Taggart Transcontinental Railroad

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The Taggart Transcontinental Railroad, in Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, was the railroad founded in the nineteenth century by Nathaniel Taggart and, during the period of the novel's action, run by James Taggart as President and Dagny Taggart as Vice-President in Charge of Operations. It was the one thing to which Dagny Taggart clung as the economy of the United States continued to crumble. The final collapse of the TTRR occurred when the detonation of Project X cut the Taggart Bridge across the Mississippi River in half. After that, Dagny Taggart finally joined the strike of the men of the mind called by John Galt.

Spoiler warning
This article contains important plot information


The Taggart Transcontinental Railroad was founded in 1860 by Nathaniel Taggart, who by all accounts given in the novel was a flamboyant and fearless tycoon and innovator. He was never quoted as saying anything quite as audacious as what a certain railroad man in South America is reported to have said:

Anywhere a llama can go, I can take a train.

But Nathaniel Taggart seems to have approached the building of a railroad with that same spirit. Generations of his descendants carried on the traditions he set. His son built the first bridge across the Mississippi River in 1885, though barge operators took legal action against him to stop the bridge. His grandson blasted and drilled an eight-mile-long tunnel through the Continental Divide near Winston, Colorado in 1902; the Taggart Tunnel would remain until it was demolished in 2019 in a tragic accident involving a passenger limited and a special train carrying ammunition.

Nathaniel Taggart also gained a reputation for ruthlessness. In the novel is attributed to him this quote which in real life is attributed to "Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt of the New York Central Railroad:

The public be d****d.
More ominously, when a certain Senator attempted to block one of his initiatives with a law that Taggart saw as serving no higher purpose than to obstruct him, Taggart had the man murdered. The offending bill died with that politician. This last episode is important because his descendant Dagny Taggart would threaten to do something similar if any politicians tried to stop one of her own initiatives.

Decline and Collapse

In 2011, Nathaniel Taggart's other descendant, James Taggart, took over the railroad. James' sister Dagny became its Vice President in Charge of Operations in 2014. The management styles of Nathaniel Taggart's two descendants could not have been more different. Dagny Taggart ran her department with the same flair for innovation and disregard for politicians' wishes that characterized Nathaniel Taggart's own administration. But Jim Taggart was as much politician as railroad executive, and sought to increase the profits of his company by forming political alliances rather than through productive labor.

The San Sebastián Line

As a railroad president, Jim Taggart was a disaster. For example, he built a railway line into Mexico in order to profit from the San Sebastián copper mines. (Actually, it would be more accurate to say that his sister Dagny finally built the line. She did it within a year of her wresting the Operating Vice-Presidency from a useless figurehead.) Little did Jim realize that the People's State of Mexico was sure to nationalize the line and the mines. Jim was satisfied with a document that "guaranteed" the property rights of the TTRR for two hundred years; that guarantee would soon prove worthless. The only reason why the TTRR did not lose more than it did was that Dagny Taggart reduced service on the line to one passenger train a day, and one freight train every other day, pulled by the most superannuated of locomotives and using the most dilapidated rolling stock that the TTRR owned. When nationalization came, Jim Taggart took credit for these moves, though he had tried to browbeat Dagny into canceling them, without result. Jim and Dagny would learn later that the San Sebastián Mines themselves were as worthless as the Mexican government's "guarantees" had been—though Jim Taggart would probably never appreciate the reason for that.

The Rio Norte Line

The effort spent on the San Sebastián Line caused the Rio Norte Line in Colorado to deteriorate. Wrecks were a frequent occurrence, to the point at which a rival railroad, the Phoenix-Durango Railroad, started to take business away from the TTRR in Colorado.

Jim Taggart's response was to influence the National Alliance of Railroads to promulgate "The Anti-dog-eat-dog Rule" on October 25, 2016. This forced the Phoenix-Durango to leave Colorado within nine months; the PDRR ceased operations on July 25, 2017.. Dagny's response was a crash program to save the Rio Norte Line, by laying rail of Rearden Metal, a newly invented metal that, while lighter than steel, was still stronger. Jim proved a very feckless manager in that affair, and at one point Dagny Taggart formed her own company to take over the Rio Norte Line and complete the construction on her own, so that the TTRR would not be at any financial risk. Dagny's efforts were successful, and the Rio Norte Line, briefly renamed the John Galt Line, opened to much fanfare on July 22, 2017—three days before the Phoenix-Durango was due to close.

The Destruction of Colorado

The John Galt Line caused a boom in Colorado, which in this version of alternate history was the one State in the United States with the smallest government and the lowest level of taxation and regulatory interference. But the machinations of the ruling clique in Washington, DC, machinations in which Jim Taggart had a hand, destroyed the once-favorable economic conditions in Colorado. This happened in November 2017, with the result that Ellis Wyatt, the prime mover in Colorado, blew up his oil fields and vanished. Ultimately, every industrialist in consequence in Colorado would follow him. So the Rio Norte Line had insufficient traffic to pay for its upkeep, and its Rearden Metal rails, which had held up remarkably well, were needed to replace worn-out rail on the TTRR's main transcontinental line. And so, on February 15, 2019, the Rio Norte Line was closed, and its track torn up. It would not be replaced until after the "strike of the men of the mind" was over.

The Frozen Bond Scandal

This would have been a scandal had the media not surrendered itself to the whims of the ruling party. Essentially, under a "directive" from the Bureau of Economic Planning and Natural Resources, certain bonds issued to finance railroad construction were "frozen," which is to say, not payable. But a well-connected man might buy "frozen" bonds, for pennies on the dollar, and then prevail upon his Washington connections to "defreeze" them. At least one person who made money in this unethical manner is mentioned as a passenger who died in the Taggart Tunnel collapse.

The Frozen Trains

On May 1, 2019, the Economic Planning Bureau issued Directive 10-289, an absurd effort to make the country's economy "stand still." The most enduring consequence of that directive were the "frozen trains." Quite often, the conductor, engineer, fireman, and other members of a train crew would stop a train in a rural region and simply walk away from it. The problem began with the Directive and continued until the end of the railroad later in 1958. Even the Taggart Comet, the TTRR's flagship passenger limited, was not immune to such "freezing." In fact, Dagny Taggart disappeared from one such "frozen train" for a month, before resurfacing at a small airport in Colorado on or near July 1.

The Taggart Tunnel Disaster

Main Article: Taggart Tunnel

On May 28, 2019, the Taggart Comet, with Washington man Kip Chalmers on board, derailed east of Winston, Colorado. The division superintendent ordered the Comet held at Winston, to wait for a fast freight and the Diesel-electric engine that pulled it, so that the Comet could pass safely through the Taggart Tunnel. But Chalmers sent a threatening letter to Jim Taggart, who then roared at his temporary Operating Vice-President, Clifton Locey, to "do something" and get the Comet through. Thus the Comet entered the Tunnel pulled by a coal-burning steam locomotive. Consequently, the Comet stopped just past a sharp curve, with all its passengers and the engineer asphyxiated. (The fireman jumped from the engine and ran all the way to the western portal.) Then an Army ammunition train crashed into the rear of the Comet, causing an explosion that collapsed the tunnel.

Dagny Taggart returned at once, set up a new transcontinental route, and ordered new rail laid, in violation of several regulations and directives. But that night, Dagny departed New York on the Comet on an errand to Afton, Utah. As mentioned, the Comet was "frozen." Dagny got off and took off in a rented aircraft. She was last seen flying into the Rocky Mountains after taking off from Afton, Utah. A never-confirmed account said that she had taken off in pursuit of another plane. Neither plane was ever seen again.

The Railroad Unification Plan

In June 2019, Jim Taggart, unable (or unwilling) to lay track as Dagny had planned, made his most infamous achievement: the Railroad Unification Plan, under which all railroads would operate as a team, pool their revenues, and then receive payment in proportion to trackage owned, not necessarily for services rendered. Under this regime, TTRR's profits swelled, mainly because the TTRR was paid for owning miles of useless track that served no one. This cooperation did have its price, however. The TTRR received no remuneration from any other railroad for passage across the Taggart Bridge, but that was a minor annoyance. Of greater consequence was that the Director of Unification (Cuffy Meigs) might cancel service at any time in order to lay on special trains to haul some of the strangest special cargoes imaginable, varying from grapefruit to soybeans. He also routinely stole and sold supplies.

The Plan could never last forever. By September, the other railroads had no more loot to seize. Dagny Taggart saw that coming, but Jim Taggart did not.

The Minnesota Wheat Disaster

On September 14, 2019, hundreds of freight cars were diverted from Minnesota, where they had been intended to pick up a cargo of wheat, to Louisiana, to pick up soybeans instead. The result was the worst famine that the United States of America ever suffered, and this no doubt contributed to the stresses that led, finally, to the collapse of American society into anarchy. The entire Minnesota wheat crop was lost, and several farmers died trying to carry their wheat to market on their own backs. Ironically, the soybean crop spoiled en route and was declared unfit for human consumption.

The Terminal Signal Failure

On October 15, 2019 the signal interlocker at the Taggart Terminal in New York failed. For at least two days, Dagny Taggart organized the unskilled labor force to wave signal lanterns to move the trains in and out by hand. That was only a temporary setback, but it was a signal of what was to come.

The Final Collapse

Finally, the day (March 20, 2020) came in which American history, as Americans had known it, drew to a close. This was the day that Dagny Taggart had finally decided to join the strike of the men of the mind, and also to collaborate with Francisco d'Anconia and Ragnar Danneskjöld in their attempt to rescue John Galt, who had been arrested weeks before. That day was marked by three events, in rapid succession:

  1. The embarrassment of the government by John Galt, who famously told them, on national television, to "get the *** out of [his] way."
  2. The detonation of Project X and with it the destruction of Iowa
  3. The demolition of the Taggart Bridge. This was a direct result of the Project X detonation, because it was at the limit of the Project's range.

Dagny Taggart declared that, for once, she did not know what to do about the disaster any more than did the breathless employees who brought her the news. When the story broke in New York City, millions of people loaded their belongings onto the roofs of their cars and drove out any way that they could. This was the final trigger for the anarchy that marked the end of the strike, and of the government.

Jim Taggart was not in New York to witness this disaster. He was in New Hampshire, taking part in putting a man to torture to force him to assume the post of "Economic Dictator" of the country. Not only did that fail, but Jim Taggart suffered a complete psychic collapse and spent the rest of his life in a catatonic state.


In the next spring, Dagny Taggart essentially rebuilt the entire Taggart Transcontinental system from scratch. Her first line was a three-mile narrow-gauge railway line from the D'Anconia No. 1 copper mine to the floor of Galt's Gulch. She did not build any rail service into Galt's Gulch; Midas Mulligan wished to keep that location secret. She did, however, re-establish rail service from points north and south of the Gulch to Winston and Durango, CO. Next she re-established rail service between New York and Philadelphia.

Spoilers end here.