John Walker Barriger, III, was born in Dallas on December 3, 1899.  He was the son of a civil engineer who helped build bridges for the Cotton Belt and Kansas City Southern railways.  Barriger spent most of his childhood in St. Louis where he developed a passion for railroading during visits to Union Station.

Barriger attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning an engineering degree in 1921.  During his summers in Cambridge, at age 17, he began work for the Pennsylvania Railroad.  Upon graduation, Barriger joined the Pennsylvania full time, working in their engineering and operating departments. 

Barriger left the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1927 to work as a railroad consultant and securities analyst on Wall Street.

Barriger

In 1933, he received a request from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to prepare a proposal for reorganizing the railroad industry.  Called the “Prince Plan,” Barriger’s proposal recommended consolidating the industry into eight regional lines. 

Barriger’s plan was not enacted, but the notoriety it earned him led to a job in the Roosevelt Administration as chief of the Railroad Division of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation.  From this position, which he assumed in 1934 in the midst of the Great Depression, Barriger oversaw some 1.5 billion dollars in vitally needed federal loans to the nation's railroads.  During his seven years there, he amassed over 50,000 railroad-related photographs.  Barriger’s government career also included wartime service in the Office of Defense Transportation.

After the Second World War in 1946, Barriger became president of the Monon Railroad where he followed an aggressive policy of modernization until his departure in 1953.  He then took up a similar post for the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad between 1954 and 1964, followed by a stint at the helm of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, or “Katy” from 1965 to 1970.  In 1973, he joined the Boston & Maine.   He was also vice president of the New Haven and Rock Island.  Barriger was a strong proponent of dieselization and dramatically improved the physical conditions of each line he served.

Barriger was also widely recognized as a scholar of the railroad industry and its history. Throughout his long career, he avidly collected books and corporate papers and took thousands of photographs.  Today, his personal papers and library form the heart of the John W. Barriger, III, National Railroad Library.  One of North America’s largest and finest railroad history collections, it is housed in the St. Louis Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. 

The Library has grown to become a major resource for the history of railroad business and technology as well as for the study of railroading’s multidimensional influence on the American economy, society and culture.  The Barriger Railroad Library includes over 45,000 volumes covering all aspects of railroading, and dating from the beginnings of railroads in the 1820s to the present day; a trove of documents, periodicals, maps, and photographs weighing 26 tons.  The collections focus strongly on railway economics, finance, corporate history, management practice, regulatory history, mergers, labor relations, operations, and engineering.

In 1969, Barriger was chosen as Railroader of the Year by the industry trade journal Modern Railroads which was acquired by Railway Age in 1992. 

The scope and significance of the roles Barriger played over the course of his career permitted him to witness first hand and to participate in the enormous changes that took place in American railroad during the course of his career from the 1920s to the 1970s.  His passion of collecting, led him to preserve the written record of the important events he witnessed in railroading history through the voluminous files which constitute his personal papers.

John W. Barriger, III, died on December 9, 1976, having earned the distinction as one of the century’s most distinguished railroad executives.  He is buried in the Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.