Everybody knows the railroads in the game Monopoly are the Pennsylvania, B&O, Reading, and Short Line. But how many people realize that three of the four were real railroads?
The venerable PRR, sometimes referred to as the Pennsy, has been heralded as "The Standard Railroad of the World". The original line connected Harrisburg and Pittsburg, but the tracks of the Pennsylvania ultimately served a region bounded by New York, Chicago, St. Louis, and Washington DC. In terms of traffic, the Pennsylvania was for many years the largest railroad in the world. In 1968 it merged with the New York Central and became the Penn Central. The Penn Central was later acquired by Conrail, and ultimately by Norfolk Southern Railway. But the Pennsylvania still remains one of the most popular railroads among modelers today.
The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was originally chartered to build a line connecting the port of Baltimore on the Atlantic coast to "a suitable place" on the Ohio River. The state of Maryland later gave the B&O a charter to build a line from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. From these beginnings the B&O grew to serve much the same region as the Pennsylvania Railroad. Like the Pennsylvania, the Baltimore and Ohio operated for over a century. But in 1963 the B&O became part of the Chessie System, which ultimately merged with the Seaboard System Railroad to become CSX.
Take a ride on the Reading. The Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, later the Reading Company, is actually supposed to be pronounced 'redding'. It was originally chartered to build a line between Reading and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The "RDG" only served Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and Maryland but it made huge profits by hauling coal from mines to cities throughout these states. In 1976 the Reading Company sold all of its railroad holdings to Conrail.
The Monopoly game's Short Line isn't named for a real-life railroad. Although the game's inventor is reputed to have had a small inter-urban tram line in mind when he named the game property, the term short line applies to any independent railroad with track covering a short distance or small region. While many such railroads have been bought by larger concerns or simply gone out of business, they are far from extinct. Today the non-profit American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) has over 400 member railroads which together operate 29% of the railroad tracks in America.