The development of railroads across the United States is included in every US History textbook that I’ve come across. The following three resources provide excellent visuals to help students understand the expansion and contraction of railroads in the United States.
Historypin offers a great resource that can help students see the development of railroad in the United States. On Living With the Railroads students can explore a Google Map laden with nearly 1,700 historical images of various railroad stations across the United States. At the bottom of the map students will find a timeline slider that they can move. Moving the timeline slider will reveal images specific to the time frame selected on the timeline.
Living With the Railroads was developed in partnership with the Spatial History Project at Stanford University. The Spatial History Project features even more maps and interactive visuals about the history of railroads.
The following video, U.S. Railroad Map History Map 1830-1990s, provides a concise overview of the expansion and contraction of railroads in the United States.