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Presenter : Zay Harding

The American Transcontinental Railroad

Exploring the rich history of railroads in the USA this episode takes us on an incredible 3000 mile journey across America. Traveling from the Atlantic to the Pacific, through 4 time zones and 12 states we experience some of the most epic landscapes and stunning scenery that North America has to offer. From the very earliest steam locomotives in the 1830s railroads have fundamentally shaped the USA as we know it today, enabling trade, spreading ideas and facilitating mass migration and settlement across the country.

This episode takes on one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century – the Transcontinental Railroad, a monumental line that united the country and changed the history of America forever.

The start of this adventure takes us back in time and immerses our intrepid traveler Zay Harding in the romantic world of steam locomotives. After looking at some of the oldest engines in America at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum, Zay travels to Strasburg where is allowed to get hands on and learn how these magnificent machines work. Shovelling coal, checking pressure gauges and eventually taking the driving seat himself, Zay realizes a childhood dream and is allowed to truly let off some steam.

Heading up the coast on the first of many rail journey’s our next stop is America’s largest city, New York, where we take a behind the scenes tour of Grand Central Terminal, the biggest, busiest train station in the world. Following that we head to Chicago, the freight capital of the USA, where we discover the crucial role the railroads played in the civil war and jump aboard Amtrak’s California Zephyr, a route that will take us all the way to California. Heading west we stop briefly at Omaha, to see where the Union Pacific started its transcontinental dreams before traveling to Denver where we step into the Wild West. Zay gets the opportunity to visit one of America’s last remaining mining railroads and learns how the railways affected the Native American communities living on the plains.

Leaving Denver we experience one of the most unforgettable and spectacular rail journeys in the world as the train carves its way through the peaks of the snow-capped Rockies and into the deserts of Utah. After 7 years of gruelling work laying tracks through some of the toughest terrain in the country, the transcontinental line was made a reality in 1869 and in Utah we visit the historic spot where the railroad was completed.

Our next destination is Truckee in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains where Zay takes a look at the toughest parts of construction and finds out about the dangerous work tirelessly carried out by Chinese labourers who were instrumental in blasting their way through some of the hardest granite in the world.

Zay’s final train journey takes him to Sacramento the home of the Central Pacific, where he catches a boat to sunny San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean. The transcontinental railroad is one of America’s most celebrated achievements in history and today it is one of the greatest rail journeys in the world.


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