The Topic:

Easier - A railroad is a system of transport made up of trains, tracks, stations, and other equipment. Because railroads can carry large cargo over great distances in a single trip, they use less fuel and produce less pollution than cars and trucks.
Harder - A train is a group of connected railroad cars that are powered by steam, diesel fuel, or electricity. A locomotive is normally the engine car out front. A caboose is the car that is usually last. Other cars may carry freight or people.
A train runs on a railway or a path of rails. Traditionally, the railway contains a pair of parallel metal rails. There are enough tracks in the world to circle the earth more than 100 times. Switches are intersections that move trains from one stretch of track to another. The places where railways and roads cross are very dangerous. There are many accidents every year at railroad crossings.
The ancient Greeks thought of the idea for a railroad. They used deep grooves in the ground to move heavy wagons. By the 15th century, Europeans used hand-carts on wooden rails.
The first modern railroads were built over 150 years ago. The first stream locomotive was built in England by Richard Trevithick in 1803. The 1800 mile transcontinental railroad linked the east and west coast of the United States in 1869. The Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads met in Promontory Point, Utah. A ceremony used a golden spike to link the two tracks. The east and west coasts were linked again in the late 1880s with the completion of the Canadian transcontinental railroad. In 1904, the longest railway at 5,787 miles was completed in Russia.
The Native Americans called the train an 'iron horse.' Many small towns evolved along the railroads causing increased tension in the American west. Trains opened North America from coast to coast across both the United States and Canada. They also linked land masses in other parts of the world. Trains allowed the quick movement of large numbers of people and products over large distances. Trains also dramatically increased the speed of communication.
Today, there are many types of trains. For example, San Francisco is known for their historic cable cars. Many cities contain underground systems called subways trains.
Because they are so fuel efficient, some people think that trains are the transportation of the future. For example, Japan has a high speed train powered by magnetic force, and France has a high-speed train powered by electricity. Others think that railroads are dying as the tracks and trains are being replaced by airplanes and trucks.
Canada Science and Technology Museum: Trains
Explore common questions about stream engines including: What is a steam train? What part of the train makes it move? What is a steam locomotive? What are the parts of a steam locomotive? What makes the locomotive wheels turn? What is a railway track? Why does a locomotive stay on the rail? How does a steam locomotive work? Who makes the train go? What tasks does the train crew perform?
Within This Website:
2) Steamin': Information for Teachers
Other Canadian Railway Websites:
3) Dates in Canadian Railway History
4) Railways of Canada Archives
National Railway Museum
Take a virtual tour of the world's largest railroad museum located in the United Kingdom. This site contains excellent online exhibits on the topics of railroad photography, railroad posters, and roadroad art. They also have a nice links list.
Other Websites from Europe:
2) Harcourt St. Line (Ireland)
3) Railways of the 19th Century
Railway Technology - Current Projects
Explore current railway projects around the world including high speed railways, light rail systems, heavy railways, and metro systems. The website contains links to hundreds of current railroad projects including background information, maps, and other information about the projects.
Steel Rails and Iron Horses by C. Barna, R. Brook and E. Reiben from the Bureau of Land Management
A detailed history of the railroad industry in the United States is available here. This website also contains classroom activities. It also provides a nice page on the transcontinental railroad.
More U.S. Transcontinental Railroad Sites:
2) Driving the Last Spike from the Museum of the City of San Francisco
3) First American Transcontinental Railroad
4) Iron Road at PBS American Experience
5) Leland Stanford (1824-1893) at PBS: People in the West
6) Leland Stanford . .
7) Taming the Web Lesson
8) Transcontinental Railroad Lesson
Using the websites, complete the following activities:
Have Some Fun With Trains. (Pre-school-Grade 2) Read a simple page on trains. Click on over to the Fun with Trains site. Here come three different trains. See what you can see that is different. You can also print out and color some trains at My Trains Coloring Book. Learn about a train named Thomas. Hold a train party.
Send an Electronic Post Card. Check out historic railroad station postcards. Choose an electronic post card from My Write to your pal about trains.
Create a Diagram. Compare and contrast modern locomotives and steam locomotives. Create a Venn diagram showing the similarities and differences.
Make a Map. Explore the historical railroad maps of the United States. Select an area and create your own map.
Plan a Trip. Many people ride the Amtrak railroad. Where would you like to visit? Plan a trip. Use the planning information at the Amtrak site.
Design a "Rail-to-Trail Park". Visit the Rails-to-Trails website. Many old railroad lines have been turned into walking, hiking, and biking trails. Choose a railroad anywhere in the world that you think would make a good trail. How long would the trail be? What would people see on the trail? Do you think the park project is a good idea?
Nominate a Railroad Hero. Read about the people who owned and built the railroads. Select the person you think made the biggest contribution to railroad history. Create a special stamp for that person along with a letter stating why the stamp should be made.
Highball a Story. The railroad has lots of slang words such as "bee line". Read the list of slang. Write a historic story that includes railroad slang.
Relive the Depression-era Railroads. The railroads played an important role in the Depression. Many people "rode the rails" in search of jobs. The railroad jobs were difficult to get. Check out the salary of a railroad worker in the Depression. Then, find out about the cost of living. Could you live on the salary of a railroad worker? Use the Then and Now chart for prices.
Make a Timeline. Create a timeline comparing US and Canadian railroad history. Now, read about the Trans-Siberian Railway. Compare it to the transcontinental railroad in the US or Canada.
Read about Chinese Railroad Workers. Who built the transcontinental railroad? Read the book Dragon's Gate by Laurence Yep to learn more about the Chinese workers. Learn more at Chinese and Golden Hands.
Trace the Role of Women. Women have played an interesting role in railroad history. Learn about the roles women played during World War I and II in England. Learn about the roles of women on railroads in the United States.
Ride the Orphan Train. Learn about the Orphan Trains. Write a story about what it was like to be a child on an orphan train.
Make a Mural. Create a wall mural running along a hallway. Each car should represent something that often moves by rail. Create a map showing the current, popular rail lines in North America.
Picture the Railroad. Use the Railroad Clipart Collection to identify images that represent different aspects of railroad history. Explore FreePhotos: Modern, FreePhotos: Stream, and FreePhotos: WorldWide, and Conrail Cyclopedia for photographs. Create a collage showing some aspect of the railroad industry in the past, present, or future.
Design a Railroad Herald. Each railroad has its own logo. Explore railroad heralds. List characteristics of these heralds. For example, do they tell you about the name of the railroad or place that they originate? Then, invent your own railroad and design a herald. Explain why you create the design you made.
Create a Railroad Station. Learn to read a railroad schedules. Create your own train, rail line and schedule. Create a rail station in your classroom. Design railroad posters for your station.
Explore a Subway. There are subways around the world. Choose a subway from the map and learn more about the city that contains this form of transportation.
Demonstrate How Trains Work. How do trains work? Read about How Steam Engines Work and How the Maglev Train Works. Create a series of posters or a slide show reviewing how a train works.
Create a Railroad Quiz. Read the Operation Life Saver, Rail Safety, Focus on Safety, and Safety Resources. Create a short skit or speech to tell younger children about the importance of railroad safety. Or, create a short video about driving safety and railroads.
Send a Train. Locate a railroad track near your school. Send a toy train from school to school along the railway. Each school should write in a journal about the train and their community. Share your experiences on the Internet.
Take a Train Quiz. What do you know about trains? Read the page about trains. Create a list of things you remember. Now, take the Advanced Train Quiz, Intermediate Train Quiz, or Beginner Train Quiz. Now, read the Train Era page and take the quiz.
Complete a Railroad WebQuest. Use or adapt the following webquest:
1) Transcontinental Railroad Quest (Grade 8)
Websites By Kids For Kids
How with West Was Sung (ThinkQuest)
This project discusses trains, the transcontinental roadroad, and Promontory, Utah
More Railroad Sites
All Aboard
This site focuses on the role of the railroads in protecting, promoting, and selling Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks.
American Railroad Women Research Project
Learn about the roles that women have played on the railroad through history.
Other Women and Railroad Sites:
2) Railway Women in Wartime
B&O Railroad Museum
This museum is dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of American railroading through the history and storiesof the B&O Railroad, the C&O Railway, the Western Maryland Railway, and the railroads of the mid-Atlantic region.
Other Railroad Museums:
2) California State Railroad Museum
3) History of the Railway
Central Pacific Railroad
The Central Pacific Railroad website contains resources and links to the western half of the transcontinental railroad.
Related Website:
2) Central Pacific Railroad History
3) Central Pacific Railroad . . .
City Transformed by B. Dreyfus
This article is about railroads and their influence on the growth of Chicago in the 1850s.
Clip Art Collection
This site provides a collection of train clip art featuring railroad signs, rolling stock (cars), railroaders, and railroad structures. You can also find pictures of steam, diesel, traction, and electric engines and locomotives.
Related Railroad Image Websites:
2) 30 Years of Railroading with the Great Northern
3) Steam Locomotives and Other Railroad Images by K. Teague
Danger Ahead: Historic Railway Disasters
This website contains examples of railway disasters of the past and present.
Federal Railroad Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation
This comprehensive site contains a wide variety of railway information for the United States and the World.
Not To Be Missed Section:
2) Education, Career Development, and Safety Awareness
Fun Facts about Railroads at the Kids Corner of the Railroad Retirement Board
Here you can learn some fun facts about railroads including Depression-era information, railroad nicknames, and slogans. The site also has railroad maps and other information.
George Stephenson 1781 - 1848 at BBC Online
Examine the biography and timeline for this inventor and creator of the railway system.
Related Websites:
2) George Stephenson
3) George Stephenson: Father of Railway Transportation at the Estonian Railway Museum
Golden Spike National Historic Park
This National Historic Parks contains information about the completion of the world's first transcontinental railroad. It occurred at the park location where the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads met on May 10, 1869.
Other US National Parks and Historic Sites Related to Trains:
2) Allegheny Portage Railroad
3) Mojave National Preserve
History Channel: Railroads
This page provides information about the history of the railroad in the United States.
Other Pages a Website:
2) Railroad
How Steam Engines Work by M. Brain at How Stuff Works
This article describes how steam engines in locomotives work.
Other Railroad Sites at How Stuff Works:
2) How Maglev Trains Will Work by K. Bonser
James J. Hill by C. Muller
Unlike other railroad builders such as CorneliusVanderbilt who built their railroads around a population, Hill built a population around his railroad.
North American Railroad Terminal
This site houses the North American Tourist Railroad and Railroad Museum directory. Find the sites that are near you!
Orphan Trains at PBS American Experience
Read about the trains that carried orphaned and neglected children from cities in the northeast to the midwest. Includes a transcript from the PBS show.
Other Websites about the Orphan Trains:
2) Iowa Orphan Train Project
3) Orphan Trains
4) Orphan Trains of Kansas
5) They Rode the Orphan Trains
Rail Center of the Nation (Student essay at
The nation network of railroads laid from 1848 through the Civil War, and the steam powered locomotives that traversed them, supplied Chicago with vast new markets, resources, and people who quickly transformed it from a quiet Frontier village into a highly populated industrial powerhouse.
Railroad History at the National Railroad Museum, Green Bay, WI
Exploring Americas railroad heritage with museums, collections and exhibits about the railroad.
Another Railroad History Websites:
2) Train Era at Transportation and Public Transit
Railroad Maps: 1828-1900 at American Memory, Library of Congress
This railroad maps collection represents an important historical record, illustrating the growth of travel and settlement as well as the development of industry and agriculture in the United States.
Related Website:
2) 1891 Grain Dealers and Shippers Gazetteer (Railroad maps index)
Riding the Rails from PBS American Experience
Learn about the lives of teen hobos who traveled around the country by hopping freight trains during the Depression.
More Hobo Websites:
2) Hobo Jungle
3) Hobo Signs & Symbols
4) The Road (Online novel by Jack London)
Railroad Invention and History
Explore links to information about the history of railroad invention and history.
Rail Safety from the Railroad Commission of Texas
This site is devoted to crossing safety education. Find information in three sections: (1) Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety, (2) Railroad Pedestrian Safety, and (3) School Bus Safety .
Other Railroad Safety WebSites:
2) Operation Lifesaver
Streamliners from PBS American Experience
Visit the companion site to this PBS show; site includes a timeline, film summary, and a photo gallery.
Related Website:
2) Pioneer Zephr from Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago
Thomas the Tank Engine
Thomas the Tank Engine is a popular story.
Other Thomas Train Websites:
2) Drew's
Find tons of news and info here about model trains, real trains, plus rail travel and safety. Take a look at the web cams too!
Union Pacific Railroad History
Learn all about the rich history of this railroad, its equipment, locations, important people, and more.
Not To Be Missed Sections:
2) It's Just Railroad Talk
3) Union Pacific Railroad Photo Gallery
Vehicles - Trains
This simple page contains basic information about trains. The page also links to a quiz.
Other Easy-to-Read Train Pages:
2) Beginner Level Train
3) Train Era
Webville and Hypertext Railroad Company by C. Coleman
It is neither a real company nor a real railroad, rather it is a site for the archiving of historical and informational documents and binaries concerning railroads, railfanning, and model railroading.
Websites For Teachers
Chattanooga, Tennessee: Train Town
Explore information and lessons related to historic train stations and towns.
Chinese Railway Workers
Learn about the role Chinese people played in constructing the transcontinental railroad.
Discovery Channel: Lesson Plans: Railroad (Grades 6-8) . . .
Explore the historical role of trains. The lesson also compares that costs of different methods of travel.
Grade 5 Train Trip
This lesson involves students in math and planning a train trip.
Railroads in Antebellum Augusta and Franklin Counties
This lesson focuses on historical documents and railroads in the 1800s.
Promotory Point, UT
Union Pacific
Central Pacific
Tom Thumb
freight train
steam engine
box car
flat car
tank car
diesel engine
train yard
rail crossing
rail line
sleeping car
gandy dancer
Lionel model trains
high speed railway
Underground Railroad
train brakes
Doppler effect
Trans-Siberian Railway
Created by Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson, 2/01. Updated by King Family, 11/04.