-->'''Morton:''' How does it feel sitting behind that desk, Frank?
-->'''Frank:''' Almost like holding a gun... only much more powerful.
--->-- ''Film/OnceUponATimeInTheWest''

The owner/president/majority stockholder of a large and successful railroad. In the latter half of the 19th Century, owning a major railroad was a great way to get and stay rich. Not just because of fees for carrying passengers and freight, but land grants giving the railroads large easements on either side of the tracks, which could then be rented out or sold.

In fiction, the RailroadBaron will be dressed ostentatiously, with a gold pocket watch, fat cigars and other expensive accessories. They didn't call it the Gilded Age for nothing. Most of them will be middle-aged or older, and an expansive paunch is common. (One theory is that this stylized image was a mirror of their enormous and overbearing economic presence. Another theory is that it's just that most of them were rather fat, in a time when most people were lean from expensive or inadequate food.)

Because AristocratsAreEvil, even "honorary" ones, Railroad Barons will usually be treated as an antagonist in stories. They'll have a ScrewTheRulesIHaveMoney attitude, hire the PinkertonDetective to deal with anyone who crosses them from {{Outlaw}} to union organizer, try to drive the DeterminedHomesteader off of his property so he can buy it up cheap, and arbitrarily change planned rail routes for maximum personal profit or to fulfill a vendetta. In short, an early type of CorruptCorporateExecutive.

Historically, they were expected to be generous with their money once they got it (and some of them actually were); but even the generous often used these methods to acquire the money that they later gave away.

About the only time you'll see a Railroad Baron being treated neutrally is in stories about the Transcontinental Railroad being joined up.

Compare CattleBaron.


* Sir Harry Percival in ''CatBallou'' (villain)
* Morton in ''Film/OnceUponATimeInTheWest'' (villain)
* A Railroad Baron is seen briefly in ''Film/TheWildBunch'' and portrayed as worse (somehow) than the eponymous Bunch themselves.
* [=McCabe=] in ''McCabeAndMrsMiller'' is attacked by agents of a crooked railway baron's company after refusing to sell land to them.
* Parodied quite humorously by Creator/MelBrooks himself as the corrupt governor who stands to profit from directing the railroad through the town in ''"Film/BlazingSaddles"''.
** It was, in fact, done by State Attorney General Hedy Lamarr.
-->'''That's ''Hedley''!!'''
* The Railroad Colonel (that's what the character is credited as) in the movie ''Film/RustlersRhapsody''.

* Tom Garner in ''Literature/ThePowerAndTheGlory'' (tragic hero)
* A ''Literature/SherlockHolmes'' novel by Larry Millett had one of the big (real-life) railroad barons in Minnesota as Holmes's ally and, possibly, client.
* Harvey Cheyne's father in ''Captains Courageous'' averts most of the stereotype. He is treated as an often ruthless man but a more or less sympathetic one.
* Dagny Taggart of ''Literature/AtlasShrugged'' is pretty much the inverse of every stereotype of the Railroad Baron. Her railroad's founder, Nathaniel Taggart, is the idealized version of the stereotypical RailroadBaron; Ayn Rand probably modeled him on James J. Hill.
** Dagny's brother, James Taggart, almost fits this trope. However, due to his incompetence, Dagny (for the most part) runs the company, while he seeks political influence.
* Augustus Melmotte, the villain of Creator/AnthonyTrollope's novel ''Literature/TheWayWeLiveNow''. Appears to have been based in part on real life railway promoter George Hudson (see below).
* While not literally a railroad baron, in the Discworld novel ''GoingPostal'', Reacher Gilt is definitely a clacks baron (clacks is like a telegraph) and very much dresses and acts the part.
* ''Discworld/RaisingSteam'': Harry King becomes the Disc's first RailroadBaron, much to his delight, as it allows him to leave a legacy other than his night soil business.

* The second series of ''Radio/BleakExpectations'' features Emmett Sternbeater, who dupes Pip into building an entire railway network to pursue Gently Benevolent.

[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
* Most of the railway owners in the ''TabletopGame/{{Deadlands}}'' roleplaying setting are pure evil (one of them uses a zombie workforce, the other one uses evil witches as enforcers, the third one is a MadScientist, the fourth one is basically a Fu Manchu ripoff).

[[folder:Video Games]]
* Becoming one is the goal of ''RailroadTycoon''. Some campaigns even have you play as one of the RealLife barons.
* Thomas Magruder, from the video game ''VideoGame/{{Gun}}''. BigBad, but is only using his railroads to find [[spoiler: an enormous gold deposit]] that would make him incredibly wealthy and powerful.
* The Fat Controller of ''ThomasTheTankEngine''.

[[folder:Real Life]]
* James J. Hill: Owned and directed the building of the Northern Pacific and the Great Northern. Earned the nickname "Empire Builder" which was applied to a GN passenger train. NP and GN also co-owned both the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy and the Spokane, Portland & Seattle. The government wouldn't let him merge these 4 roads into a mega road until 1970.
* Cornelius "The Commodore" Vanderbilt (so called because he also owned a vast steamboat network as well). This is also why the sports teams of [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanderbilt_University Vanderbilt University]] (which is named after him; he provided the then-huge million-dollar endowment) are called the "[[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanderbilt_Commodores Commodores]]."
* Jay Gould
* Diamond Jim Fisk
* J. Pierpont Morgan, though better remembered as a banker.
* E. H. Harriman: Owned the Union Pacific and the Southern Pacific.
* Up in [[CanadaEh Canada]], they have William Cornelius Van Horne, for whom there's a bit of a BrokenBase. Some see him as a voice of reason and restraint in the otherwise muddled CPR project (after earlier barons caused a bribery scandal with the drunken, womanizing prime minister) and for actually finishing the damn Canadian Pacific Railway; to others he's a villain for the CPR's treatment of immigrant workers (they had to spend most of their income on food and lodging at the worksite, and ridiculously dangerous tasks).
* George Hudson is probably the best known example in British history. Starting life as a humble draper's assistant in York, he came to embody the 'Railway Mania' of the 19th century. At the height of his power and influence he lauded as the 'Railway King', was elected as Lord Mayor of York and MP for Sunderland, and was close friends with such luminaries as George Stephenson and the Duke of Wellington (Hudson's advice on railway investments made the latter a huge fortune). His somewhat iffy business practices (he relied heavily on bribery) led to his eventual disgrace and downfall, though he retained several influential friends who supported him in his final years. One of the models for the fictional Augustus Melmotte in ''The Way We Live Now''; interestingly, author Anthony Trollope was an acquaintance of Hudson's nemesis George Leeman, who led the investigation into Hudson's dealings.