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July 30, 2014, 11:11 am

‘Railroad’ tells story of enduring structures

Philadelphia's history is older than that of the United States and older than that of the railroads. For much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the railroad station or depot was the communal hub of every American town that could boast of train service. Philadelphia's famous 30th Street Station was built between 1929 and 1933 by the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) to replace the Broad Street Station that had become much too congested to support the city's growth, and was the fourth station in that vicinity.

30th Street Station also represents a milestone in the progression of American railroading and urban planning. One of the last of the major stations to be constructed, it was part of an overall central city improvement program begun in 1925 by the City of Philadelphia and the PRR called the Philadelphia Improvements project. This decades-long effort to reestablish a plan for the city's urban core, which also led to the creation of the famous Benjamin Franklin Parkway, was born out of the desire to simplify and beautify its streetscape and ease the growing congestion closer to the center of town.

At the same time, this station is rare in that it is one of the few stations in the country where trains arrive and depart from all four directions: from Boston in the north to Florida in the south, and from Atlantic City in the east to Chicago in the west. Facilitating this rare versatility, the station's use of underground tracks for long-distance trains passing through the station marked the railroad's commitment to electricity as a preferable source of energy for trains, continuing the gradual replacement of steam—itself a radical paradigm shift in the industry.

In “America’s Great Railroad Stations (Viking Studio; $40.00),” award-winning photographer Roger Straus III, and two lifelong railroad buffs, Ed Breslin and Hugh Van Dusen, join forces to tell the story of these enduring structures and the important role they still play in the country's landscape. Journeying from the Pennsylvania Railroad to the Union Pacific to Michigan Central and more, readers will be dazzled by the Beaux Arts monuments of New York and the adobe buildings of the Southwest. Filled with both new and archival photographs and drawings, this 240-plus picture volume is a glorious salute to the institution that transformed the nation.

 

Contact Tribune staff writer Bobbi Booker at (215) 893-5749 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .