Oldest railroads in North America

From TrainSpottingWorld, for Rail fans everywhere

Several railroads have been called the oldest in the United States or North America. Those, as well as other railroads chartered or opened during that time period, are listed below.

List of railroads

  • 1720: A railroad is reportedly used in the construction of the French fortress at Louisburg, Nova Scotia (Brown, Robert R., Canada's Earliest Railway Lines, Railway & Locomotive Historical Society Bulletin #78, October 1949).
  • 1764: Between 1762 and 1764 a gravity railroad (Montresor's Farmway) was built by British military engineers at the Niagara Portage in Lewiston, New York.
  • 1795: A wooden railway on Beacon Hill in Boston carried excavations down the hill to clear the land for the State House.
  • 1799: Boston developers begin to reduce the height of Mount Vernon, prior to 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. (Whitehill, Walter Muir, Boston - A Topographical History, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1959, p.62).
  • September 1809: An experimental railroad was 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 (about 4 %) over its total length (60 yards) and proves satisfactory when tested with a loaded car (Dunbar, Seymour, A History of Travel in America, p. 876-7).
  • 1810: The Leiper Railroad connecting Crum Creek to Ridley Creek, Pennsylvania opened in 1810. It closed in 1829 and was replaced by the Leiper Canal, but a railroad once again replaced 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 was 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 for comparison.
  • 1811: George Magers designs and builds a 1-mile wooden gravity railroad between a gunpowder mill and its powder storage bunker at Falling's Creek, Virginia (Dunbar, p.878-9, quoting Thomas McKibben of Baltimore in the American Engineer, 1886).
  • 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 was the first railroad chartered in the United States, but the New Jersey Railroad Company never built the railway due to an inability to attract financial investors.
  • 1816: A railroad is reportedly used at Kiskiminetas Creek, Pennsylvania (Dunbar, p.880).
  • 1818: An iron-smelting funace at Bear Creek, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania reportedly has a wooden railroad in operation (Dunbar, p.880).
The incline section of the Granite Railway, photograph taken in 1934.


The expanded Park Avenue Tunnel in 1941

West of the Mississippi River


General information

Specific railroads

External links