The state's railroads begin in 1853 when the Mississippi & Missouri was chartered to build a line between Davenport, Iowa
City, and Muscatin which was completed in 1855. While this railroad
would become part of the now-classic Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific
system it has a much more significant footnote in history. When a
steamboat hit its Government Bridge across the Mississippi River (the
first such structure to cross the body of water when it opened in 1856)
the steamboat company sued the railroad to have it removed as a hazard
to water traffic. The M&M hired attorney Abraham Lincoln to defend
them. The case eventually went to the Supreme Court which ruled in the
railroad's favor in 1862.
In any event, following the opening of the M&M Iowa would be home to most of the west's and Midwest's best-remembered classic railroads from the Rock Island and Milwaukee Road to the Chicago & North Western Railway and Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad. Others include the Santa Fe (whose Transcon line clips the southeastern corner of the state for 17 miles), Illinois Central, Chicago Great Western Railway, and the Wabash Railroad. With so many classic railroads once dotting the state, and its sprawling web of agricultural branch lines, it is not surprising that Iowa ranked near the top in terms of rail mileage. While today it carries just 40% of its original railroad infrastructure, Iowa is still home to several important rail lines.
Classic Railroads Serving Iowa
Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (The Santa Fe), "Ship And Travel Santa Fe, All The Way"
Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific (The Milwaukee Road), "Route Of The Hiawathas"
Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, "Everywhere West"
Chicago & North Western, "Route Of The '400'"
Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, "Route Of The Rockets"
Chicago Great Western, "The Corn Belt Route"
Illinois Central, "The Main Line Of Mid-America"
Minneapolis & St. Louis, "The Peoria Gateway"
Wabash, "Follow The Flag"
Today, Iowa's trackage is mostly operated by Class Is; BNSF Railway,
Union Pacific and Canadian National. The rest of the Hawkeye State's
rail network is operated by regional Iowa Interstate (whose livery is
inspired by the University's of Iowa and Iowa
State although it also retained rights to use the Rock Island's former
shield logo) as well as shortlines Burlington Junction Railway,
Appanoose County Community Railroad, the historic Cedar Rapids &
Iowa City Railway, D&I Railroad, interurban Iowa Traction Railroad,
Keokuk Junction Railway, and Iowa Northern Railway. While the Rocket, City, and Hiawatha passenger fleets may no longer operate through Iowa, Amtrak does dispatch its California Zephyr and Southwest Chief through the state.
Passenger and freight trains aside, Iowa railroads are also home to a
number of tourist lines and railroad museums, the most famous of which
is likely the Union Pacific's own, the Union Pacific Railroad Museum
based in Council Bluffs (it alone, is worth the trip to see!). Others
include the Milwaukee Road Shops Historic District, Boone & Scenic
Valley Railroad, Delmar Depot Museum, Hobo Museum, Midwest Central
Railroad, Rails West Railroad Museum, Trainland USA, and the Hub City
Heritage Corporation. Finally, don't forget about the company Rail Merchants
International, a dealer in used railroad equipment for sale to the
general public, which is based in Iowa. If you have the resources you
can own your own boxcar or caboose!
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