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book(s) on railways?


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There are two books you HAVE to read:


Merging Lines

Main Lines


Both by Richard Saunders.  He describes the corporate history of railroading in the US from 1900 to the early 00's.  He delves into railroad technology where appropriate, but he isn't fascinated with wheel configurations of passenger cars or anything like that.  I've found most railroad history books are more about the history of train technology rather than the railroads themselves.  These books are about the companies and the forces which drove the industry.


One example that sticks out to me was about the Milwaukee Road.  They had a transcontinental line across the northern US.  The railroad was hemorrhaging money and executives decided to close the line down in an effort to cut costs.  The problem was the company's record keeping was so terrible they didn't have a good handle on what the status of the extension was, they decided to shut it down.  Months later when their accountants were reconciling records related to the closing they realized that what they had shut was the only profitable portion of the railroad.  They entered receivership shortly thereafter.


If you lived in Pittsburgh I'd loan the books to you, I think they're $45 each.  Try a library or inter-library loan and see if you can get copies.

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Here's the author's webpage: http://people.clemson.edu/~airedal/


I love how he describes the books "this book  is not choo-choo nostalgia...It is a story of business strategy, transportation economics, transportation technology, commodity movements, regulatory law, labor productivity, labor relations, and mostly about the people in railroading and in government who made it all happen."


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I bought this a an impulse purchase at penn station once (thought it's be cool to read about trains on a train). It was entertaining and informative. It went into great detail about how the early railroads ere built with the funneling of minority shareholders and bondholders money to management owned construction companies. These were the granddaddy of related party transactions and haven't totally gone away (for example CBL, the B mall REIT, has a captive construction company owned by the Leibovitz family).

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