Learning Lincoln On-line


The Transcontinental Railroad & the Pacific Railway Act, 1862-- the Building of the First Transcontinental Railroad--   Goes with the Lincoln's War Politics #4

First Transcontinental Railroad Fact Box


The ceremony for the driving of the "Last Spike" at Promontory Summit, Utah, May 10, 1869



United States


Omaha, Nebraska
(Council Bluffs, Iowa)
Alameda Terminal, starting September 6, 1869; Oakland Long Wharf, starting November 8, 1869
(San Francisco Bay)



May 10, 1869; 150 years ago


U.S. Government


Central Pacific
Union Pacific


Line length

3,007 km (1,868 mi)

Track gauge

1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge


Map of the line



1863-1869: Union Pacific built west (blue line), Central Pacific built east (red line) and Western Pacific built the last leg (green line) to complete the first transcontinental railroad to the Pacific






Lincoln and Grenville Dodge, in 1859, discuss the best route for the transcontinental railroad

Why a Transcontinental Railroad?

In 1861-In Lincoln's mind-- the new cross-country line would--

1 . . .support the Civil War effort.
2 . . .support communities and military outposts on the frontier
3 . . .give settlers safe and dependable passage west.
4 . . .tie new states California and Oregon to the rest of the country. These states were rich with natural resources and trade potential, and their place on the flag was far from secure. Little more than a decade had passed since Oregon was claimed by Great Britain, and California was part of Mexico. Even after becoming a state, California had its own secessionist movement.
5 . . . bring the entire nation closer together would make Americans across the continent feel like one people.
The Pacific Railway Act of 1862 began federal government grant of lands directly to corporations; before that act, the land grants were made to the states, for the benefit of corporations.


Lincoln and Grenville Dodge, in 1859, discuss the best route for the transcontinental railroad

The Pacific Railway Act Passed by Congress, and Signed into Law by president Lincoln.

The original 1862 Act's long title was An Act to aid in the construction of a railroad and telegraph line from the Missouri river to the Pacific Ocean, and to secure to the government the use of the same for postal, military, and other purposes.

The Pacific Railroad Acts of 1862 were a series of acts of Congress that promoted the construction of a "transcontinental railroad" (the Pacific Railroad) in the United States through authorizing the issuance of government bonds and the grants of land to railroad companies. The War Department under then Secretary of War Jefferson Davis was authorized by the Congress in 1853 to conduct surveys of five different potential transcontinental routes from the Mississippi ranging from north to south and submitted a massive twelve volume report to Congress with the results in early 1855. But no route or bill could be agreed upon and passed authorizing the Government's financial support and land grants until the secession of the southern states in 1861 removed their opposition to a central route. The Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 was the original act. Some of its provisions were subsequently modified, expanded, or repealed by four additional amending Acts: The Pacific Railroad Act of 1863 Pacific Railroad Act of 1864 Pacific Railroad Act of 1865 and Pacific Railroad Act of 1866.


The Construction of the Railway

 Abraham Lincoln affected the construction of the transcontinental railroad by pushing for and overseeing its construction. Prior to the Civil War, Southern delegates opposed the railroad's construction because they felt it catered too strongly to free states and would result in more free territories on the continent.



Chinese Immigrants are Hired to Build the Great Railway.  Click Here to Read about Chinese Immigration and even about Chinese History.

What do the abbreviations stand for?

UT=Utah Territory WPRC=Western Pacific Railroad Company CPRC OF CALIF.=Central Pacific Railroad Company

         The First Transcontinental Railroad (known originally as the "Pacific Railroad" and later as the "Overland Route") was a 1,907-mile contiguous railroad line constructed between 1863 and 1869 across the western United States to connect the Pacific coast at San Francisco Bay with the existing Eastern U.S. rail network at Council Bluffs, Iowa, on the Missouri River. The rail line was built by three private companies: the original Western Pacific Railroad Company between Oakland and Sacramento, California (132 mi), the Central Pacific Railroad Company of California eastward from Sacramento to Promontory Summit, Utah Territory (U.T.) (690 mi), and the Union Pacific Railroad Company westward to Promontory Summit from the road's statutory Eastern terminus at Council Bluffs on the eastern shore of the Missouri River opposite Omaha, Nebraska (1,085 mi).  The rail line was built by three private companies over public lands provided by extensive US land grants. Construction was financed by both state and US government subsidy bonds as well as by company issued mortgage bonds.

Go to Wikipedia to read details of the politicians, plans, and leadership.


Follow the Timeline---

Timeline of the History of the Transcontinental Railroad




First American railroad (horse-drawn) opens in Massachusetts.


There are 3,000 miles of railroad lines in the eastern United States.


Congress authorizes a survey of the proposed Pacific Railroad.


Abraham Lincoln and Greenville Dodge discuss the best route for a Pacific Railroad.


The American Civil War.


Congress passes (and Lincoln signs) the Pacific Railroad Act.


Spetember 26, 1863 - Central Pacific begins contruction east from Sacramento, California.


November 2, 1863 - Union Pacific breaks ground at Omaha, Nebraska, but lack of funding delays construction.


Union Pacific lays its first track from Omaha. Central Pacific solves labor shortage by hiring Chinese construction workers.


Central Pacific finishes the tunnel summit and crosses the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Union Pacific crosses the Rockies.


Attacks on the railroad by Sioux, Cheyenne, and other Plains tribes causes the United States government to force the tribes onto reservations.


May 10, 1869 - A ceremony marks the driving of the final spikes of the transcontinental railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah.

Visit the U.S. Military Railroad System Page

Learning On-Line Home Page