Impact on travel time from the transcontinental railroad and average transportation speeds

An exhibit at the Huntington Library called Visions of Empire: The Quest for a Railroad Across America, 1840-1880 had a display describing coast-to-coast travel time:

  • 6 months – before the trans-continental railroad. ( I think that was before the stage coach lines were in place.)
  • 1 week – after the railroad was completed

Twenty-six weeks versus one week. That would be a 96% reduction in travel time.

The exhibit also had a display listing the average speed of travel in miles per hour:

  • 3 mph – foot
  • 10 – horse – (obviously a single rider)
  • 4-7 – wagon – (multiple passengers and a large load)
  • 5-10 – ship (no further explanation on the display – presumably this would be for sail driven ships of the mid 19th century)
  • 15 – train, mid-19th-century steam
  • 20-70 – automobile (obviously this would be into the 20th century)
  • 600 – airplane

The alternative to the train was a wagon.  An increase from 4 or 7 mph to 15 mph.  That is a doubling or tripling of travel speeds over an established route.

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