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A passenger train crosses Stony Creek Bridge in the Rocky Mountains in 1878. Railroads were importan

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A passenger train crosses Stony Creek Bridge in the Rocky Mountains in 1878. Railroads were important first as an industry in themselves. Fewer than 35,000 miles of track existed when Lee laid down his sword at Appomattox. In 1875, ten years later, railroad mileage had more than doubled. Exceeding 74,000 miles, the skeleton of the nation’s railroad network was complete. Over the next two decades the skeleton was fleshed out. In 1890 the mature but still-growing system took in over $1 billion in passenger and freight revenues. (In comparison, the federal government’s income in 1890 was only $403 million.) The value of railroad properties and equipment was more than $8.7 billion. The national railroad debt of $5.1 billion was almost five times the national debt of $1.1 billion! By 1900 the nation had 193,000 miles of track.
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