According to Richard White's article, "Transcontinental Railroads: Compressing Time and Space," what was the real economic significance of the railroad?
This “bulking up” was not so much a necessity for the movement of people as for the movement of things. The ability to move heavy things long distances at relatively cheap rates was the real economic significance of the railroads. --Richard White, Transcontinental Railroads: Compressing Time and Space
The Transcontinental Railroad had a way of making the vast stretches of the United States seem relatively small. As a means for moving people, the railroad had a significant impact on the development of the West. According to Richard White, the author of this article, the true economic significance of the railroad was not the movement of people across the continent. The true significance of the railroad was that it could transport heavy objects across the continent at a cheaper rate than was imagined. With the railroads, manufactured goods could be transported anywhere in the United States. In this way, the railroads opened new markets that were many hundreds of miles from the industrial urban centers of the east. It is for this reason that the industrial boom that occurred after the Civil War is so closely associated with the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.