National Archives Reference Information Paper 91 -- Railroad-related Records
Frequently Asked Questions
II.1 The following are questions that researchers interested in railroad records in the custody of the National Archives ask most frequently. Further details concerning the records cited are available in the record description sections (Parts III through XI) of this paper
Where can I find documentation concerning the corporate and financial history of individual railroads?
II.2 The Records of the Interstate Commerce Commission (Record Group 134) contain extensive information concerning the corporate and financial history of railroads. This documentation is located in the ICC railroad valuation records, specifically the valuation case files, 1916-27, which include the final accounting report and a summary corporate history of individual railroads in existence during the period 1914-1920. Supporting documentation for the valuation case files are the accounting schedules, related documentation, and narrative reports compiled by ICC employees that pertain to the financial histories of railroads, 1914-57; and statements compiled by railroad employees relating to the history of the railroad, 1915-28. Other ICC records giving financial information on individual railroads are the annual reports of railroads, water carriers, and pipeline companies submitted to the Interstate Commerce Commission, 1915-61, and the annual reports of common carriers to stockholders, 1833-1971. Additional documentation concerning the financial history of railroads is located in the ICC finance cases (dockets). These cases give information concerning requests by rail carriers to issue bonds and make loans, proposed mergers, track abandonments, and train discontinuances. Currently, NARA has custody of the finance cases for the year 1920 only. The rest of the dockets are in the custody of the Surface Transportation Board.
II.3 The Records of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (Record Group 234), Railroad Division, include the records relating to paid, canceled, and withdrawn railroad loans, 1932-57, and legal case files relating to railroad loans, 1932-57, which give information concerning corporation loans to railroads, mostly in the 1930s. Financial information concerning railroads was submitted as part of the application for loans.
II.4 Additional records concerning Pacific railroad loans are included in the Records of the Bureau of Accounts (Treasury) (Record Group 39), Records of the Treasurer of the United States (Record Group 50), and the Records of the Bureau of the Public Debt (Record Group 53).
II.5 The early corporate history of land-grant railroads is included in the railroad rights-of-way files under the act of March 3, 1875, 1878-1931, in the Records of Division F, Records of the Bureau of Land Management (Record Group 49). Arranged by name of railroad, these records document the granting of rights-of-way to individual railroads across public lands of the United States. The files include articles of incorporation, proof of organization, by-laws, and other records concerning the corporate history of land grant railroads. Additional records are located in the correspondence and reports file of land grant railroad companies, 1892-1935. The Bureau of Land Management records include other series that may be of interest.
II.6 The records of the Commissioner of Railroads (Record Group 193) include additional records on the corporate history of land grant railroads. The reports and other documents related to aided railroads, 1864-1904, include periodic reports of organization, ownership, finances, and property. These records are accessible by name of railroad.
Are there track plans and other documentation useful for model railroaders?
II.7 Track plans for individual railroads for 1914 to 1920 are located in railroad valuation maps in the Records of the Interstate Commerce Commission (Record Group 134), Bureau of Valuation. These maps contain many engineering details such as the layout of the track and the locations of railroad-owned buildings and other structures. Some of these maps also appear as exhibits in the ICC valuation case files, finance cases, and formal dockets.
II.8 Aerial photographs are an additional source of information for model railroaders. Track layouts and location of railroad structures can be seen in the aerial photographs among the Records of the Defense Intelligence Agency (Record Group 373) and the Agricultural Stabilization Service (Record Group 145), beginning in the mid-1930s.
Are there drawings, plans, construction details, and/or photographs concerning the construction of railroad-owned structures, such as railroad depots and stations?
II.9 The main source of documentation concerning the construction of railroad-owned structures are the engineering field notes of ICC parties surveying the physical property of railroads, 1914-29, in the Records of the Interstate Commerce Commission (Record Group 134), Bureau of Valuation. Arranged by name of railroad, these records include roadway notes describing the engineering of the roadbed and track, structural notes illustrating the construction of railroad-owned buildings and bridges, and inventories of furniture and fixtures. There are architectural drawings and sometimes photographs in these notes, depending on the level of detail of the survey done by the individual engineering parties. These notes are summarized in the final engineering report showing cost of reproduction of carrier property, 1910-35, which are included in the valuation case files and also maintained separately. The final engineering report is updated in the periodic forms updating final engineering reports, 1915-74. These forms show changes of holdings of railroad property on the right-of-way, and do not usually include drawings or photographs. Additional construction details and photographs exist in the Railroad inspection reports compiled by ICC representatives, 1930-58. Arranged alphabetically by name of railroad, some of these reports contain numerous photographs. Most of the reports are dated between 1939 and 1942.
Is there documentation available which gives information concerning how railroads acquired the land adjacent to or on their right-of-way?
II.10 The land acquisition forms, 1914-39, in the records of the Bureau of Valuation, Records of the Interstate Commerce Commission (Record Group 134) are the best source of land title information. The forms detail the acquisition of parcels of land that the railroad uses for common-carrier purposes that are part of the right-of-way. The forms are best used in conjunction with the railroad valuation maps which show the location of each parcel. Additional useful records include the grant schedules, 1914-28, which record grants to railroads by the federal, state, or local governments, corporations, and individuals, and the leasing schedules, 1914-23, which record leases of railroad-owned land to individuals, corporations, and municipalities.
Is there genealogical information available in the National Archives concerning railroad employees?
II.11 The main sources of documentation are included in the Records of the Railroad Retirement Board (Record Group 184). The administrative records of the Board are in the custody of the National Archives -Great Lakes Region. However, the railroad employee pension case files are still in the custody of the Railroad Retirement Board. These files include documentation containing personal information for railroad employees whose service ended between 1937 and 1972. A researcher must contact the Railroad Retirement Board directly to gain access to these files.
II.12 Other genealogical information is contained in the land acquisition forms, 1914-39, and Railroad valuation maps, which give the names of the owners of parcels of land adjacent to or on the railroad right--of-way at the time of the acquisition of the land by the railroad. Additional details concerning these property owners are contained in the land field notes of ICC appraisers relating to the current value of real estate adjacent to railroad rights-of-way, 1915-28. These notes give estimates of the current value of the property owners' land per acre or per square foot. These records are among the records of the Bureau of Valuation, Records of the Interstate Commerce Commission (Record Group 134).
II.13 A rich source of information concerning railroad workers is the Records of the District Courts of the United States (Record Group 21). There are numerous law and equity court cases involving railroad employees in the records of the U.S. court system. Many of these cases involve racial discrimination claims and other claims filed against railroads for damages to personal property, including bodily injury and death, as a result of train accidents. These records are located in the various National Archives regional branches.
II.14 Documentation concerning railway postal employees is contained in the rosters of special, route, and local blank and stamp agents and rosters of railway postal clerks, 1855-97, in the Records of the Post Office Department (Record Group 28). There are also lists of employees of the U.S. Military Railroads in Alexandria, Virginia, during the Civil War, in the Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General (Record Group 92).
Are there reports concerning railroad accident investigations in the custody of the National Archives?
II.15 The Federal Government did not get involved in railroad accident investigations until the passage of the Accident Reports Act of May 6, 1910. According to the act, the ICC was charged with the responsibility for railroad accident investigations. The official file copies of railroad accident reports, dating 1911-63, are located in the ICC's Bureau of Safety, Railroad Accident Investigation Reports, 1911-63 (Record Group 134).
II.16 The function of the investigation of railroad accidents was transferred to the Office of Safety, Federal Railroad Administration (Record Group 399) in 1967. There are several series of records relating to railroad accident investigations in FRA records, dating from 1954 to 1984. Included are two series of accident report summaries prepared by the ICC: reports of investigations of railroad accidents, February 1958-September 1964, and published accident reports, 1947-60. There are also two series of accident report case files compiled by the National Transportation Safety Board and the FRA. These are the railroad accident investigation jackets, 1969-71, and accident investigation report files, 1969-84. The accident investigation reports files created since 1984 are still in the custody of the FRA.
II.17 Also of interest are the ICC's Bureau of Safety, Medal of Honor case files, 1905-55. These files document the awards given to honor persons who endangered their lives by saving or trying to save others in a rail carrier accident, or who endeavored to prevent such an accident.
II.18 There are some railroad accident investigation reports prepared by the American Red Cross in the ARC, Central Decimal File, 1881-1982, located in the records of the National Headquarters of the American Red Cross, among the donated materials in the National Archives.
What documentation is available from the records of Federal Government agencies concerning the transcontinental railroad?
II.19 The first transcontinental railroad was completed on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Point, Utah, with the driving of a golden spike. This event commemorated the joining of the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad, which provided for one continuous track between San Francisco and Council Bluffs, Iowa.
II.20 After the passage of the Pacific Railroad Act of 1863, the Department of the Interior was responsible for supervision of the construction of the Pacific railroads, including the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific transcontinental route. More specifically, the Pacific Railroad Division and, after 1870, the Lands and Railroads Division of the Department of the Interior, were responsible for aiding Pacific railroad construction. Records relating to the transcontinental railroad can be located in the various records of this division in the Records of the Office of the Secretary of the Interior (Record Group 48), such as the various series of letters sent and received by the Lands and Railroads Division.
II.21 Within the records of the Lands and Railroads Division, the primary source of records relating to the transcontinental railroad are the "Railroad Packages," 1849-1901. Included in these records are voluminous correspondence and annual reports relating to the Pacific railroads and the construction of the transcontinental railroad. Among the more prominent examples of pertinent documentation in this series are the Union Pacific Railroad and Central Pacific Railroad annual reports submitted to the Secretary of the Interior, and a Central Pacific annual report submitted to stockholders, dated 1869. These reports contain the remarks of the president of each railroad concerning the completion of the transcontinental railroad. Other significant documents include executive orders signed by President Lincoln concerning the implementation of the Pacific Railroad Act and reports submitted by various commissions assigned to survey the transcontinental railroad route. Pertinent records of the Division also include maps of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads showing the route of the transcontinental railroad. Also useful are the land grant and right-of-way maps in the records of Division F, General Land Office (Record Group 49).
What documentation exists concerning the U.S. Government control and/or supervision of the railroads during World War I and World War II?
II.22 Federal control of the Nations' railroads during World War I was maintained by the U.S. Railroad Administration. U.S. Railroad Administration records (Record Group 14) in the National Archives include the records of the Director General, who had jurisdiction and control over every system of railroads in the United States, except street and urban railways; the Board of Railroad Wages and Working Conditions, charged with adjusting wage inequalities and working conditions; the Division of Law, which was responsible for general supervision over all legal activities of railroads under Federal control; the Division of Operations, which was accountable for the smooth operation of the railroads; and the Division of Labor, which was responsible for the settlement of labor disputes.
II.23 The Office of Defense Transportation handled Federal supervision of the railroads during World War II. The Records of the Office of Defense Transportation (Record Group 219) concerning railroads consists of the records of the Railway Transport Department. This department was responsible for ascertaining and making full use of rail transportation facilities and for coordinating and directing the movement of freight and passenger traffic. There are also relevant records for the World War II period in the records of the U.S. Army, Office of the Chief of Transportation (Record Group 336). This office provided transportation services and logistical support for the U.S. Army. In particular, the historical program files, 1940-50, include documentation relating to the U.S. Army seizure of railroads during 1943 and 1946. Documentation concerning U.S. Army transportation (and railroad) units are available in the Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1917- (Record Group 407).
What Federal records exist for the U.S. military railroads during the Civil War?
II.24 There is a large volume of records relating to Union railroads during the Civil War in the Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General (Record Group 92). In particular, there are the records of the Office of U.S. Military Railroads, 1860-67, which include the records of the U.S. Military Railroads, Headquarters, Washington, DC; U.S. Military Railroads of Virginia, Alexandria, Virginia; U.S. Military Railroads, Division of the Mississippi, Nashville, Tennessee; and U.S. Military Railroads, Division of the Missouri. There are still pictures of the U.S. Military Railroads by Andrew J. Russell that are part of the War Department collection of Civil War photographs (165-ABC).
Does the National Archives have custody of any records relating to the Freedom Train?
II.25 The Freedom Train tour was designed as a traveling exhibit of historic documents highlighting the evolution of the American heritage of freedom. The train consisted of a "Spirit of 1776" locomotive and seven cars. The rail tour covered 37,000 miles and covered every state in the Union, from 1947 to 1949. The records of the Freedom Train in the National Archives are in the American Heritage Foundation records in the Donated Materials (formerly Record Group 200). This rich collection includes the American Heritage Foundation administrative files and correspondence concerning the preparation and activities of the Freedom Train. The records also include reports, photographs, posters, pamphlets, magazines, and other visual materials relating to the promotion of the Freedom Train.
II.26 Still pictures concerning the Freedom Train include photographs of over 100 original historical documents that were exhibited nationally on the train between 1949 and 1951 (64-FT). In addition, there are photographs of the Freedom Train tour, 1947-49, among the donated records of the American Heritage Foundation (200-DM-AHF).
Are there any Federal records concerning personal injury claims or property ownership disputes against railroads?
II.27 There are voluminous records relating to personal injury claims and property ownership disputes in the Records of the District Courts of the United States (Record Group 21). The records of the U.S. District Courts for the District of Columbia are in the National Archives in Washington, DC, and records of other District Courts are in the National Archives regional archives branches. Most of these cases are documented in law and equity court case files. Personal injury claims comprise the most numerous of U.S. District Court case files relating to railroads.Continue to Part IIIA