The outbreak of the Civil War forced the U.S. Congress to change its plans for the first Transcontinental Railroad to be built along the 32nd parallel, which extends across Texas roughly from Shreveport, Louisiana, to El Paso. Instead, Congress selected a northern route along the 42nd parallel. In 1869 the Central Pacific Railroad from Sacramento,
California met the Union Pacific from Council Bluffs, Iowa/Omaha, Nebraska, and drove the “Last Spike” at Promontory Summit, Utah, just north of the Great Salt Lake. In a never-to-be-forgotten ceremony, a transportation network of railroads linked for the first time both coasts of the United States.
The northern route created a major improvement in east-west transportation but the need remained for a southern route. The Southern Pacific started construction eastward from San Diego, California, the same year that the northern route was completed. The U.S. Congress chartered the Texas & Pacific Railroad in 1871 to build a line westward from Marshall, Texas, to meet the line from San Diego. The Texas Legislature, eager to have the rail line stretch across the state, accepted the only federally chartered railroad in Texas and paid Texas & Pacific twenty sections (a section is one square mile or 640 acres) of land for every one mile of track that it laid—a total of fourteen million acres.
The construction progressed piecemeal due to contract disputes until the fall of 1879 when Jay Gould and his syndicate bought an interest in the project and with solid financial backing reached an agreement with the Southern Pacific to meet at Sierra Blanca, ninety-two miles east of El Paso. Construction pitched forward at a furious rate as each line worked to be first to complete the designated mileage. The Southern Pacific used Chinese workers for most of its labor force as it crossed rugged terrain that required water to be hauled in to its crews. The grueling work halted for the Southern Pacific on November 25, 1881, when the railroad reached Sierra Blanca. With the arrival of the Texas & Pacific on December 15, the second Transcontinental Railroad spanned the nation.
For “further study” see Collis P Huntington, one of the Big Four Railroad men who worked to get the railroad across the United States.