Railroads and Geography

One of the central technologies of the Industrial Revolution, and perhaps the most important child of the steam engine, was the railroad, which, along with steamships, played a central role in giving birth to radically new geographies of social and economic life. Railroads were central to the rise of modern capitalism and the opening up of continental interiors through rapid, cheap, and dependable transportation and were thus the most explicit symbol of the vast wave of time-space compression unleashed throughout the 19th century. In addition to their ability to shuttle people, railroads could move heavy loads over long overland stretches, but not in areas with too steep a grade, reducing land transport costs by as much as 95%.

This entry first reviews the evolution of the ...

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