For 150 years, Chicago has remained the country’s busiest rail hub at the center of the nation’s rail network. In all, 40 railroads provide services from Illinois to every part of the United States and all seven of the major North American freight railways converge in Chicago to make it the largest US rail gateway. Moving anything coast-to-coast by rail is almost guaranteed to pass through Chicago. In 2011, Illinois ranked first in the US for rail freight volume accounting for 490.4 million tons. Today, the state is the world’s third most active rail intermodal hub with 25% of U.S. freight rail traffic and 46% of all intermodal traffic beginning, ending or traveling through Chicago. Each day, nearly 500 freight trains and 760 passenger trains pass through the Chicago region, moving the goods and people that are the life blood of the national economy.

In this episode we talk with retired train engineer and rail historian David Daruszka to discuss Chicago’s rail history from its founding in 1848 to its peak in the 1940s and on into today’s operations. Though the waterways established Chicago the railroads soon became a key connector and transfer link to the continent from east to west and north to south. The development of Chicago from a frontier town into a world-class city could not have happened as it did without the railroads. Chicago became and arguably still is the greatest railroad center in the world. We hope you enjoy this journey into Chicago’s railroad history.

Links to Research and Historic Sources:

3 comments on Episode 24 – The Railroads

  1. Dave Gudewicz says:

    Great episode, thanks. Noticed the mention of the Ash book on Union Station so I got the e-book from B&N. About a third through it now and the level of detail on the subject is remarkable. To say that the railroads were “kings” in the late 19th early 20th century is not an overstatement with Chicago right in the middle of all of it.

  2. Brent Barron says:

    I enjoyed this program. One small toss in. The federal government moved the Railroad Retirement Board headquarters to Chicago, because Chicago was and still is the railroad Capitol of the United States. It is one of the only federal agencies to have their headquarters outside of Washington DC.

    1. Patrick McBriarty says:

      Great additional detail. Thanks so much for listening and adding this interesting point.

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