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spanning or crossing or on the farther side of a continent

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One needs to see them in a long-run perspective, which is exactly what Richard White does in his provocative and well-researched book on the American transcontinental railroads.
In economic terms, transcontinental railroads are seen as an engine of growth, integrating eastern and western markets and thereby opening the possibility of settlement.
In Railroaded, Richard White gives a comprehensive account of the economic, social, and political aspects of transcontinental railroads.
First, he argues that tremendous corruption was involved in building and operating the transcontinental railroads.
White's second main point is that the transcontinental railroads' social costs may have exceeded their social benefits, indicating that these railroads should not have been built or at least that they should have been operated differently (p.
Transcontinental railroads were expensive to build, but their financial returns were disappointing for several reasons.
White also questions whether shippers and farmers benefited from transcontinental railroads in terms of lower freight rates.
Modern America might have developed differently had regional railroads, built only as demand warranted and generally profitable, pushed into the West ahead of the transcontinentals.
In his book Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America, Richard White alters our perception of the western transcontinentals and their impact on the country's physical, economic, and political landscapes.
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