Monday, September 25, 2006

But, St. Louis IS a Rail Hub!

But, St. Louis IS a Rail Hub!

So I was doing some pretty esoteric, theoretical reading for school this weekend, and came across the following claim about counterfactuals as a tool in argumentation:

"Would Chicago have become the major city of the Midwest if St. Louis had become a major rail hub?" **

This is a lousy example of a counterfactual, because St. Louis was and is a major rail center. RCGA says we're the 3rd largest in the U.S. It's not unfathomable, given just how many darned railroad tracks we have in this metro area. The largest concentrations are, of course, along the Mill Creek Valley and the riverfronts in both Missouri and Illinois. Other large railyards are scattered around near East St. Louis, IL; and there's a pretty big BNSF yard near I-44 at Jamieson/Arsenal.

While Chicago obviously did overtake St. Louis as "the major city of the Midwest," I don't think rail traffic concentration is enough to explain that. Most historians would probably blame it on the Mississippi River; or more specifically, the reliance of St. Louis business interests on the river as a primary mode of commerce, ignoring that eventually we'd need to build a bridge across it so trains would not need to be unloaded in East St. Louis to cross the river by ferry boat.

Chicago business interests were more foresighted, perhaps, and funded building the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi, at Rock Island IL, which opened over 150 years ago, April 22, 1856.

It took almost 20 years for St. Louis to finish its bridge, what we call the Eads Bridge today.

So, yeah, eventually Chicago became #1 in rail traffic. And today, they have huge congestion problems they are trying to get federal funding to fix.

** = In case you're interested, this was on page 159 of Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences, by Andrew Abbott; New York, WW Norton, 2004. It should be noted that Dr. Abbott is a professor at the University of Chicago. So maybe he just doesn't know how much rail traffic St. Louis has!


Doug Duckworth said...

Union Station was once the biggest rail hub in the entire country. It serviced around 100,000 people at its height.

Anonymous said...

I've read that the ferry operators were in bed with the mayor at the time and delayed the building of a bridge for a long time, which supposedly had some effect on our importance as a rail hub at that time.