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Chicago, America's Railroad Capital

Chicago, America's Railroad Capital

Chicago, Americas Railroad Capital

From the editors of Trains magazine, Chicago, America’s Railroad Capital explores how the third-largest U.S. city became the nation’s most important hub. In addition to a robust commuter system, six of the country’s seven largest railroads serve Chicago each day — making it the busiest rail hub in America. Whether you’re a train enthusiast or a Chicagoan at heart, you’ll find this 100-page special issue to be a wonderful resource for railroad history, maps, photos, and more! 

United States
Kalmbach Publishing Co. - Magazines
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1 min.
all roads lead to chicago

MY JOB IS IN WISCONSIN, but my heart is in Chicago. In part, that’s because I’m a big-city person. Put me in Los Angeles, or New York, or Sydney, or Rome — any place, really, with a flood of culture and dining and energy and people — and I’m in my element. And in part, it’s because Chicago railroading is so dynamic. For me, standing on the Oak Street Bridge in Hinsdale, Ill., watching the traffic on BNSF’s Racetrack, or spending an afternoon on the Metra platform in Oak Park, taking in Union Pacific action with that spectacular skyline as a backdrop, is a better show than any Hollywood blockbuster. So when Trains Editor Jim Wrinn asked me to oversee this special issue, I jumped at the chance. (In fact, I…

20 min.
city of railro ads

No one in 1830 was placing a finger on a map of North America at Chicago, saying, “Here we will build the greatest railroad city on earth.” At that time, all Chicago consisted of was a surveyor’s plat, a few crude cabins, and some trails scratched out of a swamp at the southwest corner of Lake Michigan. Railroads were just beginning to consider crossing the Appalachian barrier. They were, in fact, still just formative technology and unproven economically. As transport, canal ventures were businessmen’s solid investment and viewed as the future of transportation. But the interior of the continent was full of possibilities, and Chicago, unknown to almost everyone, was a location unlike no other. A mere 26 years later, Chicago was without question the Rail Capital of the World, the focus…

1 min.
world war ii

If Chicago’s railroads had ever vanished from the public eye, they reappeared in World War II. It was not so much that they were wonderful, comfortable, or friendly, it was that they mattered. But wartime travel was often a brutally miserable experience of late trains, grimy coaches, and cancelled accommodations. While railroads might have not left anyone on the platform, they made no friends among business travelers, many of whom after the war switched to airlines and never looked back. The war separated two fundamentally different eras for Chicago’s railroads. Until the war, the railroads maintained the downtown presence they had established in the 1850s. Afterward, the perfection of trucking, construction of highways, and later the advent of intermodal freight made the freight houses and most of the classification yards superannuated,…

22 min.
fixing c hicago or not

Chicago being the rail capital of the Western Hemisphere — where every railroad wants to be — you shouldn’t be surprised that it’s also the place where trains go to wait ... and wait ... and wait. Most of the time, the six Class I railroads, two switching companies, and commuter operator Metra that comprise this dense steel network consider these delays just a cost of doing business. But every now and then comes the defining moment when everything comes crashing down. The gridlock can last months and involve hundreds of millions of dollars of foregone revenue and added expenses, not to mention injured credibility with users of the railroads. Such a time was New Year’s Day of 1999, when Chicago was buried by a blizzard that froze its unprepared railroads…

3 min.
8 ways to fix chicago

As railroads seek to open up Chicago and avoid future crises, they consider any number of options. Trains spoke to numerous present and retired rail executives who have grappled with the city’s problems. These are among their suggestions for making a difference. Bear in mind that if change were easy, all of these things would have long ago been accomplished. 1If it needs doing, do it yourself. CREATE was conceived as a private-public partnership, but that model no longer works. If the benefit is great enough, pay for these projects yourself, even if it means paying Metra’s share. If that seems unfair, then charge Metra user fees each time it runs a train over one of these improvements. Bottom line: Railroads are rich but still act as if they are poor.…

7 min.
five decades, one station

When I returned to Chicago Union Station for more photography, what struck me 50 years later was the passengers pointing their camera phones everywhere in the classic main waiting room. It seemed to indicate how much they admired the airy, sunlit area with its restored “To Trains” sign and arrow. Recognition by the Landmarks Illinois adds to the station’s historic stature. There have been changes since my photo section, “The Aging Dignity of Chicago Union Station,” in Trains’ August 1965 issue. Those photos were done in summer and fall 1964 at the request of Editor David P. Morgan, who believed that Chicago lacked coverage. Today, exciting developments are happening in the building’s evolution. The Great Hall, the main waiting room with its 219-foot-long barrel-shaped skylight, 115 feet high, looks brighter than ever.…