Post-war Railroads

Transcontinental Service

Though a transcontinental train would have to wait nearly four decades, through-service had been planned even before the war and was inaugurated in March of 1956. Trains traveled from New York and Washington to San Francisco and Los Angeles. The participants were the New York Central, Pennsylvania Railroad, and Baltimore & Ohio in the East and, in the West, the Santa Fe, Southern Pacific, Rock Island, Chicago & North Western, Union Pacific, Southern Pacific, Burlington, Rio Grande, and Western Pacific. The cars were interchanged at Chicago.

During this era, Chicago remained the great railroad center it had always been, with no fewer than six major, main-line train stations: Union Station (serving the Pennsylvania Railroad, Milwaukee Road, Burlington, and Gulf, Mobile & Ohio), LaSalle Street Station (New York Central, Nickel Plate, Rock Island), Dearborn (Santa Fe, Erie, Grand Trunk, Chicago & Eastern Illinois, Wabash, and Monon), Grand Central (Baltimore & Ohio, Chesapeake & Ohio, Soo Line), Central (Illinois Central), and the Chicago & North Western Passenger Terminal. Countless thousands of passengers poured through these grand stations, bound for hundreds of cities from coast to coast.

Chicago's depot diversity, while architecturally and operationally rich, complicated transfers of passengers, luggage-and, later, through-cars that were sleepers. Parmalee Transfer was the company dedicated to shuffling people and their belongings among the stations. The Pullmans, too, had to switch tracks, a complicated operation that involved four stations. Though performed expeditiously, the switching involved layovers for servicing, which kept the through-car option from being entirely successful. Passengers could stay aboard during switching maneuvers, or they could detrain to see the sights of Chicago.

These through-services were part of the railroads' postwar passenger revival, which by 1948 was in full swing. Some 2,500 new cars were in service, enough to assemble 250 new streamlined trainsets, with another 2,000 cars on order. Putting this in perspective, and highlighting the vastness of rail passenger operations of the era, is another revealing statistic: In 1950, lightweight cars, pre- and postwar, accounted for only 15 percent of the country's total operating fleet. Though long out of production, the old riveted heavyweights still ruled the roost, maintaining an almost exclusive hold on local and suburban services.