Document files on the railroad industry and its role as a steel market contain information on the early history of U.S. rail production, chronological and historical facts on the railroad industry, railroad company histories, railroad statistics, railroad steel demand, steel for rail and rail-car production, locomotive building, diesel vs. electric locomotives, box and refrigerator cars, piggy-back flat cars, railroad operations and costs, railroad capital expenditures, administered rail rates and competition, and papers and publications of the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and locomotive builders General Electric Company and Westinghouse Electric Corporation. The Archive’s reference collection includes such AAR publications as A Review of Railroad Operations, Railroad Review and Outlook, and Yearbook of Railroad Facts.
Analysis: Dating from the 1870’s, the U.S. steel industry’s early growth and development was closely tied to the manufacture of rails for an expanding railway system, which by 1930 operated 430 thousand miles of track. Then, as the Depression brought severe declines in railroad operations, the automobile industry displaced the railroads as the leading steel market. In 1932, U.S. rail production fell below a million tons for the first time in over 50 years, and the production of rolling stock slowed to a crawl. The result was to cut the railroad industry’s share of total finished steel demand to 10% from more than 25% ten years earlier.
During the 1950’s, the railroad industry in many countries started to see its dominant position in passenger and freight transportation increasingly challenged by the trucking and airline industries, gradually diminishing its role as a steel consumer. This threatened to make the market for railroad steels a replacement market, related primarily to maintaining the rails, rolling stock, and infrastructure of existing railroads and commuter rail systems. However, over the last few decades, railroads have moved to counter their losses in passenger traffic by constructing new, high-speed railways, thereby giving renewed impetus to their role as steel consumers. The high-speed trains, which are capable of traveling in the range of 125-200 mph or faster, have created a demand for rails and for other steel products needed to build new rights of way and to manufacture more powerful locomotives and sleek new passenger cars for the railways of tomorrow.