Railroad company logo design evolution

100 logos from American and Canadian railroad companies

THOMPSON & CO’S EXPRESS (1845)

WELLS AND POMEROY’S EXPRESS (1845)

TRUMAN CHAPMAN’S EXPRESS (1864)

Railroad logo design evolution

The first North American railroads were built 50 years before the first logo was trademarked (Bass Brewery, 1876). Stationery was created by printers, not designers. That’s the reason why the images above – from three different companies – look so similar. They were made with existing wood type fonts and if you look closely you’ll notice they all use the same ‘stock image’ of a locomotive.

The images below show the evolution after the first logo was trademarked. The first decades are the most interesting, simply because there were so many different. Like the department stores world, the railroad world has it’s own Macy’s. Companies like Amtrak and Union Pacific have taken over many smaller companies. Today, as the result of mergers and bankruptcies there are only eleven major ‘Class I’ railroads operating in the United States and Canada.

The early designs all have a certain handmade quality. Most of them are simple, bold, black and white. And timeless. Some of them can still be seen on box cars and locomotives; they still remain powerful.
In 1960 the notion of what a logo is, or can be, had changed. The Canadian National Railway logo, designed by Allan Fleming, is a radical departure from the aesthetics and style we’ve seen until then. The logo is still in use today.

This post concludes with the Amtrak logo (2000), which is a typical post-2000 logo without any meaning or character. Apparently the don’t like it either; it’s barely visible on their website.

LOUISVILLE NASHVILLE RAILROAD COMPANY (1886)

Chicago Northwestern Ry

CHICAGO NORTHWESTERN RAILWAY (1886)

Colorado Midland Ry

COLORADO MIDLAND RAILWAY (1886)

BURLINGTON ROUTE (1888)

Canadian Pacific Ry

CANADIAN PACIFIC RAILWAY (1888)

DELAWARE AND HUDSON RAILROAD (1889)

Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Ry logo (1890)

CHICAGO, ST. PAUL, MINNEAPOLIS AND OMAHA RAILWAY (1890)

Shenandoah Valley Route logo (1890)

SHENANDOAH VALLEY ROUTE (1890)

Union Pacific Railroad logo (1890)

UNION PACIFIC (1890)
This is just one example. Here’s the complete Union Pacific logo design evolution.

Erie Railroad logo (1891)

ERIE RAILWAY (1891)

Central Vermont Railroad logo (1891)

CENTRAL VERMONT RAILWAY (1891)

Wisconsin Central Lines logo (1893)

WISCONSIN CENTRAL LINES (1893)

New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad logo (1893)

NEW YORK, NEW HAVEN and HARTFORD RAILROAD (1893)

DETROIT GRAND HAVEN AND MILWAUKEE RAILWAY (1895)

Chesapeake and Ohio Route

CHESAPEAKE AND OHIO ROUTE (1895)

Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Ry

LAKE SHORE & MICHIGAN SOUTHERN RAILWAY (1895)

Great Northern Ry logo (1895)

GREAT NORTHERN RAILWAY (1895)

New York Ontario and Western Ry logo (1895)

NEW YORK, ONTARIO AND WESTERN RAILWAY (1895)

Illinois Central logo (1896)

ILLINOIS CENTRAL (1896)
The evolution of all Illinois Central logos can be found here.

COTTON BELT ROUTE (1897)

MEMPHIS ROUTE (1897)

North Western Line (1899)

NORTH WESTERN LINE (1899)

Texas and Pacific Ry (1899)

TEXAS PACIFIC RAILWAY (1899)

Boston Albany Railroad (1900)

BOSTON ALBANY RAILROAD (1900)

Frisco Railroad (1900)

FRISCO RAILROAD (1900)

Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (1900)

MISSOURI-KANSAS-TEXAS RAILROAD (1900)

Northern Pacific Ry

NORTHERN PACIFIC RAILWAY (1900)

LEHIGH VALLEY RAILROAD (1901)

MONON ROUTE (1901)

PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD (1902)

SANTA FE RAILWAY (1902)

CENTRAL OF GEORGIA RAILWAY (1902)

BALTIMORE, CHESAPEAKE & ATLANTIC RAILWAY COMPANY (1905)

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ROCK ISLAND LINE (1906)

SOO LINE (1906)

COLORADO MIDLAND RAILWAY (1909)

Atlantic Coast Line (1910)

ATLANTIC COAST LINE (1910)

Denver Road (1914)

DENVER ROAD (1914)

SOUTHERN PACIFIC LINES (1916)

PACIFIC ELECTRIC (1920)

Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Ry (1924)

NASHVILLE, CHATTANOOGA AND ST. LOUIS RAILWAY (1924)

Reading Lines (1924)

READING LINES (1924)

Seaboard Ry (1924)

SEABOARD RAILWAY (1924)

ST. PAUL SOUTHERN RAILWAY (1925)

Western Pacific (1925)

WESTERN PACIFIC (1925)

North Shore Line (1928)

NORTH SHORE LINE (1928)

ATLANTA BIRMINGHAM COAST RAILROAD (1926)

Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad (1941)

BESSEMER and LAKE ERIE RAILROAD (1941)

ALTON RAILROAD (1933)

Bangor and Aroostook Railroad (1936)

BANGOR AND AROOSTOOK RAILROAD (1936)

New York Central System (1936)

NEW YORK CENTRAL SYSTEM (1936)

Alaska Railroad (1937)

ALASKA RAILROAD (1937)

Monon Railroad (1937)

MONON RAILROAD (1937)

Florida East Coast Ry (1938) herald

FLORIDA EAST COAST RAILWAY (1938)

DULUTH SOUTH SHORE AND ATLANTIC (1940)

Kansas City Southern Lines (1940) herald

KANSAS CITY SOUTHERN LINES (1940)

Red Arrow Lines (1941)

RED ARROW LINES (1941)

Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad (1944)

GULF, MOBILE AND OHIO RAILROAD (1944)

Jersey Central Lines (1944)

JERSEY CENTRAL LINES (1944)

Kansas City Southern Lines (1944)

KANSAS CITY SOUTHERN LINES (1944)

Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (1945)

BALTIMORE AND OHIO RAILROAD (1945)

Boston and Maine Railroad (1945)

BOSTON AND MAINE RAILROAD (1945)

Canadian Pacific (1946)

CANADIAN PACIFIC (1946)

Southern Ry (1946)

SOUTHERN RAILWAY (1946)

Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (1947)

BALTIMORE AND OHIO RAILROAD (1947)

Great Northern Ry (1949)

GREAT NORTHERN RAILWAY (1949)

Erie Lackawanna Railroad (1950)

ERIE LACKAWANNA RAILROAD (1950)

Great Western Ry trademark (1954)

GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY (1954)

New Haven Railroad trademark (1954)

NEW HAVEN RAILROAD (1954)
Designed by Herbert Matter
More information about Matter’s design process here (video).

Alaska Railroad trademark (1958)

ALASKA RAILROAD (1958)

Canadian National Ry (1960)

CANADIAN NATIONAL RAILWAY (1960)
Designed by Allan Fleming

Central Vermont Ry (1960)

CENTRAL VERMONT RAILWAY (1960)

Grand Trunk Western Railroad trademark (1963)

GRAND TRUNK WESTERN RAILROAD (1963)

Burlington Northern Railroad symbol (1965)

BURLINGTON NORTHERN RAILROAD (1965)

Penn Central (1968)

PENN CENTRAL (1968)

Amtrak trademark (1971)

AMTRAK (1971)

Bangor and Aroostook Railroad symbol (1973)

BANGOR AND AROOSTOOK RAILROAD (1973)

Alaska Railroad (1975)

ALASKA RAILROAD (1975)

Conrail trademark (1976)

CONRAIL (1976)
Designed by Tony Palladino
More images and identity guidelines on the Container List.

The Rock symbol (1976)

THE ROCK (1976)

VIA Rail (1978)

VIA RAIL (1978)

Western Pacific Railroad trademark (1979)

WESTERN PACIFIC RAILROAD (1979)

CSX Transportation (1986)

CSX TRANSPORTATION (1986)

Norfolk Southern Ry trademark (1990)

NORFOLK SOUTHERN RAILWAY (1990)

AMTRAK logo (2000)

AMTRAK (2000)

I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible when assigning a date to an image. All dates are the earliest I could find. Some of them are obviously wrong. I used the internet to locate all images and one of the disadvantages of the internet is that it’s incomplete. If you’re a railroad freak and you know the accurate date, please leave a comment below. Thanks.

EDIT: I changed the date of the New Haven Railroad from 1960 to 1954 and added the designer. Thanks to Aura Seltzer.
EDIT 2: I added Tony Palladino as the designer of the Conrail identity. Thanks to the Glaser Archives.

  1. Whitney says:

    Love this! I can’t get enough of these and the evolution they went through over the years, but I think my favorites are from the 1890s.

  2. Aaron Delani says:

    Ah, what a great compilation!

    I think it’s quite interesting that the logo style had shifted from literal word marks, to symbols, then to word marks.

    Thanks for sharing this as a resource.

  3. This site gives a great history of the Union Pacific logo, and even alludes to the New Haven and Hartford logo as one of the first transitions to modernism.

    http://www.uprr.com/aboutup/history/uplogo/index.shtml

  4. ville says:

    Gorgeous, altho I really don’t like the logos after 1958, interesting shift in design trends

  5. Thank you for taking the time to do this. These are fantastic!

  6. Railroads’ graphic identities aren’t called “logos,” they’re called “heralds.” Why? Probably for the same reason a train has a “whistle,” not a “horn,” even though it’s clearly a horn; which is to say, don’t ask me.

  7. Nick says:

    Excellent! I love that Bangor and Aroostook logo. I originally thought the Frisco logo was just the city logo, but now I know — it’s on all their street signs:

    http://condrenrails.com/Recent-Trains/images-99/Frisco-street-signs-Frisco-TX-2-27-12.jpg

  8. Excellent job! These are very well done!

    Just two nit-picky details: the CSX and NS logos are their most recent versions. CSX’s 1986 logo was just the block letters, and NS’s 1990 logo was just the letters and pinstripes without the horse head. The new ones were adopted in the last decade or so.

    @Waldo: It’s (usually) a whistle if it’s on a steam locomotive and (usually) a horn if it’s on a diesel (there are exceptions). Interestingly, the markers along the tracks to tell the engineer where to sound off are still called ‘whistle posts’, 50 years after the last steam locomotive ran in revenue service in the United States.

  9. Jan Kohl says:

    Great job! “Burlington Route” is actually the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad.

  10. Excellent Job!! i really love the old logos.

  11. Pre-1900 they are some of the lovliest logos I have seen! latest ones are awful.

  12. PLO Roma says:

    Old are better.

  13. Steel Wheels says:

    KCS 1940 for the win!!!

  14. Greg Fisk says:

    Amazing assortment of “heralds.” Thanks for sharing!

  15. Joan says:

    Really interesting – thank you for compiling these images all in one post. We design wedding invitations and the heralds/logos shown here are a great source of inspiration for invitation design.

    I have to agree with you about the current AMTRAK logo- looks like it’s for an airline and seems an odd choice to use a 3 track swoosh – when I think about a RR track- clearly a 2 line image comes to mind.

  16. Logo Design says:

    This is a really awesome post and I got a lot out of it. Thanks so much for sharing it.

  17. mary says:

    wow, the 60s are such a dramatic change. i like how way ahead of their time the erie logo was.

  18. This is a great post. I love these logos

  19. The Erie Lackawanna herald dates to 1960 and is a result of a merger between the Erie RR and the Delaware Lackawanna & Western RR (“Lackawanna”)
    The Lackawanna should be particularly interesting to the graphic design community because it developed the most significant advertising icon in railroad history. Just google ” Phoebe Snow “