Rock Island Requiem
The Collapse of a Mighty Fine Line
Gregory L. Schneider
George H. and Constance M. Hilton Book Award
Celebrated in history and song, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad Company—the Rock Island Line—was a powerful Midwestern railroad that once traversed thirteen states with its fast freights and Rocket passenger trains but eventually succumbed to government regulation and a changing economy. Gregory Schneider chronicles the Rock Islands painful decline and along the way reveals some of the key problems within the American railroad industry during the post–World War II era.
“Schneider’s extensive research and sympathetic rendering of this case make for enjoyable and informative reading. For historians and others interested in the intricacies of political economy and the law in action this is a must-read.”
—Middle West Review
“This is one of the greatest contributions to railroad history that has been presented over the past several years, and one cannot completely understand the history of US railroads in the final half of the 20th century without reading this book.”
—Railroad HistorySee all reviews...
“This impressive volume chronicles the long, sad decline of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad, and illustrates how federal regulation dating back to the early 20th century had become counterproductive by the 1960s.”
“Gregory L. Schneider has given us a fine account of this excruciatingly tangled affair. . . . The book is an important contribution to our understanding of regulatory proceedings and the workings of bankruptcy litigation.”
—American Historical Review
“The Rock Island’s plight is an amazing story and Schneider does it complete justice here.”
“An exciting story that is well researched and pleasingly written and that makes a major contribution to recent railroad history.”
—H. Roger Grant, author of The Railroads: The Life Story of a Technology
“Schneider’s careful research shows that misguided regulation forced a troubled railroad out of business and made bankruptcy lawyers rich. Rock Island Requiem reminds us how the all-powerful Interstate Commerce Commission turned the railroad industry into a basket case, much to the nation’s loss.”
—Marc Levinson, author of The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger
“In Schneider’s tightly-organized, clear, and illuminating history, the Rock Island becomes a key ingredient in the reshaping of the economic partnership between government, industry, and finance at a crucial period in American history.”
—Edward Brunner, author of Splendid Failure and former employee of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific RailwaySee fewer reviews...
Schneider takes readers back to a time when railroads still clung to a storied past to offer new insight into the devastating impact of economic policymaking during the 1960s and 1970s. Schneider recounts the largest railroad liquidation in American history—as well as one of the most successful reorganizations in American business—to depict the demise and ultimate collapse of Rock Island as part of a broader account of hard times in the railroad industry beginning in the 1970s.
Schneider weaves a complex story of how business, politics, government bureaucracy, and individual greed helped to limit the economic possibilities of the railroad industry and catapult the Rock Island Railroad into oblivion. Weakened by a troubled economy, the Rock fell victim to inept management and labor union intransigence; but Schneider also reveals how government regulations and price controls prevented innovation, hindered capital acquisition, and favored other forms of transportation that lie beyond the scope of regulation. Railroads were even hurt by taxation of property and real estate while competitors were able to use government-subsidized highways and airports without having to pay taxes to fund them.
Now that America has gone on to witness the collapse of such mammoth firms as Enron and Lehman Brothers, not to mention the bankruptcy and bailout of General Motors, the story of the Rock provides an instructive lesson in how a major American enterprise was allowed to fall victim to forces often beyond its control—while the bailout of the Penn Central, at the expense of smaller lines like Rock Island, helped initiate the era of too big to fail.
For economic historians and railroad buffs alike, Rock Island Requiem is a well-researched and informative work—and a mighty good read.