Severe shortcomings in the general organization and capacity of the rail industry were exposed upon America’s entry into World War I in 1917. The railroads’ lack of capability to assist the war effort through vital freight transport led the US government to assume control of the country’s railroads in a period of temporary nationalization between 1917–20. A number of fundamental reorganizations occurred during this time that would have a lasting effect on day-to-day operational practices. The advent of air and road transport during the interwar years and the economic depression of the 1930s led to the closure of many smaller railroads in rural areas, which saw insufficient passenger numbers and freight demand. Cutbacks to the overgrown rail network led to a decrease in the overall total track mileage in America for the first time during the interwar period. During World War II the railroads were better able to cope with increased wartime demands.
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