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23: Chicago, the Nation's Railroad Center

Chicago Union Station
"It could be a cathedral," Trains magazine Editor David P. Morgan wrote when he selected this image for the conclusion of a photo story about Chicago Union Station in 1965. In fact, the station was intended as a cathedral or temple to railroading and to Chicago's status as the capital city of the nation's railroads. The famed Chicago architect Daniel Burnham designed it and died before its completion in 1925, but he clearly understood the notion of temples or monuments to cultural, religious, and commercial phenomena, and he made one for Chicago, just as other, earlier architects had designed them for major rail centers around the country. But Chicago was the nation's principal center. An undated Association of Western Railroads pamphlet entitled "CHICAGO--Railroad Center of the World," noted that it had been a rail hub beginning in 1850 and maintained its "supremacy" ever since. Chicago once had six intercity stations, but many disappeared with the decline of passenger service. The decentralization of food production means that the city is no longer "hog butcher . . . stacker of wheat," as poet Carl Sandburg famously wrote. Even so, Chicago remains the rail gateway of the United States. It has the BNSF logistics center (in nearby Joliet since 2002). Amtrak passenger service concentrates at Union Station (which has been magnificently restored), and commuter travel expands. CREATE, a partnership that addresses rail capacity and infrastructure issues, states that Chicago now accounts for one-third of the nation's freight rail traffic. Each day about 1,200 trains pass through the region; it has more than 38,000 rail jobs that generate $1.7 billion in wages. CREATE predicts a doubling of freight in twenty years--a virtual guarantee that Chicago will retain its status, even as railroads adapt. And Burnham's temple to railroading in Chicago will retain its status as well--even though nuns who traverse its corridors no longer wear habits.

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Alternate Title Railroad History in a Nutshell
Source John Gruber, Madison, Wisconsin
Coverage Spatial, Chicago, Illinois; Temporal, 1964
Rights John Gruber
Date Created 1964
Resource Type
Extent 8 in. x 10 in.
Depicted Railroad
Location Chicago, Illinois
Creator Description John Gruber is a founder of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art and editor of its journal, "Railroad Heritage." He has been a free-lance railroad photographer since 1960, and received an award from the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society in 1994 for lifetime achievement in photography. He is contributing editor to "Classic Trains," and co-author of four books. He edited "Vintage Rails" magazine from 1995 to 1999.
Collection John Gruber Collection
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