Central Pacific–Union Pacific Race

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CENTRAL PACIFIC–UNION PACIFIC RACE, a construction contest between the two railroad companies bidding for government subsidies, land grants, and public favor. The original Pacific Railway Act (1862) authorized the Central Pacific to build eastward from California and the Union Pacific to build westward to the western Nevada boundary. This legislation generated almost no investment interest in the project and therefore was unpopular with the nascent railroad companies. The more liberal Pacific Railway Act of 1864 and later amendments brought greater interest in the project and authorized the roads to continue construction until they met. The new legislation precipitated a historic race (1867–1869), because the company building the most track would receive the larger subsidy.

When surveys crossed and recrossed, the railroad officials got into legal battles and the crews into personal ones. Each railroad's crew was already strained by twelve-to fifteen-hour days, severe weather, and the additional duty of repelling Indian attacks. Tensions ran even higher when the Union Pacific's Irish laborers and the Central Pacific's Chinese laborers began sabotaging one another's work with dangerous dynamite explosions. When the two roads were about one hundred miles apart, Congress passed a law compelling the companies to join their tracks at Promontory Point, Utah, some fifty miles from the end of each completed line. The final, and most spectacular, lap of the race was made toward this point in the winter and spring of 1869, the tracks being joined on 10 May. Neither company won the race, because both tracks reached the immediate vicinity at about the same time.


Bain, David Haward. Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad. New York: Viking, 1999.

Deverell, William. Railroad Crossing: Californians and the Railroad, 1850–1910. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

J. R.Perkins/f. b.

See alsoLand Grants: Land Grants for Railways ; Railroads ; Transportation and Travel .

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Central Pacific–Union Pacific Race

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Central Pacific–Union Pacific Race