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Railroad locomotive timeline late 18th century.

In 1856 the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River is completed between Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa.

In 1860 Nehemiah Hodge, a Connecticut railway mechanic, patents a locomotive vacuum brake. Pressure is limited to atmospheric (14.7 psi), but practical considerations limit pressure to 7 to 8 psi. Thus, available braking power is low, especially above 3,000 feet altitude.

In 1862 president Abraham Lincoln signs the Pacific Railway Act, which authorizes the construction of the first transcontinental railroad. Theodore Judah had the vision to build a railway across the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, and then to continue across the United States. The Central Pacific Railway was financed by The Big Four: Collis Huntington, Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker and Mark Hopkins.

In 1868 Major Eli Janney, a confederate veteran of the civil war, invents the knuckle coupler. This semi-automatic device locks upon the cars closing together without the rail worker getting between the cars. This replaces the "link and pin" coupler, which was a major cause of injuries to railway workers. A "cut" lever at the corner of the car releases the coupler knuckle making uncoupling safer.

In 1872 George Westinghouse patents the first automatic air brake. This is basically the same system as is used by today's railroads.

In 1876 All Southern Pacific and Central Pacific passenger cars converted to air brakes.

In 1893 the Great Northern is completed in the Cascade Mountains of Washington.

In 1893 federal Railway Safety Appliances Act instituted mandatory requirements for automatic air brake systems and automatic couplers, and required standardization of the location and specifications for appliances such as handholds and grab irons necessary for employees' use. This applied only to interstate rail traffic.

In 1893 on May 10th locomotive #999 of the New York Central & Hudson River RR hauled four heavy Wagner cars of the Empire State Express down a 0.28% grade at record-breaking speed. Although unverified, the conductor timed the speed at 112.5 mph over 1 mile, and at 102.8 mph over 5 miles.

In 1893 the first mainline electrification was in Baltimore, MD. A rigid overhead conductor supplied 675 VDC via one-sided tilted pantograph to the 96 ton 4-axle, 4-motor locomotives. These were very successful, hauling 1,800 ton trains up the 0.8% grade in the 1.25 mile Howard Street tunnel, where steam was not allowed to operate. Railroad timeline continue to 19th century


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