top of page

The Lost History Issue

Meeting Details:

IN Person, Monday 11/14, 6:30pm


Faster Headlines

Wheels on Steel:

Youtube | CNBC
New York Times
Disney Tourist Blog
The Print
CNN Travel


In the Tube:


Up in the Air:



Madison's Lost Train Stations

If you are a "Sconnie"...ever wonder, why people refer to "East Madison" versus "West Madison"? Well of course there is the Capitol in the center that divides the city, but it was the railroads that created that actually created that division of the city.

The first railroad to enter Madison, the Mississippi and Milwaukee (M&M) came from the south over Monona Bay and then headed northwest toward what will eventually become the UW campus. Where the tracks cross East Washington the city and industry would develop. First it was hotels (and pubs) but then it would be warehouses, and then eventually apartments. While the neighborhood has changed dramatically those stations still remain. The Milwaukee Road Station is now Motorless Motion Bicycles/Bandit Tacos/Harvey House. While the Illinois Central Station is now a U-Haul rental location.

It is also interesting to dive into the history of the Kohl Center and the University's NICK recreational facilities. Long before those buildings existed the area was a huge railyard with a 26-track railroad turn table. In fact, where today the Badgers play basketball, Hockey, and PHD candidates receive their degrees; this was all once a large sorting yard for freight cars filled with grain, meat, beer, and ice. Then it was from these yards that the Milwaukee Road station that the famed Varsity trains from Chicago would arrive/leave up until the 1970s.

However, after the M&M arrived in 1854, the next railroad to enter Madison was the Beloit & Madison (Northwestern Railroad) which came from the south. But when these tracks entered Madison they veered eastward over the isthmus, past the Capitol, and developed the whole eastern side of Madison. Those tracks eventually connected with the Milwaukee and Watertown Railroad giving

Madison direct access to Milwaukee, and access to Baraboo and Minneapolis to the north. As a result, a whole other industrialized city developed on the east side of Madison.

Today the intersection of John Nolen and Williamson Street is full of cars, but at one time this was the main location to watch trains as the Northwestern Railroad ran its high speed "400" express trains from Chicago-Madison-Minneapolis through the station. While the boarding platforms are long gone, the Northwestern station still exists as Alliant Energy’s headquarters (there was a small Milwaukee Road Station at this location too, but this is now a parking lot and community garden at the John Nolen/Williamson St intersection).

Of course, in Madison there is a lost station that technically still is a railroad station. Today this station is the headquarters for Wisconsin Southern Railroad. Located on a gravel road about 1/4 mile from East Johnson Street; the building still has remnants of when this station acted as the secondary Northwestern Railroad Station for the north side of Madison. If fact you can still make out the ticket office, waiting rooms, and boarding platforms of this forgotten station if you are visiting Wisconsin Southern.

This is the amazing part of Madison's forgotten history. The railroads made the city we have today. Today the railroads might be seen as a nuisance when the trains block city traffic, but if you look closely, you will see Madison's railroad history in plain sight. Even when a student simply walks to class.


Google Street View (modern pictures)

Wikimedia commons - public domain


Chicago Station History / Fieldtrip

Probably the best book for looking at the history of Chicago’s railroads (and bus depots and airports) is the book Terminal Town by Joseph Schwieterman (Lake Forest College Press, 2014). The book does an excellent job of going through Chicago’s lost station history including which trains served each station.

Probably the most intriguing part of the book is realizing that legendary trains such as New York’s Central 20th Century Limited, Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe’s Super Chief, and Illinois Central’s Panama Limited…all served stations that no longer exist (or are just a small commuter rail station as with LaSalle Street Station). After all, while all of Amtrak’s long-distance trains now operate out of Union Station, at one time they were spread throughout downtown Chicago.

That is why this weekend, the group will be doing a walking tour of Chicago. The group will arrive at Union Station on Amtrak’s Hiawatha. Then continue on their railroad journey throughout the city.

From Union Station, the group will go to the Ogilvie Transportation Center (formerly the N&W Station).

Then the group will travel to Millennium Park/Randolph Station to observe how a station and railyard can be redeveloped into a new core of the city. How the city literally "moved" around the station. Where once the railyard and station once sat on the beachfront, today that station sits 1/4 mile away from the lake as the city beautiful movement filled in what is today's Grant Park.

From here the group will depart to the Museum of Science and Industry. Afterwards, the group will return to the south side of Grant Park and pick up their tour with the now-gone stations of:

(and the cornerstone, apartment building, and open field are all that remains of the original station)

From there, the group will head back to Union Station and catch the Hiawatha back to Milwaukee and on to Madison.

As mentioned above, Mr. Schwieterman has done an excellent job of detailing the history of each of these stations in his book Terminal Town. More importantly, the book chronicles Chicago's ever-changing relationship with transportation, and how the city grew up because of these transportation nodes.

The book is definitely a must for any Chicagoan who is also a transportation nerd.

Picture Sources:

Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Google Earth Photos (marked accordingly)

Terminal Town, J. Schwieterman, 2014


Youtube Channels We Love: Wendover Productions

From travel, to economics, to geography, to marketing and more; Wendover Productions went from the arcane Youtube channel to one of experts in transportation economics (and so much more).

Some our favorite videos are:

And of course there is one of Wendover's early videos that got our attention:


Chicago Trip Plan, Nov 19th:

6am - Departs Grainger Hall in Madison

7:30AM – Arrive at Milwaukee Intermodal Station/Tour MKE Intermodal

8:05am – Depart on Amtrak’s Hiawatha, Train 332

9:34am – Arrive Chicago Union Station, Walking Tour of Union Station

10:00am – Brunch (restaurant TBD)

10:30am – Walk along Whacker Drive towards Millennium Park

11:30-12p – Depart Millennium Park on Metra for Museum of Science and Industry

12:45pm – Arrive Museum of Science and Industry

4pm – Museum Closes

4:30pm, Walk around Chicago/Dinner

7pm – Back at Union Station

8:05pm – Depart Chicago on Amtrak Hiawath’s, Train 341

9:34pm – Arrive Milwaukee Intermodal Station

11pm – Arrive in Madison (will drop off people individually)


The Faster Badger is produced by students at the University of Wiscosin-Madison to help break through the misconceptions of high speed rail and high speed transportation. This blog is for educational purposes only and all opinions presented are of the students.

50 views0 comments


bottom of page