149th Anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad

Summit Tunnel Plaque















May 10, 2018 was the 149th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad

The First Transcontinental Railroad, known originally as the "Pacific Railroad" was completed in 1869 with the aid of Chinese laborers, who were originally hired on a trial basis.

Chinese laborers were both steady and hard-working. With the exception of a few Irish workers, the laboring force was entirely composed of Chinese. The laborers usually worked three shifts of 8 hours per day.

The Chinese were so successful in completing the first phase of the project that the Central Pacific expanded its efforts to hire more Chinese immigrants. Many of the workers were from poverty stricken regions of China and were willing to tolerate the living and working conditions of the railroad.

During construction in 1868, 4,000 workers built the transcontinental railroad over the Sierras and into the interior plains, and two thirds of the workers were Chinese.

Without the efforts of the Chinese workers in building America's railroads, our development and progress as a nation would have been delayed by years. The Chinese toiled in severe weather and cruel working conditions for meager wages.

This project garnered quite a bit of interest in the Asian Pacific American community because of the contributions of Chinese American railroad workers to this monumental feat. Two symbols of this contribution are the Chinese Wall and the Summit Tunnel, both located on the Tahoe National Forest.

Masonry walls such as the "Chinese Walls" at Donner Summit were built across canyons to prevent avalanches from striking the side of the vulnerable wooden construction. A few concrete sheds (mostly at crossovers) are still in use today.

Six years after the groundbreaking of the railroad, laborers from the Central Pacific Railroad in the west, and from the Union Pacific Railroad in the east, met at Promontory Summit, Utah. On May 10, 1869, Leland Stanford drove “The Last Spike” (a.k.a. “The Golden Spike”), which joined the rails of the transcontinental railroad. One spike is on display at Stanford University, and a second Golden Spike is on display at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.