Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Omaha Rails…

Our son took us on a drive around Omaha doing a bit of sightseeing and checking out important sites such as where he and his better half work…and historical or important places around the city. 

Before I get into the first phase of our sightseeing adventure, I want to post a complaint against national weather forecasters! 
Omaha is never shown on national weather maps!  Why not?  I admit that the Omaha Metropolitan area only ranks 59th in population but there is plenty of room on any national weather map a bit north of Kansas City to plug in the name of this key city in the upper Midwest!  There certainly isn’t anything north of the city that would be in conflict with this addition.  There are about 1,000,000 people in the Omaha Metropolitan Statistical Area!  Let’s give them a little recognition! 

One key part of our tour related to Omaha’s rich railroad history…

Omaha’s Burlington Railroad Station was completed in 1898 at a cost of $408,000.  It was originally designed in the Greek Revival Style, but it was extensively remodeled in 1930 in order to better compete with the new Union Station located just across the tracks… Additional remodeling took place in 1954.

The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, serving the Midwest since it was founded in 1850 came to Omaha in 1870.  During the late 1960s train travel was greatly reduced and several areas of the station fell into disrepair.  In 1971 passenger service was turned over to Amtrak and that organization operated the Burlington Station until early 1974.  

The good news is that in 2013 the former Burlington Depot was purchased by Hearst Television.  The interior of the building was remodeled and it’s now a state-of-the-art broadcast and web media facility for Omaha's ABC affiliate, KETV (Channel 7).   It took 2 years to renovate the building and the station moved into its new facility in the fall of 2015.

·       The Burlington Station and the Union Station are contributing properties to the Omaha Rail and Commerce Historic District…which is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Learn more about this historic district at

The Burlington Station opened on July 4, 1898, in time for the Trans-Mississippi International Exposition.  The Exposition was a major inter-national showcase that attracted thousands of visitors to Omaha from around the world.  

The main lobby of this station featured a grand circular staircase that led passengers downstairs to track level and the trains.  A large canopy, a first for an Omaha train station, covered two tracks and kept passengers from the elements.  The spacious lobby included new amenities, such as separate men's and women's waiting rooms, a gentleman's smoking room, and a sit-down lunch counter.


·       Amtrak operated the old Burlington Depot for a number of years but in 1983 they moved their operations into a small one-level bare bones station.  You can see it on the right just down the tracks beyond the Burlington Station. 
Believe it or not, this postcard showed what the Burlington Station looked like before it was ‘remodeled’.  When it was opened in 1898, this Italianate style building was hailed by newspapers around the world for its grand architecture and accommodations.

What a difference!  The 1930 remodeling changed the building to conform to the elements of the Neo-Classical Revival.  The exterior was greatly simplified.  Those granite columns were removed as was much of the external detail.  Actually, 24 of the original columns were moved intact to Lincoln Nebraska where they now stand between Memorial Stadium and the Coliseum.

In 1985 the interior was gutted by an architectural salvager who removed and sold every interior fitting. The four enormous chandeliers were taken down, one of which was broken and was sold in pieces.  While it’s great that the Burlington Station has been repurposed, it’s especially sad that the interior of the building was in effect wiped clean of all the historical architectural detail…

The Union Passenger Terminal, which is just across the tracks from the Burlington Terminal, was completed in 1931.  The impressive exterior walls are of cream-colored glazed terra cotta with Art Deco detailing. The completion of this terminal and the reconstruction of the nearby Burlington Station firmly established Omaha as an important railroad terminus in the Midwest.

Construction started in mid-July of 1929.  The 124,000-square-foot building cost $3.5 million to build.  The architect was said to have remarked, "We have tried to express the distinctive character of the railroad: strength, power, masculinity."  This was the Union Pacific Railroad's first Art Deco railroad station.

When it was completed the Union Station was known for its technological innovations.  These included electric luggage conveyor belts, escalators and extensive lighting throughout the building.  Passengers and critics both appreciated the over-the-top amenities and attributes of the building.  It had massive women's restrooms, beautiful marble columns and flooring throughout plus deep oak woodwork surrounding every window and door in the station.  During its first year, 1.5 million passengers passed through!

Passenger service ceased in 1971 and in 1973 the Union Station was donated to the City of Omaha.  That same year the station became the home of the Durham Museum.  The Union Pacific Museum and Archives were also located there.  The Durham Museum is dedicated to preserving and displaying the history of the United States' western region.  A variety of transportation and commerce exhibits includes relevant railroad equipment.  To learn more about this museum, you can go to

Looking at the desolation that once was a major rail yard with multiple tracks it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like back in the heyday of passenger railroad service.  By 1946, 64 steam locomotives brought 10,000 passengers each day in and out of Union Station! 

In 1947, Omaha’s 2 stations served 114 passenger trains per day that connected the city with the West and Midwest.  At one time or another Omaha was served by the following railroads: Chicago and North Western; Wabash Railroad; Missouri Pacific Railroad; Chicago Great Western Railway; Rock Island Railroad; Milwaukee Road; Chicago, Burlington and Quincy; Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific; Illinois Central; Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha, and; the Union Pacific Railroad. 

Railroads also carried many of the tens of thousands of animals for processing at the packing plants which were located near the stockyards and railroads. The city's stockyards and packing industry were the largest in the world by the mid-1950s, even surpassing Chicago.

This is the former Burlington and Missouri (later the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy) Railroad Headquarters Building in Omaha.  This commercial adaptation of the Italianate style was built in 1879 at a cost of $40,000.  The fourth floor was added ca. 1886.  The building was remodeled in 1899 to resemble the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad Company building in Chicago.  That building was recognized as a showplace of the time.  The interior of this building has been carefully preserved and it has a unique combination of skylights, cast iron railings, staircases, columns, and ornamental detailing.

Originally the first floor was leased by a wholesale grocer as well as a wholesale notion dealer while the upper floors were used as headquarters for the railroad.  The railroad occupied this building until 1966.  Then it sat empty for several years.  In 1983 the structure was rehabilitated and converted into office space that closely matched the original design. 

Omaha is the location of Union Pacific Railroad's and its parent company The Union Pacific Corporation’s headquarters.  That company’s big 19 floor glass office building is located downtown near both of the former railway stations. 

Completed in June of 2004, Union Pacific Center is the largest building by square feet in the state of Nebraska.  Union Pacific Railroad has been headquartered in Omaha since 1867.  Other major corporations that are located in Omaha include Berkshire Hathaway, the Kiewit Corporation (building contractor), ConAgra Foods and Mutual of Omaha. 


·       In 2015, the Union Pacific Railroad had 32,100 route miles of track, 8,500 locomotives and 44,500 employees.  The company payroll came to $4,600,000,000, the company made $8,500,000,000 in purchases and it spent $4,300,000,000 in capital projects.

This facility is a railroad ‘downer’ after the beauty and power exhibited by the Burlington and Union Stations.  It's the current Amtrak Depot just down the track or across from its predecessors.  It was depressing just to stop by and take these photos… The depot was locked so we couldn’t go inside.  It’s only open from 9:30 PM until 6:30 AM.  If you’re electronically inclined, be forewarned…there is no Wi-Fi!

Beautiful building isn’t it!  The ‘look’ of the structure just discourages one from taking the train… Opened in July 1984, this Amtrak facility follows a standardized plan introduced by the company in the late 1970s.  Intended to be functional and cost-efficient, these depot designs enforced Amtrak branding by employing a unified material and color palette.  (It’s uninspiring and bland…perhaps a bit depressing too!)

Of course the big problem is that there are only 2 daily trains, 1 westbound and 1 eastbound.  To think that there used to be 114 passenger trains in and out of Omaha every day!  Amtrak, our national passenger rail system, provides service through Omaha.  It operates the California Zephyr daily in each direction between Chicago and Emeryville California.  Emeryville is just across the bay from San Francisco.  In 2013, this depot handled a total of 24,410 passengers…about 69 passengers per day.

Just click on any of the photos in enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

1 comment:

  1. The Burlington Station was a grand old building that was drastically changed, too bad it was "remodeled, as it was very stately!" And the last photo is definitely not an incentive to travel by rail! It's a little sad that the days of traveling by train is a lost mode now. You start the Omaha weather map petition, I'll sign! We feel that way about Cary when just the local weather map is shown! :-) Take care and have a great day!