From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Rail transport is the means of conveyance of passengers and goods by way of wheeled vehicles running on rail tracks. In contrast to road transport, where vehicles merely run on a prepared surface, rail vehicles are also directionally guided by the tracks they run on. Track usually consists of steel rails installed on sleepers/ties and ballast, on which the rolling stock, usually fitted with metal wheels, moves. However, other variations are also possible, such as slab track where the rails are fastened to a concrete foundation resting on a prepared subsurface.
Rolling stock in railway transportation systems generally has lower frictional resistance when compared with highway vehicles, and the carriages and wagons can be coupled into longer trains. The operation is carried out by a Railway company, providing transport between train stations or freight customer facilities. Power is provided by locomotives which either draw electrical power from a railway electrification system or produce their own power, usually by diesel engines. Most tracks are accompanied by a signalling system. Railways are a safe land transportation systems when compared to other forms of transportation. Railway transportation is capable of high levels of passenger and cargo utilization and energy efficiency, but is often less flexible and more capital-intensive than highway transportation is, when lower traffic levels are considered.
The oldest, man-hauled railways date to the 6th century B.C, with Periander, one of the Seven Sages of Greece, credited with its invention. With the English development of the steam engine, it was possible to construct mainline railways, that were a key component of the industrial revolution. Also, railways reduced the costs of shipping, and allowed for fewer lost goods. The change from canals to railways allowed for "national markets" in which prices varied very little from city to city. Studies have shown that the development of the railway was one of the most important technological inventions of the late 19th century in the United States, without which, GDP would have been lower by 7.0% in 1890. In the 1880s, electrified trains were introduced, and also the first tramways and rapid transit systems came into being. During the 1940s and 1950s, the non-electrified railways in most countries had their steam locomotives replaced by diesel-electric locomotives. During the 1960s, electrified high-speed railway systems were introduced in Japan and a few other countries. Other forms of guided ground transportation outside the traditional railway definitions, such as monorail or maglev, have been tried but have seen limited use.