Missouri Railroads In "The Show Me State"

Much like Illinois, Missouri is stuffed full of action and excitement with six of the seven North American Class I systems operating within the state, all of which serve either St. Louis and/or Kansas City.

The Show Me State also has a rich history with the prominent, historic stations that serve Kansas City and St. Louis hosting between twelve to nineteen Class I systems during the “Golden Age” of rail travel, more than any other.

Missouri can also claim a history of being home to more headquarters of Class I railroads than any other state with Kansas City Southern still calling its namesake city home. And, the Show Me State remains right at or near the top of rail tonnage moved today. 

Prior to today's mega-merger Class Is, Missouri was also once home to numerous classic railroads as eastern lines looked to interchange freight with western carriers at the important gateway of St. Louis.

While the large systems operate much of Missouri's rail network today it also boasts several smaller carriers. 

Missouri Pacific 4-8-4 #2113 (rebuilt from a 2-8-4 by MP shop forces in 1940) steams through Kirkwood, Missouri, just southwest of St. Louis, on a fall afternoon in October, 1950. All of the railroad's 4-8-4's were scrapped later that decade. Joe Collias photo.

A Brief History Of Missouri Railroads

Missouri railroads date back to 1849 when the Pacific Railroad (predecessor to the Missouri Pacific) was chartered to connect St. Louis with points to the west.

The railroad was conceived by the leaders of St. Louis who had hoped to see the railroad stretched to the Pacific Ocean, hence its name.

Abandoned Railroads Of Missouri

Missouri location and fertile lands made it a magnate for railroad development; not only did it provide ideal agriculture conditions but also contained two important cities; St. Louis and Kansas City.

This led to numerous rail lines scattered all across the state, heading both east-west and north-south.  Like other granger states, Missouri was hit hard by abandonments during the 1960-1990 time period, particularly following deregulation and many bankruptcies.

All granger states lost considerable secondary branch lines during this time and Missouri was no different.  However, the state was also affected by through route abandonments as well including:

  • Rock Island's Kansas City-St. Louis main line (never found a buyer after its 1980 liquidation)

  • Most of Katy's main line out of St. Louis (removed between 1988-1991)

  • Chicago Great Western's main line between Des Moines-Kansas City (removed by Chicago & North Western in 1985 following its acquisition of Rock Island's nearby "Spine Line")

  • Frisco's main line between Belton (south of Kansas City) and Springfield (removed in the 1980s under Burlington Northern)
  • Chicago, Burlington & Quincy's secondary main line between Quincy, Illinois and Kansas City (built as the  Quincy, Omaha & Kansas City Railroad) 

The railroad formerly began construction on July 4, 1851 and began operations on a short stretch of track a year later in 1852.

The company had difficulty obtaining strong financial backing and the onset of the Civil War in 1861 further delayed construction.

Not until 1865 after the war was over did the Pacific Railroad finally reach Kansas City to the west, the first to so do.

Classic Railroads To Serve Missouri

Missouri Pacific

Rock Island

St. Louis-San Francisco Railway (Frisco)

Missouri-Kansas-Texas (Katy)

St. Louis Southwestern Railway

Baltimore & Ohio (Reached St. Louis)

Pennsylvania Railroad (Reached St. Louis)

New York Central (Reached St. Louis)


Nickel Plate Road (Reached St. Louis)

Illinois Central (Reached St. Louis)

Gulf, Mobile & Ohio

Kansas City Southern

Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe

Chicago, Burlington & Quincy

Chicago Great Western

Santa Fe DL-109 #50 (Alco's early cab model) leads a passenger consist past a freight train near Sibley, Missouri in March of 1943. Jack Delano photo

The company operated independently for another seven years before it was reorganized in 1872 as the Missouri Pacific Railway after new investors infused new capital into the operation.

The MP, of course, would go on to become one of the West's largest systems before becoming part of Union Pacific in the early 1980s. 

As aforementioned with the two major cities of Kansas City and St. Louis located in the state they were prime locations for eastern and western systems to meet and interchange traffic. In the succeeding years the state would come to know several famous now-fallen flag systems.

Roger Puta captured this scene from the cab of St. Louis-San Francisco's train #808, the "Sunnyland" (Memphis - St. Louis), as the train meets a Missouri Pacific freight exercising trackage rights over the Frisco near Wittenberg, Missouri on April 16, 1963.

Today, Missouri features all of North America’s Class Is save for the Canadian Pacific.

Most of the state’s trackage is operated by these mega systems with the rest broken up between regional Missouri & Northern Arkansas Railroad and several short lines which include the:

  • Arkansas & Missouri Railroad

  • Bi-State Development Agency Railroad

  • Central Midland Railway

  • Columbia Terminal Railroad

  • Kansas City Terminal Railway

  • Kaw River Railroad

  • Manufacturers Railway

  • Missouri North Central Railroad

  • Missouri & Valley Park Railroad

  • Ozark Valley Railroad

  • SEMO Port Railroad

  • South Kansas & Oklahoma Railroad

  • Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis
Rock Island E7A #638 has train #4, the eastbound "Golden State," arriving at Kansas City Union Station on March 27, 1967. Roger Puta photo.

This page primarily provides employment information for those looking for a career in the industry although it also offers brief backgrounds on the state's railroads. 

Today, Missouri features a rail network consisting of around 4,100 miles of track. During the railroad industry's golden years of the 1920s, however, the state boasted an infrastructure of over 8,100 miles.

As such, Missouri has witnessed its rails decline by roughly 50%, a number all too common among most other states. In any event, for a more in-depth look at Missouri, in terms of route mileage throughout the years please refer to the chart below.

* Missouri's first railroad was the Pacific Railroad (PR) chartered in 1849 with intentions of connecting St. Louis with a transcontinental route to the Pacific coast.  Such grand aspirations never occurred although the system did open its first 5 miles between St. Louis and Cheltenham in 1852.  The railroad's corporate history is far too complicated to discuss in detail here but it was eventually acquired by the Missouri Pacific.

The state no longer feature famous passenger trains like the B&O’s National Limited, KCS’s Southern Belle, the Wabash Blue Bird, IC’s City of New Orleans, or the Missouri Pacific’s Colorado Eagle.

However, Amtrak continues to operate some of these names like the City of New Orleans along with others such as the Southwest ChiefTexas EagleAnn Rutledge (it also operates local and regional services).

Of note, Missouri railroads also feature commuter service, MetroLink, which connects St. Louis with western Illinois suburbs on a 46-mile system.

If you would like to learn more about some of the famous passenger trains ("streamliners") that operated in Missouri please click here. Also, here is Amtrak's website if you would like to know what type of services the national carrier offers to and from Missouri.

Missouri-Kansas-Texas (Katy) SD40-2s, #610 and #616, pull an empty string of coal hoppers through Kansas City on June 2, 1985. Doug Kroll photo.

You may also be interested in visiting one of Missouri’s several railroad museums or tourist railroads. Some of these include the:

  • American Association of Railroaders

  • American Railway Caboose Historical Educational Society

  • Belton, Grandview & Kansas City Railroad

  • Branson Scenic Railway

  • Chicago & Alton Railroad Depot

  • Friends of Landmark Kirkwood Station

  • Museum of Transportation

  • Railroad Historical Museum

  • St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway

And to top things off be sure and stop by the historic union stations in Kansas City and St. Louis!  They don’t call it the Show Me State for nothing and Missouri railroads have plenty to offer from sightseeing while visiting museums to excursion trains and main line railroading.

So, have fun and with so many things to choose from, remember to pace yourself!

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Wes Barris's SteamLocomotive.com is simply the best web resource in the study of steam locomotives. 

The amount of information found there is quite staggering; historical backgrounds of wheel arrangements, types used by virtually every railroad, preserved and operational examples, and even those used in other countries (North America and beyond). 

It is difficult to truly articulate just how much material can be found at this website.  It is a must visit!

Researching Rights-Of-Way

A popular pastime for many is studying and/or exploring abandoned rights-of-way. 

Today, there are tens of thousands of miles scattered throughout the country.  Many were pulled up in the 1970's and 1980's although others were removed long before that. 

If you are researching active or abandoned corridors you might want to check out the United States Geological Survey's (USGS) Historical Topographic Map Explorer

It is an excellent resource with thousands of historic maps on file throughout the country.  Just type in a town or city and click on the timeline of maps at the bottom of the page!