Archive: Saint Louis
Illustration of the week: train tracks
I like trains. In today’s screwy politics, that makes me a socialist; if I said I preferred steam to diesel, I’d be a Trotskyite. The Saint Louis Union Station was once the busiest railroad station in the US. It was a “back-in” station—a unique design that eventually led to its demise as a working station—with thirty-two tracks entering the “headhouse”, which is 606 feet wide, larger, when it was built, than every other train shed in the world. In the busy morning hours, from 7 to 9 am, an average of 146 train movements per hour were conducted.
All train, engine and switching movements are handled direct from the interlocking tower by the director in charge. He has before him on his desk a printed schedule of every regular movement of train, engine, head-end or drag-out, for the twenty-four hours, showing the time it should be made, the track from, etc. Before him are his telephone, speaking-tubes, thirty push-buttons for the Station track circuits, and three buttons operating the air whistles at Eighteenth Street Twenty-second Street and the signal bridge; and to his right and left on each side the “bay” are thirty miniature semaphores, one for each track, with drop discs, which show the condition of the Station tracks, whether occupied or not, and also when the conductor of train “plunges,” “ready to start,” and thirty larger discs, which show what switches are fouled by standing or passing trains in the Station. Back of him are the levermen, who have such an intimate knowledge of all the possible combinations of the levers that they have all the levers moved almost before the director is through calling the tracks.
From Saint Louis Union Station (St. Louis & Chicago: National Chemigraph, 1895) 73
Union Station was completed in 1894. It was designed by Theodore Link, who modelled it after the fortifications of Carcassonne, a city in the south of France whose medieval fortifications are well preserved. In its heyday, it was the busiest rail station in the US. Passenger traffic dwindled after 1960, and in the 1980s it was “renovated” into a hotel and shopping mall. The mall has not been a success. The present Amtrak station is a hard-to-find hovel under the freeway about a block away.
Musa, 14 Jun 2007