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Study notes

The Pacific Railroad Act 1862

  • Levels: GCSE
  • Exam boards: Edexcel

The Pacific Railroad Act facilitated the creation of the First Transcontinental Railroad, a huge railway line that connected the east of the USA to the west. Prior to the American Civil War, disagreement between the northern and southern states prevented the creation of this railroad. The northern states supported the railroad as it connected California to its big industrial cities. However the southern states recognised that an east to west railroad would be of no benefit to them, and would actually put them at a disadvantage. Therefore, like the Homestead Act, the Pacific Railroad Act was only passed once the southern states left the USA to form their own confederacy. 

The Pacific Railroad Act facilitated the creation of the First Transcontinental Railroad, a huge railway line that connected the east of the USA to the west. Prior to the American Civil War, disagreement between the northern and southern states prevented the creation of this railroad. The northern states supported the railroad as it connected California to its big industrial cities. However the southern states recognised that an east to west railroad would be of no benefit to them, and would actually put them at a disadvantage. Therefore, like the Homestead Act, the Pacific Railroad Act was only passed once the southern states left the USA to form their own confederacy.

 

The Act divided the huge job of constructing the railroad between two companies – the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific. The Central Pacific Railroad would start it Sacramento and build east, and the Union Pacific Railroad would start at Omaha and build west. The two would then meet in the middle to form the Transcontinental Railroad.

 

The Pacific Railroad Act stated that the government would loan each company $16,000 per miles of track ($48,000 for mountain areas) and would terminate any right Plans Indians had to the land along the railroad. Both companies found the task very difficult. It is thought around 12,000 men died in the process of building the railroad. Furthermore, both companies nearly went bankrupt and sometimes resorted to lying about how much track they had laid in order to get more government money. 

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