Slice of Life: Historic High Speed Rail

The current plans to bring high speed passenger rail service to the Midwest aren’t bringing us anything news.  In fact, they’re just restoring something we once had, but let fall apart.

This is a photograph taken in 1943 of the Midwest Hiawatha as it cruised past Bensenville near what we now call O’Hare Airport.  It was operated by the Chicago, Milwaukee, Saint Paul, and Pacific Railroad.  It originated at Union Station in Chicago, where you can still see “Chicago, Milwaukee, Saint Paul & Pacific” etched on a door on the South Canal Street side of the old building.  The train split in Iowa and terminated in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Omaha, Nebraska.

The last “Midwest Hiawatha” run was in 1955.  Over the years it was merged with other runs and other railroads.  Its ghost lives on in Amtrak’s California Zephyr route from Chicago to San Francisco.

If you’ve never taken a train across the country, you really must.  I did it for the first time back in March.  I rode the Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle.  It’s quite a little adventure.  But be sure to go first class.  The people in coach looked like they were having a bad time.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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