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A Guide to Railroad Research

Welcome to one of the world's foremost railroad research collections and to one of the most fascinating of research pursuits. Railroad research may seem daunting at first; the iron rail left the largest paper trail of any industry before or since! This guide, while it does not cover all available sources, will help you get started. Please ask for additional help at the Mercantile Library Reference Desk (314) 516-7247.

General Introductions To The History And Business Of Railroading

1.) Railroads Triumphantby Albro Martin: BAR HE2751 .M35 1992 and American Railroadsby John Stover: BAR HE2751 .S7 1997 are two excellent scholarly introductions to the history of railroading in North America.

2.) This Fascinating Railroad Business by Robert Selph Henry: BAR TF147 .H45 1946 (dated, but still useful) and The Railroad: What It Is, What It Does by John Armstrong: BAR TF145 .A75 1982 provide good introductions to the business and operational aspects of railroading.

3.) Rails Across America edited by William Withun: BAR OVR TF23 .R325 1993 and The American Heritage History of Railroads in Americaby Oliver Jensen: BAR OVR HE2751 .J38 are two colorful, popular introductions to the history of railroads in the U.S.

Railroad Corporate History

4.) Many books have been written about individual railroads. Use Merlin, the Library's online catalog, to identify which ones the Library owns. (Search the name of your railroad as a Subject). You may also search WorldCat, which covers the collections of thousands of libraries across the globe.

5.) The John W. Barriger III Papers contain documentation from over 200 railroads in the U.S. and Canada. Included are extensive annual reports, operational and traffic studies, planning documents, track charts, and other material. A detailed guide to the collection has been prepared: A Guide to the John W. Barriger III Papers in the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library, vols. 1 & 2:MERC REF HE1021 .S2 1997. Ask for assistance at the Mercantile Reference Desk.

6.) The Association of American Railroads' Bureau of Railway Economics Collection, one of the most valuable resources of its kind in existence, contains over 30,000 volumes. It is an excellent source for railroad corporate annual reports (including many 19th century documents); early engineering reports; and material on the theory and practice of railroading. Ask for assistance at the Mercantile Reference Desk.

7.) Encyclopedia of American Business History and Biography, 2 volumes: Railroads in the Nineteenth Century and Railroads in the Age of Regulation, 1900-1980: MERC REF HE2751 .R143 1988. Provides concise histories of the larger railroads and incisive biographies of major railroad figures.

8.) Guide to Railroad Historical Resources by Thomas T. Taber III (4 volumes): MERC REF HE 2751 .T22 1993 directs researchers to railroad archives and photograph collections held by college and university libraries, public libraries, historical societies, and other institutions.

9.) The Historical Guide to North American Railroads by George Drury: MERC REF TF23 .D74 1991provides histories, statistics, and features of more than 160 railroads that have been abandoned or merged since 1930.

10.) Moody's Railroads: BAR HG4971 .M74 (1913-1987 incomplete) and Poor's Manual of RailroadsBAR HE2721 .P8 (1868-1939 incomplete) are the standard resources for corporate financial research. Includes detailed historical information on specific railroads, financial data, maps, equipment and mileage figures, as well as aggregated industry data.

11.) Railroad Names by William D. Edson: MERC REF HE2721 .E27 1993 is the most comprehensive listing of "common carrier" railroads in the U.S. It provides operational dates, predecessor names and disposition of individual railroads.

12.) Railserve provides links to over 3400 railroad-related websites in 29 categories including railroad companies and professional associations, historical and preservation groups, and tourist-related sites.

13.) Railway Age (1910-current) BAR TF1 .R2is the railroad industry's primary trade journal, an essential source on the business, people, and practice of railroading. Most semi-annual bound volumes provide indexing by railroad, subject and personal name.

The Library also holds extensive archives of the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio Historical Society (for which a guide is available at the Mercantile Reference Desk) and the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad (the "Milwaukee Road"). If these companies are of interest, please ask at the Mercantile Reference Desk.

Magazine Indexes

14.) Stephans Directories(on order)provides detailed indexing to articles appearing in Railroad Magazine, Trains, and other magazines by railroad name and other subjects.

15.) All-Time Index, 1929-1969: Railroad Magazine, Model Railroader, Trains, Railroad Model Craftsman: MERC REF (currently being cataloged) Provides selective indexing to the magazines listed above as well as Extra2200 South, RLHS Bulletin, and NRHS Railway Bulletin.

16.) America History and Life (database: access through Library Web page; campus & dial-up accounts only) an index to scholarly historical literature including many state historical society publications which often include detailed articles about local railroad history.

17.) Model Train Magazine Index covers over 47,000 model magazine articles from 21 magazines; an especially useful source for detailed information about motive power and rolling stock.

18.) The National Railway Bulletin Index, 1936-1985: BAR HE2715 .N48 a cumulative index providing railroad name and subject access to articles in the Nat'l Railway Historical Society's National Railway Bulletin.

19.) The Railroad History Index, 1921-1984: BAR TF1 R22 Z459 1985 indexes articles appearing in the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society Bulletin (which later becameRailroad History) by railroad name, names of individuals and subjects.

Biography & Genealogy

For major railroad figures, consult Merlin(search name as Subject); see also: # 7, 9 & 16 in this guide. If you are seeking information about relatives who worked in the railroad industry, keep in mind that there was a time when - if you didn't work for the railroad - you knew someone who did. With so many railroad employees, it may be difficult to obtain information about specific individuals (see #25). If the person you are seeking information about held an administrative post, you may find information about them in the following sources:

20.) Biographical Directory of Railroad Officials: BAR HE2723 .W5 1885; 1887; 1893; 1896; 1906; 1922

21.) Pocket List of Railroad Officials: BAR HE 2723 .P7 (1885-current)

22.) Poor’s Directory of Railway Officials, 1887: BAR HE2723 .P8 1887 The BRE Collection (see #6) also has the following years of this title: 1888-9; 1890; 1891; 1892; 1893; 1895; 1906. Ask for assistance at the Mercantile Reference Desk.

23.) Railway Age: BAR TF1 .R2 (1910-current) This magazine provides semi-annual indexing for individuals covered by articles, news notes, and obituaries.

24.) Who's Who In Railroading: BAR HE2723 .W5 1930; 1940; 1946; 1949; 1954; 1959; 1964; 1968; 1971; 1977; 1983; 1985

25.) Another potential source is the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board which administers the federal retirement benefit program covering the nation’s railroad workers. On request, the Board provides information from its records for the purpose of genealogical research. Their records begin after 1936, when the program was initiated. Consult their Website for fees and procedures. A number of railroad historical associations and other institutions with railroad company archives have employee records or labor union archives. The Website noted above lists some of these sources.


26.) Association of American Railroads Yearbook of Railroad Facts: BAR HE2751 .A85 a compact and useful annual statistical summary of railroad operations, revenues, labor, equipment and physical plant (inc: track mileage by state). Includes only aggregate industry data; no information on specific railroads is included.

27.) Historical Statistics of the U.S. from Colonial Times to 1970(2 vols.): MERC REF HA202 B87 1975

This important statistical compendium includes a chapter devoted to railroad industry statistics, some dating back to the beginning of railroads. Categories include: revenues, mileage, equipment, freight and passenger traffic, and capital expenditures.

28.) ICC Statistics of Railways in the U.S., 1911-1966: BAR HE2708 .I62(For 1967-1990, see Transport Statistics in the U.S.: Gov't. Docs. IC 1.25. Provides detailed statistical coverage of individual railroads as well as the industry as a whole.

29.) Rail: the Records by John Marshall: BAR TF147 .M35 1985A Guinness book: the first, the last, the highest and the longest.

See also #10.


30.) Cram’s Railroad Atlas, 1895; 1898; 1901; 1910: Sarno Collection; ask for at MERC Reference Desk.

31.) Handy Railroad Atlas of the United States, 1928; 1948; 1967; 1971; 1973: BAR OVR G1201 .P3 1973 State by state maps of the railroads with mileage between cities and towns.

32.) Professional Railroad Atlas of North America, 1999: MERC REF G1106 .P3 P76 State-by-state map of current railroad scene including mileage between stations and over 70 detailed maps of key railroad centers.

33.) Railroad Maps of North America by Andrew Modeski: BAR OVR G1106 .P3 M6 1987A collection of over 92 historic or aesthetically significant maps illustrating the achievements of early railroaders to 1919.

34.) Rand McNally Commercial Atlas, 1912, 1948, 1955: Barriger Collection; ask for at MERC Reference Desk. The 2000 edition is available atTJ REF ATLAS G1019 .R22; TJ Oversizehas 1983-1999 editions under the same call number on the 4th floor. One of the most reliable atlases for railroad routes, economic and demographic information.

35.) Routledge Historical Atlas of the American Railroads by John Stover: MERC REF G1201 .P3 S8 1999

Decade-by-decade analysis of railroad growth with compact histories and maps of 25 major lines.

See also #10 in this Guide.

Railroad Vocabulary

36.) Dictionary of Railroad Track Terms by Christopher Schulte: BAR TF241 .S38 1993. Descriptions and explanations of over 1500 track terms covering both outdated and current terminology as well as slang words.

37.) Railroad Dictionary of Car and Locomotive Terms: BAR TF373 .R34 1980. From "A-end of car" to "Zinc chromate," this is a concise dictionary of terms used in car and locomotive construction, maintenance, and operation.

38.) Railway Age’s Comprehensive Railroad Dictionary: MERC REF TF9 .R35 1984 includes words "representative of all aspects of the modern railroad industry–mechanical, communications and signaling, track & structures, operations and administration."

39.) A Treasury of Railroad Folklore by B.A. Botkin and Alvin Harlow: BAR GR 920 .R3 B6 a good source for railroad slang, stories, folklore, and songs.

See also #58 in this Guide.

Saint Louis Railroads

The Saint Louis Globe-Democrat Archives is a unique and useful source for newspaper clippings on St. Louis railroads from the late 1920s to 1986. Ask for help at the Mercantile Reference Desk.

40.) "Nation's Crossroads" by Harold Mayer, Trains Magazine 2:9 (July 1942) pp.30-39: TF1 .T76

41.)"Railroads," in History of Saint Louis City and County by J. Thomas Scharf: MERC REF F474 .S2 S3

1883; Vol. 2, pp. 1139-1213. Provides a detailed history of St. Louis railroads from their introduction to

1882; especially useful for information on the building of individual railroads.

42.) "St. Louis & the Railroads," in Economic Rivalry Between St. Louis and Chicago, 1850-1880 by Wyatt

Belcher: BAR H31 .C7.

43.) St. Louis Cable Railways by Berl Katz: BAR TF725 .S2 K3

44.) St. Louis Streetcar Story by Andrew D. Young: BAR HE4491.S28 Y68 1988

45.) St. Louis Union Station and its Railroads by Norbury Wayman: BAR NA6313 .S2 W3

46.) St. Louis Union Station: a Place for People, a Place for Trains by H. Roger Grant, et al: BAR HE1801

.G73 1994

47.) Train Watcher's Guide to St. Louis by John Szwajkart (on order)

The Library also has an extensive collection of MetroLink-related studies and reports. These are currently being cataloged and will be available soon. See also the Library's guide on researching St. Louis History.

Passenger Trains

48.) American Railroad Passenger Car by John H. White, Jr.: BAR OVR TF455 .W45 1978 An authoritative history of the technical development of railroad passenger cars from their beginnings until 1970, with an emphasis on the 19th century.

49.) Car Names, Numbers and Consists by Robert Wayner: BAR TF455 .C25 1972 Provides the names and numbers of streamlined cars and heavyweight cars rebuilt to a streamlined appearance in many of the most noted passenger trains of the U.S. include many floor arrangement diagrams. (See also the author'sPassenger Train Consists of the 1940s: BAR TF455 .P38).

50.) Named Passenger Trains, 1951: BAR TF573 .N25 1951 From the "Abraham Lincoln" to the "Zephyrette," this useful source (published by the Association of American Railroads) provides the names of most of the noted passenger trains along with their points of departure and destination.

51.) Official Railway Guide, 1871-1973 (cont. by Official Railway Guide Passenger Travel Edition): BAR HE 2727.O3An essential resource for timetables, maps, and company information. Ask at the Mercantile Reference Desk if you need similar sources that predate the Official Guide.

52.) Some Classic Trains; More Classic Trains by Arthur Dubin, 1964; 1973:BARTF 23 .D79; .D8. Detailed descriptions and photographs of many of North America's noted passenger trains.

53.) Steam, Steel and Limiteds by William Kratville, 1963: BAR HE2751 .K7 1963 Provides useful descriptions and photographs of passenger trains and cars from the "golden age of railroading."


54.) American Locomotives: An Engineering History, 1830-80, by John H. White, Jr., 1968: BAR TJ603.2 W526 An authoritative history of the technical development of the steam locomotive featuring many specific examples.

55.) Contemporary Diesel Spotter’s Guide, by Louis Marre, 1995: BAR TJ619 .M363 1995Concise identification guide to diesel locomotive models constructed since 1972. For identification details of earlier units, see: The Second Diesel Spotter’s Guide by Jerry Pinkepank: BAR TJ619 .P47 1973.

56.) Dawn of the Diesel Age: History of the Diesel Locomotive in America by John Kirkland, 1983: BAR TJ619 .K57 1983Excellent technical history of the application of diesel power to railroad use by industry insider.

57.) Diesel Locomotives: Model Railroader Cyclopedia, Vol. 2, by Bob Hayden: BRE TJ619 M64 1980. An excellent survey of first and second generation diesel locomotive types. Includes scale drawings and photographs. Request at Mercantile Reference Desk.

58.) Locomotive Cyclopedia, 1925; 1927; 1930; 1941; 1944; 1947; 1950/52:BAR TJ605 .L572 Provides detailed information on the construction, mechanics, and appurtenances of steam, electric, and (later) diesel locomotives including photographs, drawings, definitions, and specifications. Its predecessor was titled:Locomotive Dictionary, 1906: BAR TJ605 .F6 1972. The Cyclopedia was later merged to become: Car & Locomotive Cyclopedia, 1966; 1970; 1974; 1980; 1984; 1997: BAR TF373 .C35.

59.) The Steam Locomotive in America by Alfred Bruce, 1952: BAR TJ605 .B78 A concise history of the development of the steam locomotive with an emphasis on the twentieth century.

60.) Steam Locomotives: Model Railroader Cyclopedia, Vol. 1, ed. by Linn Westcott: BAR OVR TF197 .M64Excellent survey, by wheel arrangement, of the major steam locomotive types used in the U.S. and Canada. Includes scale drawings and photographs.


61.) The John W. Barriger III PhotographCollection includes 50,000 images dating Collection consists of a major portion of 1917-1970 for over 200 N.American RRs. the business and manufacturing records of Most were taken by Mr. Barriger himself. the American Car & Foundry Co., this Included are views of the railroad fixed country's foremost producer of freight and plant: track and right-of-way; junctions; passenger equipment. Thousands of yards; shops; depots; service facilities photographs are available in this and other structures. Many of these collections, many showing alternate views. images are available for review in folio-sized albums at the Mercantile Reference Desk and may be reproduced on request.

62.) The ACF Industries Archival Collection consists of a major portion of the business and manufacturing records of the American Car & Foundry Co., this country's foremost producer of freight and passenger equipment. Thousands of photographs are available in this collection, many showing alternate views. 

Ask at the Mercantile Reference Desk for assistance with either of these collections.