Air-line railroad

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An air-line railroad was a railroad that was relatively flat and straight, choosing a shorter route over an easier route. In their heyday, which was prior to aviation, they were often referred to simply as "air lines." For example, a 1903 novel indicates a character's success by noting his position as "superintendent of passenger traffic of the New York and Chicago Air Line."[1]

Dictionary definition[edit]

Webster's 1913 dictionary gives the definition "Air line, a straight line; a bee line. Hence Air-line, adj.; as, air-line road." (As of 2005 this meaning has fallen into disuse.)


Air line railroads began to be built in the mid-nineteenth century; in 1853 the New York Daily Times ran a satirical article mocking the trend, suggesting that it was glamorous new technology and that the glamor was being used to float dubious investments:

The "air-line" is three miles and nine-thirteenths shorter from Quattlebum to Squashtown than the present traveled route by the Conger Creek railroad.... Though we know there is already a railroad in operation between Quattlebum and Squash Town, parallel with and not far from our air-line... we feel satisfied that the immense current of travel, now passing by Conger Creek, must be changed, in the twinkling of an eye, to the air-line road. What sane individual, starting at Quattlebum and bound for Squash, will take the Conger Creek road when he can go by way of Shootsburg in two minutes less time, and at very little more cost?[2]

List of air line railroads[edit]

Routes following an air-line trajectory[edit]

Several train routes followed a direct path. In some instances they took more time than indirect trains that shared the same start and end points.


  1. ^ Wister, Owen (1903), Philosophy 4: A Story of Harvard University. Macmillan, New York, 1903
  2. ^ The New York Daily Times, January 31, 1853, p. 2