AMP | Kids is proud to partner with The Mini Page, celebrating over 50 years of providing engaging and fun learning opportunities to young readers across the country. This feature was originally syndicated in newspapers the week of June 20 – June 26, 2020. It is distributed digitally here with permission from Andrews McMeel Syndication. Enjoy and share with the young learners in your life!

In the first half of the 1900s, before airplane travel was common, many people traveled by rail. Railroads moved about 80% of passengers and goods.

Today, passenger trains carry only about 5% of travelers between cities. Still, more people are riding the train every year. Trains serve American cities throughout

the country, but mostly in the Northeast.

Photo by James St. John

Reaching west

The first U.S. rail service began in 1831 in South Carolina. Twenty years later, railroad companies were building tracks that reached west to the Mississippi River. Trains carried settlers, goods and mail to the Midwest.

In the early 1860s, the Union Pacific Railroad began building track west from Omaha, Nebraska. The Central Pacific started laying track east from Sacramento, California.

In 1869, the two tracks met at Promontory Summit in Utah. North America became the first continent to have a railroad from coast to coast.

Freight trains

Freight trains are the kind you probably see most on the tracks. They carry goods such as cars, steel, livestock and other products. They carry more coal than any other material.

The Acela Express travels between Washington, D.C., and Boston. At its fastest, it travels at about 150 miles per hour.

Passenger trains

Two types of trains carry passengers:

  • Commuter trains carry people around a city or to and from their homes outside the city. They generally have a lot of seats but no dining or sleeping cars.
  • Intercity trains carry passengers longer distances sometimes overnight. Overnight trains often have sleeping cars and dining cars.

Who’s who on the crew?

  • A conductor takes tickets and is responsible for the safe operation of
    the train. He is the first one off the train when it pulls into a station.
  •  Assistant conductors carry two-way radios and stay in touch with the engineer.
  • Engineers and assistant engineers run the train.
  • The steward manages the dining car. The chef and cooks prepare the meals, and waiters serve them.

Train travel today

Between 1945 and about 1970, railroads lost a lot of money. It cost a lot to run the railroads, and many people were choosing to fly or drive instead. The government was concerned about keeping passenger trains in business.

In 1971, Amtrak took over the operation of intercity trains in the United States. Amtrak is a company partly financed (or paid for) by the U.S. government.

Why ride the train?

Some people don’t like to fly. Others feel more comfortable on the train, where they can move around.

Some trains get people to their destinations in about as much time as it would take to fly.

Some people like to take the train to help save energy. Moving many people in a train is more energy-efficient than moving those same people in many cars.


On the Web:

National Railroad Museum

At the Library

The Transcontinental Railroad by John Perritano

Passenger Trains by Jenna Lee Gleisner

Freight Trains by Nikki Bruno Clapper


For standards-based activities to accompany this feature, visit Andrews McMeel Syndication. And follow The Mini Page on Facebook!



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