What are the Advantages of the Steam Locomotive?

The steam locomotive changed the face of the country and enabled cross-country moves, and stretched the American landscape from coast to coast. Yet, even today, some folks don’t understand the advantages of rail transportation. So, what are the advantages of the steam locomotive?

The steam locomotive’s main advantages were speed and safety. The mail and material shipped with trains were hard to steal and were protected against the elements. Standard transportation methods were subjective to longer delivery times while always being a target for highwaymen or bandits.

Steam locomotives had several advantages over horses and wagons that people today never consider. They were a new technology that some embraced with enthusiasm, and others continued to cling to the old ways of the horse and wagon. Read on and learn everything you need to know about the advantages of the steam locomotive.

steam engine
Jeff Hampton

Advantages of the Steam Locomotive

Most people think that a steam locomotive is some of the least advanced technology you can have. Today there’s only a single steam locomotive running on the tracks out in the Pacific Northwest. The advantages of the train over less sophisticated technology were enough to change this country from a tiny region of houses to a thriving nation of homes.

You must remember that these advantages could not translate well to modern times. Today, diesel and other engines carry on the great traditions started by steam engines and continue to serve this country by hauling massive amounts of goods and materials. The steam engine helped to make this country great, and its contributions should not be ignored.

Speed is the Biggest Advantage of the Steam Locomotive

You may not notice it now, but when steam engines roamed the tracks, they were some of the fastest machines on the planet. They could move goods and cargo faster than humankind had ever seen before, and everyone was astounded. As a result, the steam engine became an icon of speed and power that still stands today.

The ways the speed of the steam engine was an advantage were:

  • Food Choices – For one of the first times in the history of America, different products were arriving on the shelves from all over the world. These other food choices began a fusion of styles that has become typical American fare—the speed of trains allowed foods to arrive unspoiled from across the country.
  • Communications – People could get their mail and important documents across the country in a matter of days. This allowed companies to keep track of their sales and gave a boon to their stocks which could flourish or wither depending on how fast the trains ran that week.
  • Time – Time became a standard as the speed of the steam engine was realized. People began setting their pocket watches by the train schedule, and the steam engine’s whistle was a welcome sound in rural parts of the country that operated off arrivals and departures.
  • Planning – The steam engine’s speed allowed the companies to plan routes as they moved. This kept the pace of the steam locomotive in constant motion, and plans for new lines were founded weekly. The rails went up faster as plans progressed, and the exploring continued.

The speed of the steam engine became a massive icon for kids in rural areas and congested metropolitan cities. The cities were flooded with new goods and foods while the country got information about how to improve crop yields or weather reports from a remote weather station. None of which would be possible without the steam engine.

locomotive driver
Jonathan Lee

Steam Engine Safety was A Huge Advantage for the Locomotive

Getting anything before the steam engine required the sender or creator to take a leap of faith. They had no way of knowing if the item would make it to where it was going or if anyone would steal the items while in transit. A significant advantage of the steam engine was how safe goods and materials were as they traveled.

Some ways that safety was an excellent asset of the steam engine are:

  • Theft – Wagons getting robbed isn’t just something from the western you saw on Amazon. It was a real threat that caused people to go outside the usual channels to have their goods shipped. Although some were robbed, Steam engines were not pillaged at the rate of stagecoaches and wagons.
  • Passengers – When the steam engine roamed the Earth, people saw it as a way to explore the western part of the country. Passengers flooded the cars in hopes of seeing the tremendous Western plains and even the beaches of the Pacific Ocean. The safety of the steam engine made traveling leisure.
  • High Value – Once the safety of passengers and goods was assured, large corporations began to place high-value items in train cars. The companies could load the trains at their locations and seal them. These seals would not be broken until they reached their destination.

Safety was hard to come by in the industrial age. The fact that steam engines often arrived with the same number of passengers they left with made people go against their fears of the train. Once those fears were conquered, shipping anything across the country became common.

NW 611

A Steam Engine Takes Few Resources to Create

Another advantage of steam engines is that they are good to go if they are near coal and water. Once they have fuel to make the machine go and water to refill, they can travel as far as needed. Any small town with an abundance of those two things quickly sprang up into a city on the move.

The resources that are most often used when building steam engines are:

  • Steel – One of the most essential parts of the railroad system is steel. They use steel to make lots of things the steam locomotive needs, like the rails and spikes to secure them to the cross ties.
  • Lumber – The cross ties to which the rails are secured will be another resource. Lumber is not as easy to get in certain parts of the midwest. The town would need substantial lumber to build buildings and support the trains.
  • Water – Steam can’t be created without water and heat. So wherever the locomotive is located will need a freshwater supply to keep the engine going. Water also allows the town to grow food, which will enable the population to thrive.

Resources are extremely important when it comes to a steam locomotive. If the railroad is lacking in any area, there will be trouble for the whole system. Ensuring that the train has enough things to keep it going guarantees

Railroads Save Space During Development

It doesn’t take much space when a railroad cuts across the country. The tracks are only a few feet wide, and when they move through open land, they don’t disturb anything that is not on the tracks. This keeps landowners happy by getting a lease for their land and the railroad happy by creating a faster route.

Some ways that the railroads save space as they are built are:

  • Single Lane – If a train only needed a single lane to operate the railroad, the government was only on the hook for a small section of land. The single-lane rail was the precursor to the dual tracks that ended up being the country’s lifeblood until the late 1900s.
  • Stacked Bridges – Another way that railroads saved space was by creating stacked bridges at track intersections. These bridges would allow the trains to keep moving instead of stopping or rerouting the lines. In addition, the reserved space created by the stacked bridges made it possible for goods to move around the clock.

Railyards can be substantial. A single set of tracks will take less space than a single traffic lane. This also works excellent for cities; a set of tracks can increase the number of hours factories can operate and allow workers to work more hours.

Jonathan Lee

The Steam Locomotive Allowed New Areas to be Populated

It should come as no surprise that America was largely unsettled and unexplored when the steam engine began to make its legacy. People were hemmed into large cities in the Eastern part of the country, and growing pains were starting to drag America down. Nevertheless, the locomotive was crucial in stretching the country to the one we know and love.

A few reasons that the steam locomotive allowed the country to make new settlements are:

  • Price – Even though the steam engine was the height of technology in its day, people could still afford to take the train. The train being so affordable allowed families who had just immigrated to the country a chance to find their piece of the country.
  • Size – People might not think about how many people could ride on a train. For one of the first times ever, there was enough room for everyone who wanted to travel to go together. The advanced size meant that entire families could load up and seek their piece of the American dream.
  • Workforce – Around this time, the need for construction equipment and the hands to work was at an all-time high. The train allowed support for large operations to arrive quickly in new towns and begin working. This workforce acted as an advanced party to create makeshift towns that could become thriving cities.
  • Map Makers – The locomotive movement created some of the first maps of the country. As the companies scouted land for possible railways, maps began to form. These maps made their way back to the towns, and other explorers started documenting the land.

The steam engine’s footprints are heavily imprinted in the DNA of the United States. The steam engine carried materials and people into the nation’s most remote areas. Its cargo and relentless movement towards the borders gave those new to America a chance to create their own homes and lives with freedom.

The Bottom Line for the Steam Engine Made it a Staple in US Culture.

In the end, the locomotive made money for everyone involved. The wealth generated by rail barons and companies set the bedrock for all American success. The money allowed the rich to travel for leisure while the working class used the rails to find work and move their families to suitable areas.

Some of the reasons that money is an advantage of the steam locomotive are:

  • Sales – Companies could make many more sales than they could before. More sales allowed businesses to offer catalogs that fueled the consumer needs for home goods, leading to even more sales for the companies.
  • Unstoppable – The money generated by the steam locomotive made it an unstoppable force. Once the funds began to bust the coffers of the train owners, there was no stopping its yearning to create new borders and explore the new country.
  • Government Backing – Once the tax checks cleared, the government supported the steam locomotive. They would bend the rules and change laws to allow the train to cross protected lands or remove families from their homes.

Money is just as important today as it was in the time of the steam engine. Money has power that makes it easier for the train to win court cases and find favor with local officials. The prosperity promised by the steam engine was too tempting for them to resist, and tracks were laid that pushed the country to new heights. 


The steam engine was one of the main drivers behind the success of the United States. They were easy to create, and any town rich in water and timber could have a rail line. These lines made wealth for the locals, and the train baron billionaires helped settle new cities and expand the map of the country.

The engine’s speed revolutionized shipping and made it hard for bandits to waylay trains. The train’s security allowed materials to be sent across the country with no worry of loss and the passengers enjoyed riding the rails. The steam engine generated income and jobs that became the foundation of the greatest nation in the world.


Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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