Saint Louis Rail Change 1951 – 2011

With all the silly talk about the need for high-speed rail as a “green alternative” to passenger transportation – it may be worth noting that our energy efficiencies would be more importantly served by just getting general rail transportation back to 20-century levels.

Below is a picture of Union Station, in Saint Louis Missouri, February 2011. Take a close look (click to enlarge -click browser back to comeback)

Actually, Union Station is off to the left. Only the arched roof of the train shed is visible on the far left. But note the city’s skyline and the tracks in the foreground. (especially the tracks and skyline)If you go back 60 years to 1951, the same view will tell a very different story about the transportation system.

You might notice a few more tracks. Oh yeah, and is those days there was no UPS trailer depot. (far left foreground)  No interstate highway crossing the rail yards either. (look back at 2011 photo)

Take another look. This is facing due east. There is no train operation taking place no train cars are moving in this photo.

Look back to 1951. All in all at least five train operations are being performed, and three of them are servicing passenger trains.

And review the skyline – guess what has been added.Some of the “new buildings” in the Skyline are massive Federal Government Courts building named for former Senator Eagleton. The three other largest building are the homes two giant nation-wide banks and the Metropolitan Life Insurance company.

In 1951 – trains were just becoming the most efficient means of mass transportation in history. Only to be rendered obsolete just 15 years due to the mass investment in interstate highway infrastructure by the federal government.

In 1951 – at least six major railroads intersected at Union Station in Saint Louis. Now four major Interstate Highways handle the traffic at less than ten percent of the energy efficiency.

Across the 60 year period, the Saint Louis area becomes home to a four Interstate Highway Intersection, three massive bank operations and an insurance giant. The rail yards are replaced by a UPS trailer depot and mostly an interstate highway.

The Union Station, has now become known “ramshack” – nothing more than a concrete stoop along side the Greyhound Bus terminal.

Two pictures tell the tale of a nation gone terribly off track. What will the scene be in another 60 years?

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13 Responses to Saint Louis Rail Change 1951 – 2011

  1. John says:

    Good morning. Caught your website from a reply you’d posted in Kunstler’s Monday blog. As to the rail yard pictures, can I assume, in the old pictures, that the tracks headed left are going to the passenger terminal? Is there any passenger service left in St. Louis?
    Also have the rail roads relocated their switching yards to some other location? That might account for the loss of so much trackage headed toward the right side of the picture.
    Do you have the stats for cargo haulage by the way? Is tonnage up, down or whatever regarding the railroads take on cargo shipping? Is cargo continuing to slip to the trucking industry?
    I, like you, believe the railroads are the key to keeping commerce moving in an increasingly costly fuel situation. Unfortunately it would seem the bulk of the general public has been completely blindsided by the world view created for them by main stream media.
    I like Kunstler’s Monday blog. While I might not always agree with him, he is always refreshing.

    • notesting9 says:

      I happened upon the old photos on the Net and realized I had a chance for a real “now and then” moment.

      I routinely bicycle across the particular bridge used in the photos – and made a real effort to catch the exact perspective.

      The actual passenger station is far off to the left, only the boarding shed roof is showing. All the tracks to the right were for “through freight.” The tracks were never replaced. A large trucking hub developed on the north end of Saint Louis.

      The last time I used Union Station for passenger service was about 1962. There were eight passenger trains and several tracks of private cars in the shed at the time I boarded. (One private rail car was being towed out with a GM&O F7. I think I rode on the “Texas Pacific.” a Missouri Pacific train.

      Only two main lines are present, Union Pacific, Burlington Northern. Some how the Terminal Railroad Association handles many switching operations across the river in Madison County.

      I haven’t looked for any statistics, but the highway map tells the story. And although a stranger can’t pick up on it, the only downtown growth to Saint Louis still present are banks, government and insurance entities. Pretty sad.

  2. Grinder63 says:

    Great blog, thanks!

  3. Ray says:

    Photos tell the story with even more impact than JHK’s masterful prose.

  4. Fred R Moore says:

    I had the pleasure of visiting the city to study the light rail connection to the Airport
    It was one of the few in our nation to be done correctly
    Oh how such a mighty terminal has fallen! replaced by a retail complex that has the same crap as any other part of the USA
    couldn’t find a brewpub had to settle for a “Hooters” got one of then on route one back where I live that I never visit

    I really enjoy “now and then” pics. but I have a humble request: If any JHK blog readers come here can we please refrain from the term “choo-choo”?
    In the course of playing citizen-advocate it gets pitched at me to infantilize the dialogue, so rationalizers of the status quo can be condescending and subsequently dismiss any point about to be made.
    the most galling example was when it was used by a transit authority bureaucrat in Boston when the citizens were supporting a light rail alternative to the “bus rapid transit” promoted by the planners.
    Besides, this mommy to toddler speak referred to long obsolete steam locomotives, not the electric ones that hopefully the rebuilt rail network will deploy.

  5. Frank Kling says:

    Great compare and contrast. Who would have believed we would so foolishly allow this highly efficient transportation system to wither away. I remember the MoPac rail line that ran behind my childhood home. It moved people to Creve Coeur Lake for recreation and hauled ice from massive ice houses along with truck farm produce. Why does STL not renovate this line as part of the light rail network? The rail bed already exists and so do the bridge foundations.

  6. carolyn4u says:

    No matter where or when, I love trains!

    Back in the 60’s, on my honeymoon, we flew to California but coming back home, we took the train. What do I remember best? The train ride! I will never forget the small, but comfortable compartment for overnight travel, hearing the rhythmic clickedy-clack of the track below, quite hypnotic.

    Economically, regular train service provides efficient, reliable service for travelers and for commerce. I hope slick, high speed modernization does not mean mothballs for the “little train that could”.

    Not everything bigger and faster is necessarily better. Remember the turtle – slow and steady but he finished the journey!

  7. Trin Kiger says:

    Great blog, spot-on with the trains. No need for a new fangled, high-speed-rail infrastructure when all the pieces parts are still present for the old railroad works to run smoothly. Imagine the work to be done on repairing the trackage. How much employment that would turn into for so many people out of work now? It’d be awesome to behold.

  8. Fred R Moore says:

    I posted a comment yesterday
    where is it?

  9. Fred R Moore says:

    i posted a comment where is it?

  10. notesting9 says:

    I see a comment form March 1st.

    I did get an email from Jim Kunstler – he liked the page.

  11. Fred R Moore says:

    RE: confirm posting
    got the post, my mistake in not understanding the quirks of particular page

    to add
    having done citizen advocate work for the preservation and expansion of urban rail transportation I admire the good citizens of the greater St Louis area for as I understand it
    to vote to increase their own tax levy to fund the Bi State light rail operation
    my expression of gratitude was to go there and spend money

    the intro to this subject calls the high speed rail efforts “silly”
    too bad this has become a poster child for right wing rhetoric about government waste
    what is really silly is 50 seat airplanes going 250 miles on fuel that is in effect subsidized by the hugely expensive military deployments by the USA to keep the petro nations in line.

    the current Amtrak is just slow enough to not be competitive
    The trains 70 years ago were faster than the ones running today and this was a deliberate action to cause the government built highways and airports to drive the private sector railway services out of business, as the railways were literally falling apart after being exhausted by WW2 traffic.
    a casualty of our throw away culture
    use it, abuse it, then lose it!

    • notesting9 says:


      Thanks for the interest in this web space. The main point of the page/pictures is to illuminate the vast shift in infrastructure that took place as a result of cheap oil. (mainly interstate car/truck travel)

      “Silly” -one-shot corridors of high speed passenger service will not address the massive transportation issues facing this nation in the coming decades. And although high-technology rail service may be ideal solution in specific locations, the only “right-way” to implement it would be to have current rail carriers funded and credited in a manner so that the market needs for rail service will drive their resource allocations – not the government. But I digress.

      If the costs associated with highway maintenance and middle-eastern military adventures were factored into the taxes on gasoline consumption we would not be having this conversation, nor driving as much.

      All in all -good luck with your efforts – there are plenty of worse ways to spend time and money.

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