mainly on Irish workers.


How many miles long was the original Transcontinental Railroad?

The number of miles that connected the Transcontinental Railroad totaled 1,776 miles that stretched from Sacramento, CA to Omaha, NE. Central Pacific Railroad completed 690 miles and Union Pacific Railroad completed 1,086 miles.


What is the record for miles of railroad track laid in one day during the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad?

The world record for laying railroad track is just over 10 miles. This was completed a small army of workers, most of whom were Chinese. It was achieved during a 12-hour day and just a few miles from the meeting of the tracks at Promontory, UT.


In which country was the locomotive invented?

The locomotive was first created in England by inventor George Stephenson. He employed a steam-powered engine to move along the steel tracks. He created the first locomotive in 1825. It was then introduced and manufactured in other countries, including the United States, by 1830.


How did Eli H. Janney contribute to the history of railroads?

Eli Janney was a famous woodworker and whittler who improved the method by which train cars were connected. The early way was a link and pin system. He improved upon this with what is known as a knuckle system.


Which person is responsible for encouraging investors to build the Transcontinental Railroad?

Theodore Judah was a railroad and civil engineer from Connecticut. He was involved in starting the Central Pacific Railroad in Sacramento, CA. He encouraged others to invest in a railroad that would connect the east and west coasts of the U.S.


What is the name of the high-speed train in France?

France's rail service, the fastest in the world, is called the TGV. The trains can travel at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour! These aerodynamic trains were created to minimize the environmental impact of the system.


"Hell on Wheels" is a term that refers to what?

"Hell on Wheels" refers to the small towns and villages that usually accompanied the railroads as they were being built. These towns were infamous for lawlessness. They were hotbeds for drinking, gambling and prostitution.


Which famous discovery increased the urgency to complete the Transcontinental Railroad?

In 1849, the discovery of gold in the hills of California sparked a frenzy of westward migration. This sudden demand for faster transportation served as the catalyst for new railroads that were built to bring people and supplies out west.


Who was known as the Big Four?

The "Big Four" refers to the four original investors of the Central Pacific Railroad. They were Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker, and were all brought together by Theodore Judah.


Which railroad featured a passenger car named Paul Revere?

The New York Central Railroad ran primarily in the Great Lakes area. It connected New York and Boston with areas such as Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis. The track featured a train car named after the famous American, Paul Revere.


Before trains, what was the fastest mode of passenger transportation?

The fastest mode of transportation before the train was the horse-drawn stagecoach, which averaged about seven miles per hour. The car and the airplane were both invented after the train. The train would shorten a months-long cross-country journey into a trip lasting several days.


How are current metro train systems powered?

Most modern train systems, including both above ground and subway systems, run on electric power. Earlier locomotives were steam-powered by burning wood and coal. Many modern train systems carry passengers long distances using diesel-powered engines.


Which kind of train is able to climb steep hills?

Cog-and-rack trains are able to climb steep hills using a toothed wheel that catches on a toothed rail, which pulls it up the slope. These trains are often found in the steep mountains of Europe.


What was the name of the world's first intercity train used to transport passengers?

George Stephenson, who invented the first steam-powered locomotive, created the Rocket. The Rocket, located England, was known as the first intercity passenger train. It ran between Liverpool and Manchester around 1829.


What is the name of the fastest steam-powered locomotive?

The Mallard was an English-built locomotive that reached a speed of 126 miles per hour in 1930. The record has never been matched by another steam-powered locomotive. The train maintained this speed for a couple of minutes.


Which city built the first underground train system?

London was the first city to build an underground metro railway system. The system was created in 1863 to relieve traffic congestion and is known today as the Underground or Tube system.


How do freight trains pull such long and heavy loads?

In order for a freight train to pull a heavy load, multiple engines are attached together to act as one. For long freights with hilly routes, up to eight engines may be required to pull the heavy loads.


Which country has the longest system of railways?

The United States has the longest railway system in the world. There are over 150,000 miles of rail track spanning the nation. About 80 percent of those railways are used by freight lines, and the other 20 percent are for passenger trains.


Which famous passenger train, now out of service, ran from Paris to Istanbul?

The Orient Express is the famous passenger train that ran from Paris to Istanbul from 1883-1977. It was known for its luxury and service. It has a place in pop culture lore as the setting for Agatha Christie's famous murder mystery novel, "Murder on the Orient Express."


Which of the following is the longest continuous railway ride in the world?

The China-Europe Block Train is the longest continuous ride on rails in the world. You can take a train from Spain all the way to Yiwu, China, a distance of 8,077 miles! The trip covers all of Europe and Asia.


What is the name of the system where trains operate on a single rail?

Some trains operate on a single rail system known as a monorail. The track looks like a beam, and the train moves along the top. The monorail system is popular for trains operating in Japan.


India has one of largest rail systems in the world. When did train service begin in India?

India has the fourth largest railway system in the world with half of its railway tracks operating on an electric system. The railway service in India began operation in 1853. Today, they have over 75,000 miles of railways.


What is the name of the oldest steam locomotive still in operation?

The Fairy Queen is the oldest steam-powered locomotive still in operation. The locomotive was built in England but started operation in Calcutta in 1855. The locomotive wasn't named the Fairy Queen until 1895.


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