The player starts as the manager of a small railroad company with the goal of transporting as many goods as possible through the historic railroad eras of "Steam", "Diesel" and "Electric". The initial phase introduces the game mechanics. The winner of the subsequent "endgame", is the player to generate the most prestige. A game round ends after about four months; this makes Rail Nation quite fast-paced for a browser game.
But winning means completing many different tasks. At first, your little steam locomotive can transport goods by freight car from one town to another. Each town needs the raw materials to develop and grow. Nearby factories produce or process the materials. For example, your trains must transport lumber to the joinery and then the planks it produces must be taken to the town. And why not take a load of coal from the mines on the journey back? This is how you generate cash that you can reinvest in your infrastructure.