Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Brief Train Ride

YESTERDAY I took a brief train trip, from the suburban Saint Louis County town of Kirkwood to Washington in Franklin County, which took only about 40 minutes each way.

Amtrak train station, in Kirkwood, Missouri, USA - view with snow

The train station in Kirkwood, Missouri. The city of Kirkwood is named after James P. Kirkwood, a civil engineer, who oversaw the construction of the Pacific Railroad here in the 1850s. Groundbreaking on this railroad started in downtown Saint Louis in 1851, with first traffic starting in 1852. The railroad reached Kirkwood and the town of Franklin (now Pacific) in 1853, and Washington and Jefferson City by 1855.

Saint Louis was known as the ‘Gateway to the West’ due to its nature as a center of transportation and supplies to settlers heading towards the Great Plains and California. The steamboat trade generally disliked the railroads, which they saw as being inefficient — the cost of a single mile of railroad could finance five steamboats — but major railroads were eventually built from Saint Louis westward. However this large cost meant that transportation was no longer self-financed by individual businessmen, but rather required large investments by international banks as well as government seizure of land.

Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, in Valley Park, Missouri, USA - view from Amtrak train

Most of the route covered familiar areas. Here is Sacred Heart Church in Valley Park; the white stripe on the left is a reflection on the train's window. The scenery passed by so quickly that it was difficult getting good pictures.

Part of this railroad parallels the historic U.S. Route 66, and several famous landmarks of the highway are visible from the train.

Ice floes on the Missouri River near Washington, Missouri, USA - view from Amtrak train

Ice floes on the Missouri River.

Early colonial settlement in the Mississippi Valley was along the great rivers, with French and Spanish colonists living near existing Indian settlements, having easy access to river transportation. The inland areas were largely unsettled— and to a relative extent remain even now sparsely populated. The railroads and early motor vehicle highways tended to parallel the river valleys, both to link already-established towns and also because it made construction easier.

This railroad mainly runs along the southern edge of the Missouri River, and this section was constructed rather quickly. However, the stretch between Kirkwood and Gray Summit goes across the Ozark terrain of the deeply-entrenched Meramec River valley, requiring significant cutting and tunneling.

Amtrak train in Washington, Missouri, USA

At the train station in Washington.  Most passenger rail service in the United States is now provided by the U.S. Government controlled Amtrak, which was organized in 1971. While train travel is relatively slow and limited in its destinations, it is vastly more pleasant than taking an airplane, being inexpensive, having few regulations, quick boarding, and a quiet, comfortable ride. However, you have to be punctual, as the train stops for only a few minutes at these stations.

Amtrak train station, in Kirkwood, Missouri, USA - view at night with snow

Back in Kirkwood. Many students from the University of Missouri at Columbia were on board.

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