For both the United States and Canada, the creation of railroads connecting Pacific and Atlantic coasts solidified each as continental nations. The significance of that link, this writer believes, is often underestimated by contemporary North American society. When the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads met in 1869, travel across the US went from 6 months to just over a week. The introduction of modern time zones in 1883 – reflected in the resetting screens of today’s travelling smartphones – resulted from the national railroads’ desire to synchronize train schedules. Train tracks across the West were a major factor in the movement – both culturally and physically – toward the modern world.

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Great Trains WEST (2016), a special issue from Classic Trains Magazine, celebrates rail travel across the American West during the “golden age” of the streamliners, primarily from the 1930s to 1950s. Streamliners were designed to lessen air resistance, featuring a lightweight body and diesel engine packaged in a sleek look. This writer visited one of the most famous streamliners at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry this past January – the Burlington Zephyr. 

On May 26, 1934, that train made a pre-planned – and record – run from Denver to Chicago in just 13 hours. During that 1,015 mile trip, the Zephyr (derived from the Greek god of the west wind, Zephyrus) reached a top speed of over 112 miles per hour and averaged almost 78 mph. You can’t do that in a car in 2016!         

Zephyr (Chicago)
Image – Chad Beharriell

Great Trains WEST is a 124-page large format issue that features stories of such trains as the California Zephyr and the Empire Builder. The names of those trains are carried forward today by Amtrak across the West. Further information about the issue can be found at Great Trains WEST

(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)

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