Yes, the silk trade was the hottest stuff on the railroads for almost a decade.
I believe that the primary route was from Asia to the Western U.S. by ship,
to the Eastern U.S. by rail, and then to Europe by ship. Either the raw
silk or sometimes even the silkworms in their cucoons were shipped
live and they could only live so long and the ship trip around either
Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope was much more time -
remember that in those days (let's say "the 20's") the primary marine
shipping was still sail. I do not know why the worms/raw silk was so
perishable - but perhaps it wasn't that so much as rushing it to a very
On the Great Northern they had a unique class of locomotives that
were used for the silk trade - the 4-8-2 P-2s. The Charles Wood book
on the GN has an entire chapter devoted to it called "The P-2s Ran
The Silk" and there is this as well from the GNRHShttp://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/54/v54i01p016-031.pdf
I don't know which other RRs had silk trains - but if you google "Great
Northern Silk" you will get a lot of hits to more info. Just bypass all the
stuff for books from sources like Amazon!