Technology and Culture reviews Twilight Rails

By Donna DeBlasio
Technology and Culture

The network of rail lines that spread throughout the United States by the end of the nineteenth century proved to be one of the engineering marvels in American history. Contrasted with the excitement that nineteenth-century railroads generated when the industry was still relatively young, rail lines constructed in the first few decades of the twentieth century—twilight rails—traditionally were seen by historians as business failures and lacking in the positive community impact that the older lines had during the heyday of railroad construction. One of the premier historians of railroad history, H. Roger Grant, refutes the long-held interpretation of the twentieth-century lines in Twilight Rails: The Final Era of Railroad Building in the Midwest. Grant believes that the twilight rails were very important to the communities where entrepreneurs intended to build new lines. News of a new rail line generated publicity and much excitement—not to mention local investors—in communities scheduled to receive the benefit of the iron horse. While a number of these lines proved to be ephemeral or were only partially completed, they nonetheless were far more successful than was previously believed.

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