[[quoteright:350:[[Series/HellOnWheels http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/image_19.png]]]]

->'''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. What did them in eventually was the mass availability of the "horseless carriage".

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.


[[folder:Comic Books]]
* In the ''Comicbook/JusticeLeagueOfAmerica'' WeirdWest {{Elseworld}} ''Justice Riders'', Maxwell Lord is a ruthless railroad baron who uses alien technology to create robot railworkers, and employs Felix Faust to wipe out any town that's in his way. Unfortunately for him, one of these towns is the home of Sheriff [[Comicbook/WonderWoman Diana Prince]]. Lord eventually fights the Riders as Lord Havoc, in {{Steampunk}} PoweredArmour.

[[folder:Fan Works]]
* ''WesternAnimation/MyLittlePonyFriendshipIsMagic'' features trains a lot. The story ''Fanfic/TheIronHorseEverythingsBetterWithRobots'' depicts a minotaur named Cornelius Vanderbull as the owner of the largest railroad company in Equestria.
* In the [[Manga/OutlawStar Outlaw Star]] fanfic ''[[FanFic/AFistfulOfDragonite A Fistful of Dragonite]]'' Fred Luo is cast as a kindly one, the target of assassins who, once rescued, is quite happy to share some of his wealth with the protagonists.

* Sir Harry Percival in ''Film/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 ''Film/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''.
* Creator/LionelBarrymore in ''Film/DuelInTheSun'' is an early example.
* Tom Garner in ''Film/ThePowerAndTheGlory'' (1933) is an even earlier example. His thirst for power eventually ruins his marriage and his life.

* 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 ''Literature/CaptainsCourageous'' 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.
* The Fat Controller in ''Literature/TheRailwaySeries'' (Sir Topham Hatt in ''WesternAnimation/ThomasTheTankEngine'') fits the stereotypical appearance as [[ExactlyWhatItSaysOnTheTin a stout man in a top-hat]] but, while stern and businesslike, is also sympathetic to his engines and certainly not evil. In addition, Sodor's railways are probably nationalised (in the two books written before the nationalisation of UK railways, he was the Fat Director), so he doesn't have the financial motives of most rail barons.
* 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).
* ''Literature/{{Discworld}}'':
** While not literally a railroad baron, in the novel ''Discworld/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.

[[folder:Live Action TV]]
* One of these is the antagonist of the GrandFinale of ''Series/LittleHouseOnThePrairie'', and he gets a NearVillainVictory by purchasing the land Walnut Grove is built on right out from under its citizens. The reason this is a "near victory" is because [[XanatosGambit he was expecting the people of Walnut Grove to stay on the town (and so he would be able to make them his employees) or allow themselves to be kicked out by the U.S. Army (so he could populate Walnut Grove with his employees)]]... but instead the people of Walnut Grove decide to thumb up their noses to the baron [[TrashTheSet by blowing the whole town sky-high]] and leaving with whatever they can pack into a few carriages. The baron gets even more egg on his face when the Army refuses to arrest the citizens for the fact (they owned the houses, [[LoopholeAbuse the baron only owned the land]]) and people from other towns threaten to do the same if the baron buys ''their'' land.

* The second series of ''Radio/BleakExpectations'' features Emmett Sternbeater, who dupes Pip into building an entire railway network to pursue Gently Benevolent. Along the way, numerous idyllic English villages, orphanages and butterfly sanctuaries are levelled, and dozens of workers killed, all in the name of "progress".

[[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).
* There are several non-combat games revolving around a group of players choosing either to compete or to co-operate in driving strategic railway lines across North America. effectively the players take the roles of rail speculators and can come put at the end as either very rich or very bankrupt.
* This trope is the reason why some of the properties in ''TabletopGame/{{Monopoly}}'' are railroads.

[[folder:Video Games]]
* Becoming one is the goal of ''VideoGame/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 ''WesternAnimation/ThomasTheTankEngine''.
* Baron Rorgueil in ''VideoGame/AviaryAttorney''.

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* ''WesternAnimation/TheFairlyOddparents'': In "Dad Back in Time", Timmy learns that once of his ancestors, Ebenezer Turner, was offered a chance of becoming a railroad baron but turned it down because he thought [[ItWillNeverCatchOn trains were just a fad]]. As a result, Ebenezer became the town crier and spent his life [[ExactWords crying over the lost opportunity]] and Orville Buxaplenty became the town's local railroad baron. Timmy wishes Ebenezer had accepted the offer and it creates a timeline where Timmy's parents [[WithGreatPowerComesGreatInsanity carelessly destroyed the town with their trains]].
* Cheryl/Carol in ''WesternAnimation/{{Archer}}'' is an heiress of the Tunt family, an expy of the Vanderbilts (see below) in owning a large railway system, a mansion and opulent hotel in [[BigApplesauce Midtown Manhattan]], and "several Cornelii".
* ''[[Creator/SabanEntertainment Saban's]] Around the World in 80 Dreams'': One episode features a railroad baron trying to destroy the Wright Brothers' invention because he fears planes will make the railroad business obsolete.

[[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]]." The guy never thought much of his trains however, and he kept referring to them derisively as "them things that go on land".
* Jay Gould manipulated stock shares to keep his Erie Railroad from being bought out from under him, almost single-handedly crashed the US economy in 1869 in an attempt to corner the gold market, and boasted that he could "hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half" when workers of another of his railroads went on strike. No surprise that he was considered the most hated man in America.
* Diamond Jim Fisk, a business partner of Gould.
* J. Pierpont Morgan, though better remembered for the banking house that still bears his name today, invested heavily in railroads, and did so much to reorganize and merge lines that the process became known as "Morganization." Morgan and Hill's Northern Securities railroad trust was the target of UsefulNotes/TheodoreRoosevelt's first major antitrust lawsuit.
* E. H. Harriman owned the Union Pacific and the Southern Pacific, all while denying Collis P. Huntington's nephew Henry a chance at his uncle Collis' railroad. [[HeAlsoDid He also developed]] a standard locomotive design practice and passenger coach designs for both railroads, dubbed "Harrimans" by RailEnthusiasts of both the UP and SP.
* 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.
* Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford (who founded Stanford University in memory of his deceased son) and Charles Crocker, the "Big Four" of the Central Pacific Railroad. They controlled California state politics in the late nineteenth century. For a few years in the early twentieth century, Huntington's nephew Henry controlled all the trolley lines in UsefulNotes/LosAngeles after E.H. Harriman (mentioned above) virtually stole the Southern Pacific from under Henry at his uncle Collis' will-reading.
* Henry Morrison Flagler, whose Florida East Coast Railway did a lot to establish UsefulNotes/{{Florida}} as a tourist destination and basically created the city of Miami.