Explore Rail History is a comprehensive record of railroad history encompassing over 200,000 entries including 22,000 Railroad histories 78,000 bibliographic records (books, articles, maps, annual reports, etc), 25,000 location and facilities, a glossary of terms, biographic listings, passenger train names and locomotive specifications. 

The data contained in these reports is maintained in a computer database, and the reports that you see are generated by that database. The Report Design/formatting and database design is protected by a copyright issued by the U.S. Government Copyright Office.

The project began over 30 years ago, providing the answers to about 2 million questions such as “Who, What, When, Where and Why” along with other related historic information. Explore Rail History begins with:

(1) Who were the railroads, when and where did they operate, and how long (miles) were they? Were they standard gauge or narrow gauge? Where can I find more information? For an example click here.

(2) What cities did they serve? What facilities and structures were constructed there (Roundhouses, yards, bridges, tunnels, stations) For an example click here.

(3) Where can I find more information about these railroads, facilities and structures? (Books, Drawings, Maps, Timetables, Annual Reports, and more). For an example click here.

The database provides fast and intuitive access using menus to large amounts of historic data. Most of the data is generated automatically by preprogrammed routines speeding the access to information:

Intuitive access: the data has been coded to enable specific types of information to be recalled quickly and easily. Most data is cross-referenced by Railroad Name, Location (City, State, Country), and Subject or Category. For example, within the Railroad histories, each railroad is coded as to its type: RR-representing common carriers, RBL: locomotive builder, RCS: Street Railway, Class I, Class II, Narrow gauge/Wide Gauge and so forth; Other searches allow one to search by mileage and terminus. Locations and Facilities have codes to distinguish Yards (LY), Shops (LS), Roundhouses (LER), Stations (LP) and other types. Many cities have a City Overview, which highlights the city’s history, key economic growth factors and industrial firms, and how the railroads made that possible. State Overviews provide a history of the state, its economic growth and how the railroads made that possible. Look for links that are highlighted in yellow or green. These are the most important for most people.

Style: Historic comments are presented in a “what’s important first” format, followed by more detailed historic comments.

Why is this database important? The data represents our country’s history. Much of the early expansion of the country and rapid economic growth from the early 1800’s to the 1950’s was the direct result of railroad construction and transport access:

    • Many of our towns and cities were founded by the railroad: Many of the important cities west of Ohio and Virginia owe their existence and/or early economic vitality to rail access;
    • Railroad access speeded transportation compared with other modes of transport, which accelerated the growth of many areas; Railroads continue to provide vital passenger and freight transportation links today; and
    • Many towns were “Railroad Towns” in which the railroad employed most of the labor force, or was the largest employer in town. The database provides important insights into these locations and more.
    • You will also find important information that will be useful in genealogical searches and for finding where a railroad employee worked.
    • The database is designed to provide rapid access to information with minimal research. Users can “explore” as much or as little information as desired quickly with little effort. More than 1 million reference sources are quoted – how much time would it take to research all of this, when you can have instant access at your fingertips?

Implementation schedule

Phase I will provide over 100 pdfs summarizing the most important information in the database. It is available today

Phase II will provide a series of eBooks taken from the Bibliographic and Information Sources data. I expect this will occur by early 2023. Most eBooks will be cross referenced by railroad, subject, and location. Initial books will include:

  1. A bibliography of railroad books including cross references by author and publisher
  2. An index to YouTube Railroad videos

Phase II is dependent on an upgrade from my software vendor and other factors-but I expect it will not be available until mid 2024 at the earliest. This software upgrade will be a major change adding the ability for PC’s and iPads to access the database directly: this function does not exist today. I am hoping (65% odds) this will happen. Currently, I use almost all of the functionality on my computer that will come in the future.  For an example click here.

After this upgrade, if you are looking for a book, you will simply type the book title (one or more words), author (or publisher), or a key search word and you will find the answer. Likewise you will be able to search for a railroad history by entering the railroad name (or part of the name), or AAR code to access the record. The same capability will exist for locations and structure histories. Many historic books and articles published prior to 1930 have been scanned, and the full text and images are available for access on the internet. The database contains the links that will allow you to access full text for many books and articles.

Coal, Gold, Logging: In addition to “common carrier” railroads, many private and specialized railroads played an important part in our country’s growth. The Bibliography, Location, and Railroad histories all incorporate references to these important activities and provide separate listings of these railroads.

Your Comments, updates and corrections are appreciated: When corresponding to me by email, please specify the “Report #” that appears at the top and end of the Report title; example “RR-Name ALL (AAR code, Gauge, Mileage, grade, Dates, Route, Business Type) #100

Comments about using the database:

Railroad Name abbreviations: Virtually all formal railroad names containing “Fort”, “Mount” or “Saint” have been changed to “Ft.”, “Mt.”, and “St.”. Names containing “ and “ are converted to “ & “ (ie, Chicago, Burlington and Quincy is changed to “Chicago, Burlington & Quincy. Railroad names formatted as “Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy or Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy” are changed to “Chicago, Burlington & Quincy”. This is required to provide consistency and reliability of text retrievals. The Bibliography, however, generally does not change the original text, but provides the preferred format in [parentheses].

Data overlap between tables in the database: If you are searching for information about a specific railroad, you should look at the railroad history file first: There may be additional information about a specific railroad in the Bibliographic table, and even more in the Locations and Facilities table (yards, shops, and stations). Each of the latter can be searched for a specific railroad.

The version of the database being published today is provided in pdf summary forms accessed from links to the www.ExploreRailHistory.com web site.

Common Questions answered by “full access database upgrade”:

      1. Where can I find information about an obscure railroad or location? If the particular railroad or location you are looking for does not appear in the Railroad History or Location and Facility files, look in the Bibliographic data. Many historic railroad publications appear here, with cross-references to a specific railroad or location.
      2. I am trying to find information about something that isn’t a railroad, location, or facility. Where do I look?
        • Take a look at the “Topic Menu”; it summarizes the major types of information that are available in the database. It uses a “point and click” interface-simply point the cursor or mouse at the desired data, and a preprogramed report will be automatically generated.
        • Look at the “Subject” code list, and then find the corresponding subject code cross reference for the Bibliography.
        • Look at the “Info Type” list, which describes the different classifications of data that appears in the Bibliography. There is a pdf that lists all of the Bibliographic information by Info Type.
        • Look at the “Abbreviations and Commonly Used Terms” list; this list contains frequently used terms or phrases found in the Bibliography.
      3. I am trying to find a particular publisher or author. Where do I look? Almost all of the Bibliographic entries are cross-referenced by publisher and author.
      4. Some of the pdf’s on this website are very long. How can I quickly find the information I am looking for? Answer: the pdf’s are searchable. Find the Adobe pdf search box in the upper right corner of the pdf and enter the term than you are searching for. In general, you will be able to search for a Railroad name, a City, State/Province code (2 character), a Country, and any other information that appears in the pdf.
      5. I am looking for a particular city, state or country, but I can’t find a specific reference. What should I do? Answer: Search the Railroad name file using the city name as your query (see Question 5 above). Most railroads (particularly the early railroads) were named for the cities that they traversed. Thus by querying the railroad name (s) for the city that you are interested in, you may find the answer to your question. Railroads are also cross-referenced by terminus, permitting one to find the railroads that had their primary terminal in a particular city or county. In addition, the Facilities and structures listings are in city, state, country sequence. Also, attached to this web site under the “Railroad History” category, you will find a number of xls spreadsheets, containing 10,000’s of additional railroad names, which can queried by city, state or country. These railroads will be added to the database in the future.
      6. I am looking for information regarding a particular railroad that is not listed in the database. How can I find more information about this railroad? Answer: Use Google search. See: Using the Internet for additional information in this document. Also, attached to this web site under the “Railroad History” category, you will find a number of xls spreadsheets, containing 10,000’s of additional railroad names. Most of the spreadsheets can be sorted by Railroad name. These railroads will be added to the database in the future.
      7. I am looking for a specific type of railroad, not a common carrier. Where do I look? Answer: attached to the web site you will find a series of pdfs that list only street railways, logging railways, coal mining railways, etc.

Why are certain data fields colored yellow, or green?

Yellow means an important item: indicates either a large number of photographs, drawings, railroad mileage, or size of a facility

Green means a very important resource; either a photograph, drawing or map of a facility (example: a roundhouse or station), or a very important Bibliographic resource, either because of its rarity, historic importance or other reason.

Red represents a book or article containing recollections or interviews with persons regarding some aspect of railroad history. (Bibliographic resources only)

Violet represents a video, such as YouTube. (Bibliographic resources only)

Report Column Headings:

Gauge or Gage – is expressed in Feet and Inches for US, Canada and Mexico; Metric for remainder of world

Grade – represents the maximum grade found on this railroad, including branch lines. This is the historic maximum grade, prior to the construction of tunnels, etc.

Miles – represents the maximum mileage for this railroad not the current mileage.

Route – represents the principal route for this railroad.