Oldest railroads in North America
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Early experimental railroads
- 1720: A railroad is reportedly used in the construction of the French fortress at Louisburg, Nova Scotia.
- 1764: Between 1762 and 1764 a gravity railroad (mechanized tramway) (Montresor's Tramway) is built by British military engineers at the Niagara Portage in Lewiston, New York. Designed by Captain John Montresor, it replaced manual labor performed by Seneca porters and was in use until the early 1800s
- 1795: A wooden railway on Beacon Hill in Boston carries excavations down the hill to clear the land for the State House.
- 1799: Boston developers begin to reduce the height of Mount Vernon before building streets and homes. Silas Whitney constructs a gravity railroad to move excavated material down the hill to fill marshy areas to create new land from the Back Bay.
- 1809: In September, an experimental railroad is built next to a Philadelphia tavern by a millwright named Somerville. The track, built for Thomas Leiper, has a grade of 1-1/2 inch to the yard (1 : 24 or about 4%) over its total length of 60 yards (54.9 m) and proves satisfactory when tested with a loaded car.
- Leiper Railroad, designed and built by merchant Thomas Leiper, connects Crum Creek to Ridley Creek, in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. It is used until 1829, when it is replaced by the Leiper Canal, then is reopened to replace the canal in 1852. This became the Crum Creek Branch of the Baltimore and Philadelphia Railroad (part of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad) in 1887. This is the first railroad meant to be permanent, and the first to evolve into a common carrier after an intervening closure. See the 1826 Granite Railway (pictured) for comparison.
- 1811: George Magers designs and builds a 1-mile (1.6 km) wooden gravity railroad between a gunpowder mill and its powder storage bunker at Falling's Creek, Virginia.
- 1815: New Jersey grants a charter on February 6, 1815, for a company to "erect a rail-road from the river Delaware near Trenton, to the river Raritan, at or near New Brunswick", as proposed by John Stevens (1749-1838). This New Jersey Railroad Company is the first railroad chartered in the United States, but fails to attract investors and is never built.
- 1816: A railroad is reportedly used at Kiskiminetas Creek, Pennsylvania.
- 1818: An iron-smelting furnace at Bear Creek, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, reportedly has a wooden railroad in operation.
Granite, coal and cotton railroads
- 1826 Mar 4: The Granite Railway in Massachusetts was incorporated by Thomas Handasyd Perkins and Gridley Bryant. Construction began on April 1, and operations began on October 7. It later became a branch of the Old Colony and Newport Railway, which was later absorbed into the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. This is often called the first commercial railroad in the U.S., as it was the first to evolve into a common carrier without an intervening closure. See the 1810 Leiper Railroad for comparison.
- 1826 Apr 9: The Mohawk and Hudson Railroad was incorporated as the first railroad chartered in New York State (marker pictured), and the first railroad in the United States designed to be powered by a locomotive engine as opposed to horse-drawn or gravity railroads. It opened on August 9, 1831 using steam locomotive deWitt Clinton.
- 1827: The Summit Hill and Mauch Chunk Railroad, initially a 9 miles (14 km) gravity railroad with animal powered return of cars, is built between Summit Hill and Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe), Pennsylvania when rails are laid on top of the existing mule-haul road graded to be nearly uniform in grade from its establishment in 1819-20. The road carried cargo as a common carrier back up to Summit Hill almost from the start, but by 1829 the new railed road was carrying passengers flocking out from Philadelphia to enjoy its attractions. It was built to haul anthracite coal from the mines to the Lehigh River and was the first railroad of this type.
- 1829 Aug 8: The Delaware and Hudson Canal Company's gravity railroad in northeast Pennsylvania opened using Stourbridge Lion, the first locomotive to run on rails in the United States. It was also a coal railroad. The canal company, chartered in 1823, called itself "America's oldest continually operated transportation company".
- 1829: The South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company was chartered December 19, 1827 and was also known as the Charleston & Hamburg Road. An experimental track was installed in February, 1829 to haul bales of cotton in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. On April 1, 1830 a double tracked 3,800-foot (1,200 m) long railroad was in full operation. By 1833, this railroad had been completed to Hamburg, South Carolina for a total length of 137 miles (220 km). At that time, it was the longest railroad in the world. This was the first railroad to use steam locomotives regularly. It later became part of the Southern Railway, now part of Norfolk Southern.
- 1829: The Mill Creek & Mine Hill Navigation & Railroad Company was chartered on February 7, 1828. The 4.09-mile (6.58 km) main line from Palo Alto, Pennsylvania to Wolf Creek was completed in 1829 with branches added in 1829 and 1830 for a total of 8.29 miles (13.34 km). It was another coal hauling railroad.
- 1830: The Schuylkill Valley Railroad & Navigation Company was chartered on April 14, 1828. It ran 9.23 miles (14.85 km) from Port Carbon, Pennsylvania to Tuscarora and was completed in 1830. It was built to carry coal from mines to Port Carbon.
- 1830: The Union Canal Company Railroad was a 3.5-mile (5.6 km) railroad constructed by the Union Canal (Pennsylvania) Company and was chartered on March 3, 1826. The company was in the canal business, but due to the topography, they could not extend their canal to the coal fields north of Pine Grove, Pennsylvania. Their solution was to build this short coal hauling railroad which was completed in 1830.
- 1830: The Little Schuylkill Navigation, Railroad and Coal Company was chartered on February 28, 1826. The LSRR operated between Tamaqua, Pennsylvania and Port Clinton beginning in 1831 using horse-drawn cars. Two steam locomotives were acquired by the railroad in 1833, but the wooden tracks did not support the engines. Iron "T" rails replaced the wooden ones in 1845, and the locomotives were then returned to regular service. It completed a junction with the Catawissa Railroad at Tamanend (also called Little Schuylkill Junction) in 1854. In 1857 the LSRR built a roundhouse in Tamaqua, housing 21 locomotives and a turntable. In 1863 the company was leased by the Reading Railroad for 93 years. It formally merged with the Reading in 1952.
- 1830: The Tuscumbia Railway was chartered on January 16, 1830 and proceeded to build a 2.1-mile (3.4 km) railroad from downtown Tuscumbia, Alabama to the docks on the Tennessee River west of Sheffield. This was the first railroad chartered/constructed west of the Appalachian Mountains. In 1832, this railroad was renamed the Tuscumbia, Courtland and Decatur Railroad, and was extended 41.9 miles (67.4 km) to connect the two Alabama cities of Tuscumbia and Decatur.
- 1831: The Mount Carbon Railroad was completed in 1831 running from Mount Carbon, Pennsylvania through Pottsville where it split into two branches, one going to what is now Seltzer and the other to the current Wadesville. This was a coal hauling railroad, 6.26 miles (10.07 km) in length.
- 1831: The Mine Hill and Schuylkill Haven Railroad completed the first part of its railroad from Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania to Minersville with a branch line up the West Branch of the Schuylkill River, a distance of 13.5 miles (21.7 km).
- 1831: The Room Run Railroad was completed along the path of a unsuccessful gravity road, running a distance 5.26 miles (8.47 km) from Nesquehoning to the Lehigh Canal loading docks at Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania.
- 1831: The Chesterfield Railroad (sometimes called the Manchester Railroad) began operations by September 1831 in Chesterfield County, Virginia.
- 1839: Albion Railway serving coal mines around Stellarton, Nova Scotia, first railway in Canada is use iron rails and run year-round, home of Samson, the oldest surviving locomotive in Canada.
Selected railroads chartered since 1832:
- 1835: The New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad begins operation after 4 years of work; rail route still in operation as the St. Charles Streetcar Line in New Orleans.
- 1836: The Lake Wimico and St. Joseph Canal and Railroad Company was the first steam railroad in Florida, opening on September 5.
- 1836: The Champlain and St. Lawrence Railroad opens in Quebec, Canada.
- 1838: The Northern Cross Railroad in Central Illinois, part of which still operates under the Norfolk Southern Railway.
Tunnels and bridges
- 1829: Carrollton Viaduct built of stone for Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, 312 ft (95 m) over Gwynns Falls River in Baltimore MD
- 1833 (June): The Staple Bend Tunnel, the first railroad tunnel in the U.S., completed in June 1833 as part of the Allegheny Portage Railroad which opened in March 1834. Trains stopped running through the Staple Bend Tunnel in 1857, and it is now part of the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site.
- 1833 (December): Wadesville Tunnel, built by Danville and Pottsville Railroad at Wadesville, Pennsylvania.
- 1835: Thomas Viaduct built of stone for Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, 614 ft (187 m) over Patapsco River in Relay, MD
- 1835: Canton Viaduct built of stone for Boston & Providence Railroad, 615 ft (187 m) over Canton River in Canton, MA
- 1837: The Yorkville Tunnel opened on October 26, for the New York and Harlem Railroad. It was absorbed in the 1870s by the longer and wider Park Avenue Tunnel, and is used by all Metro-North Railroad commuter trains. The old tunnel carries the two center tracks, and two new tunnels carry outer tracks.
- 1837: The Taft Tunnel opened in 1837 for Norwich and Worcester Railroad in Lisbon, Connecticut, north of Norwich, Connecticut. This is the oldest tunnel still in use in its original form in the U.S.
- 1837: The Howard Tunnel in York County, Pennsylvania. Considered the second oldest tunnel still in use in its original form in the U.S.
- 1842: The Potomac Creek Bridge 400 ft (120 m) long was built across the Potomac Creek in Stafford County, Virginia.
- 1848: Starrucca Viaduct built of stone for Erie Railroad, 1,040 ft (320 m) over Starrucca Creek in Lanesboro, PA
- 1850: The Henryton Tunnel on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
- 1850: The Chetoogeta Mountain Tunnel on the Western and Atlantic Railroad, Tunnel Hill, GA. 1,477 feet long and the first major railroad tunnel in the south.
- 1856: The Blue Ridge Tunnel 4,263 ft (1,299 m) considered a world marvel of engineering when opened.
West of the Mississippi River
- 1841: The Red River Railroad between Alexandria and Cheneyville in Louisiana was operational by 1841.
- 1852: The first section of the Pacific Railroad, later part of the Missouri Pacific Railroad, opened near St. Louis, Missouri.
- Brown, Robert R. (October 1949). Canada's Earliest Railway Lines. Railway & Locomotive Historical Society Bulletin #78.
- Whitehill, Walter Muir (1959). Boston - A Topographical History. Harvard University Press. p. 62.
- Dunbar, Seymour. A History of Travel in America. pp. 876–7.
- Dunbar. quoting Thomas McKibben of Baltimore in the American Engineer, 1886. pp. 878–9.
- Dunbar. p. 880. Missing or empty
- Railroads and Canals of the United States of America by Henry V. Poor (New York: John H. Schultz & Co, 1860), page 85 
- American Railroading Began Here cited 15 October 2009.
- Railroads and Canals of the United States of America by Henry V. Poor (New York: John H. Schultz & Co, 1860), pages 415,537 
- Railroads and Canals of the United States of America by Henry V. Poor (New York: John H. Schultz & Co, 1860), page 415 
- in The Transfer of Pioneering British Railroad Technology to North America by Frederick C. Gamst, University of Massachusetts, Boston 
- Railroads and Canals of the United States of America by Henry V. Poor (New York: John H. Schultz & Co, 1860), page 459 
- Railroads and Canals of the United States of America by Henry V. Poor (New York: John H. Schultz & Co, 1860), page 501 
- Welcome to Tuscumbia, Alabama - You Should See Us Now!!
- Railroads and Canals of the United States of America by Henry V. Poor (New York: John H. Schultz & Co, 1860), page 462 
- Railroads and Canals of the United States of America by Henry V. Poor (New York: John H. Schultz & Co, 1860), page 460 
- Development of Early Transportation Systems in the United States by J.L. Ringwalt (Philadelphia: Railway World Office, 1888), (RAILWAY CONSTRUCTION FROM 1830 TO 1840)
- ExplorePAHistory.com Historical Marker Allegheny Portage Railroad
- ExplorePAHistory.com Historical Marker Service began on wooden rails.
- Red River Railroad
- First Railway (Tramway) Built in America, Lewiston, NY, 1764
- American Railroads; Their Growth and Development by Association of American Railroads (Washington DC, 1956)
- Library of Congress - History of Railroads and Maps
- Railroad History Database
-  National Railway Historical Society (NRHS): Historical Almanac of American Railroads - US, Canada, Mexico