PROMONTORY SUMMIT, the United States, May 10 (Xinhua) -- With replicas of historic steam locomotives whistling across north Utah on Friday, thousands of people came here to celebrate the 150th birthday of the first U.S. transcontinental railroad while honoring the Chinese workers who helped build it.
The celebration was held at the Golden Spike National Historical Park at Promontory Summit, a high ground roughly 100 km northwest of Salt Lake City. The last spike of the transcontinental railroad, often referred to as the Golden Spike, was ceremonially driven in here by Central Pacific Railroad President Leland Stanford on May 10, 1869.
The Central Pacific Railroad hired 15,000 workers, among whom some 12,000 were Chinese immigrants, to construct the western part of the railroad.
"Using manual hammer drills, pick axes and explosives, they (Chinese workers) dug 15 tunnels through hard granite. Snow fell so deeply in the mountains that they had to build roofs over 37 miles (roughly 60 km) of track so supply trains could make it through," U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said while addressing the ceremony.
"The conditions were merciless, dangerous and harsh," she added. "An estimated 500-1,000 Chinese workers lost their lives."
Nancy Potter, whose ancestors participated in the construction of the railroad, told Xinhua that she was familiar with the history and the contribution of the Chinese railroad builders.
"Many of them left their families back in China to build the railroad in the United States, and many of them were lost in the history," Potter said. "We should pay respect to all their contributions."
Chao, the first U.S. secretary of transportation of Chinese ancestry, voiced the same message.
"Today, we remember the estimated 12,000 or more Chinese laborers and all the laborers who sacrificed greatly to make this great dream a reality, the benefits of which America is still enjoying today," she said.
For many years, the stories of the Chinese workers and details of their lives remained untold.
"Chinese workers were so dedicated and hardworking, focused to get their work done," Val K. Potter, member of the Utah House of Representatives and husband of Nancy Potter, told Xinhua.
"They were quiet and paid less, and the American society knew little about them back then," said the lawmaker. "It is important to celebrate their great accomplishments, and let more people know about the history."
Doug Wilde, a volunteer and local resident, said the celebration also symbolizes U.S.-China friendship.
The contribution of the Chinese railroad workers, which were under-appreciated in the past, should be recognized and remembered forever, Wilde added.
In a video-recorded speech marking Friday's ceremony, Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai said the railroad is a project of wonder of the world that linked America from sea to shining sea and laid the foundation for the American economic boom.
This is also a telling example of how the Chinese and American people can come together to get things done, and make the impossible possible, he said.
"A strong bond between China and the United States can deliver real benefits to our two countries and to the world community," Cui said.