Cover image for Merging lines : American railroads, 1900-1970
Merging lines : American railroads, 1900-1970
Saunders, Richard, 1940-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
DeKalb : Northern Illinois University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xix, 486 pages : maps ; 24 cm
General Note:
Rev. ed. of: The railroad mergers and the coming of Conrail. 1978.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HE2757 .S28 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Why did American railroads decline from the glory days of the early twentieth century? Why did so many railroad mergers in the 1950s and 1960s, intended as a panacea for the ills of an outdated system, go sour and, in fact, make a bad situation worse? Saunders addresses these and many other issues in this authoritative history of U.S. railroads and their corporate mergers.

Beginning with a wide-ranging analysis of the role of railroads in the economic and social fabric of American life, Saunders traces the causes and results of the twentieth century's "merger mania." Mergers, he explains, were expected to save money, to improve service to customers, and to help railroads compete against other modes of transportation, such as the growing airline and trucking industries. Saunders then gives colorful, richly detailed accounts of the mergers and shows the reasons--including corporate greed and the inept blundering of government regulatory agencies--the outcomes fell far short of expectations.

Merging Lines explores the impact of shifting political control of railroads as no history has done before. The fates of both workers and railroad companies were dictated by the rise and fall of business and governmental leaders, including Bill Brosnan, Robert R. Young, Alfred Perlman, President John F. Kennedy, and President Lyndon B. Johnson. As power struggles erupted, the original goals of the mergers were thwarted by consumer frustration, violent labor strikes, and organizational collapse. Saunders explores these and other crucial developments in this extensive work, carefully designed for railroad historians and enthusiasts at any level.

Encyclopedic in its scope, Merging Lines includes sixty-eight maps, a list of court cases involving railroad mergers, and a wealth of information on American railroads from coast to coast. An extensively revised, updated, and supplemented edition of Saunders's earlier classic, The Railroad Mergers and the Coming of Conrail (1978), it is essential reading for all who are interested in railroad and transportation history.

Author Notes

Richard Saunders Jr. is professor emeritus of history at Clemson University. He is author of Merging Lines: American Railroads, 1900-1970 , which won the 2002 George W. and Constance M. Hilton Award.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Saunders (history, Clemson Univ.) states, "This book is not about generalizations. It is about individual railroads, individual executives, individual corporate strategies, and the political economy in which they existed." So it is. He describes and analyzes all the bankruptcies, mergers, and consolidations that swept through American railroads from WW I to 1970. As such it is an invaluable source for understanding American railroad management and regulation in the 20th century. Further, the book is accessible not only to specialists in the field but also to those with little background who want to learn about this subject. The introduction, for example, is the cleanest, clearest overview of the American railroad network that this reviewer has ever read. There are few generalizations in this work, as the author promises. This is unfortunate, however, because the author's command of the subject makes him an excellent candidate to draw conclusions and make generalizations about the way railroads were managed and regulated. The book ends in 1970 with the collapse of the Penn Central, but before the creation of Conrail. Fortunately for readers, Saunders is working on another volume scheduled for publication in 2003, which will begin with 1970 and carry the story to the present. Highly recommended for public, academic, and professional library collections. L. D. Johnston College of St. Benedict/St. John's University