Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Railroad History

            Kentucky railroads date back to 1830.  Just three years after our nation's first common-carrier, the Baltimore & Ohio was chartered, when the Lexington & Ohio Railroad was chartered to connect Frankfort with Lexington, a distance of about 31 miles. The railroad was able to complete the line by 1834 and by 1851 had connected to Louisville along the banks of the Ohio River. The company would eventually become part of the Louisville & Nashville system and today, its original line is still operating by RJ Corman, a diversified railroad business which owns several shortlines in Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and other southern states.

            Following the completion of the L&O, Kentucky would boast several classic eastern and southern carriers, most of which gained entry or built into the state to tap its rich coal reserves. Even some Midwestern systems reached the state given that the western region of Kentucky was geographically in both the Midwest and South.

            In SW Kentucky, and particularly in Ohio County, the main railroad companies were the IC and the L&N.  There were others, and names changed throughout the years due to mergers, etc., and I think there were some “shortlines” and small companies, but the IC and the L&N were the major railroad companies. The following are short histories of these two companies.

The Illinois Central Railroad, Main Line of Mid-America

         The Illinois Central's slogan described the railroad quite well, The Main Line of Mid-America. It was one of only a very few railroads to serve markets with north-south running main lines and not the traditional east-west movements. What made its routing even more odd was that it served Midwestern markets that likewise traditionally moved goods east and west, such as Chicago, St. Louis, Memphis, and New Orleans. Regardless of this the IC carved out a living hauling goods from Chicago to New Orleans and while today the Canadian National owns the railroad, its name continues to survive after over 150 years of existence.

            While the beginnings of the IC date to before 1840 it has its beginnings in 1851 when it was originally chartered to build a line connecting Cairo, Illinois with Galena. Like many now-classic railroads the IC's growth and expansion was a combination of new construction and takeover of smaller railroads. After its chartering in 1851 and completion of its original main line, the Illinois Central expanded to Chicago via a branch from Centralia, Illinois.

            The opening of this line gave Chicago its first transportation connection to the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. However, it was not the result of a through route by the IC or railroad at all but a connection from Cairo, Illinois to a steamboat line that used the Mississippi River to complete the journey south. This changed in 1872 when traffic agreements with the New Orleans, Jackson & Great Northern and Mississippi Central Railway earned the IC a through connection to the Gulf Coast (and in 1877 the IC reorganized these railroads into the Chicago, St. Louis & New Orleans Railroad).

            Expansion for the railroad continued through the 1880s and early 20th century. Under the direction of E.H. Harriman the railroad expanded west and north reaching (via branch lines) Madison and Dodgeville, Wisconsin along with Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Omaha, Nebraska; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Later it reached cities like Indianapolis, Birmingham and Fulton, Kentucky.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Illinois Central was its electrification project around Chicago (perhaps the largest Midwestern Class I to ever electrify any of its lines), connecting the city's suburbs with its urban centers.

            However, what the Illinois Central is best remembered for is a simple locomotive engineer who gave his life trying to avoid a train collision, John Luther “Casey” Jones. The wreck itself occurred on April 30, 1900 when a freight and passenger train (the New Orleans Special) collided at Vaughan, Mississippi. In his efforts to avoid the collision Jones saved everyone’s lives except his own. Today, of course, there is now the legendary folk song, “Casey Jones,” which was actually inspired by a worker of the IC who also knew Jones, Wallace Saunders. Another notable person associated with the railroad was Abraham Lincoln, who worked for the company from 1853 to 1860 just prior to the Civil War as the IC's corporate lawyer.

            As for the IC itself, the railroad throughout much of the early part of the 20th century was quite conservative, partly due to the fact that it had a rough time surviving the Great Depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s. It was not as quick to dieselize as most other carriers and did not completely do so until 1960 (part of this reason was due to the railroad serving a number of mines along the eastern part of its system and had a cheap source of fuel for its locomotives). Even after the railroad began purchasing main line diesels it chose to paint them in a drab all-black livery with white trim.

            This conservative nature, however, changed in the mid-1960s when new management updated the railroad’s image with a split-rail logo with orange and white livery. Along with the new look the railroad also began aggressively purchasing new locomotives and equipment. By the 1970s merger was in the air and in 1972 the IC merged with Gulf, Mobile & Ohio, a rival railroad with much duplicate trackage, forming the Illinois Central Gulf.  The successes of the ICG have often been questioned and by the 1980s the railroad was showing the result of a marriage that probably should never have happened. The parent company of the railroad, IC Industries, began looking for interested buyers during this time and while no interest was shown in the railroad, the ICG's management knew something had to be done to turn the railroad’s fortunes around.

            In an effort to stabilize the ICG management sold or abandoned large sections of the railroad to shrink down it to a much smaller system of around 2,800 miles.   The effort worked and the railroad once again enjoyed profitability and growth. Also of interest is that during this time the railroad decided to return its name to simply the Illinois Central and drop the “Gulf.” Throughout the 1990s the railroad remained strong and profitable and not surprisingly because of its new success, other larger railroads became interested in it. This railroad was the Canadian National Railway and after negotiations were completed the CN took control of the IC in 1998.

            The Illinois Central gave CN a direct southern route through the Midwest and connected it with the Gulf Coast at New Orleans. While the IC name continues to remain on paper the railroad itself and its identity have mostly disappeared into CN as the Canadian road has integrated much of the IC into its system. While no longer an independent company the IC's main lines continue to serve as an integral part of the Canadian National. Along with this the IC is still alive and well under Metra which took over its commuter operations in the Chicago area and Amtrak has resumed the IC's City of New Orleans passenger train between Chicago and New Orleans.

A Brief History of The Louisville & Nashville Railroad
by Charles B. Castner

            The Louisville & Nashville Railroad was born March 5, 1850, when it was granted a charter by the Commonwealth of Kentucky “ build a railroad between Louisville, Kentucky, and the Tennessee state line in the direction of Nashville." On December 4, 1851, an act of the Tennessee General Assembly authorized the company to extend its road from the Tennessee state line to Nashville. Laying of track began at Ninth Street and Broadway in Louisville in May of 1853. By 1855, the founding fathers of the L&N, most of them Louisville citizens, had raised nearly $3 million to finance the construction. The first train to operate over the railroad ran on August 25, 1855, when some 300 people traveled eight miles from Louisville at a speed of 15 mph!
            A little more than four years later, on October 27, 1859, the first train operated all the way from Louisville to Nashville, joining the two namesake cities. For all practical purposes, the 187-mile railroad was complete. Scheduled trains began running a few days later, and with the exception of war, fire and several floods, they have been running ever since. The total cost of this original construction was $7,221,204.91.

            By the time the Civil War began in 1861, the L&N had 269 miles of track. Located almost in the middle of the opposing armies, the L&N at various times served both the Union and the Confederacy as the tides of war changed. Although the railroad suffered considerable damage during the war years, it emerged in surprisingly good financial condition. It was so well off, in fact, that at the close of the war the L&N began expanding. Within a period of 30 years, through construction and acquisition of existing short railroads, the L&N extended its tracks to St. Louis in Missouri, Cincinnati in Ohio, Birmingham and Mobile in Alabama, Pensacola in Florida, and New Orleans in Louisiana.

            Memphis, Tennessee was reached shortly after the close of the Civil War, and by 1872, the L&N had obtained sufficient track in Tennessee and Alabama to begin running trains between Louisville and Montgomery, Alabama. The acquisition of two smaller railroads, which made the route possible, also helped to create Birmingham. The vast deposits of iron and coal in the vicinity played important roles in the city's formation, and the first commercial steel produced there was financed in part by the L&N.

            It is appropriate here to mention L&N President Milton H. Smith, who served in that capacity for nearly 40 years, longer than any other chief executive. Smith went to work for the railroad as a local freight agent in Louisville, just after the Civil War. Within three years, he had advanced to general freight agent, eventually becoming vice president and traffic manager, and finally president in the 1880s. Under Smith, the L&N grew from a small local carrier into one of America's major railroad systems.

            The railroad's entrance into the Gulf of Mexico ports came in 1881. A 140-mile rail line, including roughly nine miles of trestles and bridges, linked Mobile with New Orleans, but there was little contact with the outside world until the L&N extended its tracks to Mobile and then acquired the line on into New Orleans. This acquisition enabled the railroad to extend its sphere of influence to international markets for agricultural products and goods manufactured in major cities along the L&N.

            Also in 1881, the L&N began extending its Lebanon Branch (in Kentucky) across the Tennessee state line to Jellico. In 1891, a line was extended to Norton, Virginia, and another to Atlanta, Georgia. Between 1879 and 1881, through the purchase of track in Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana and Illinois, the L&N gained access to the coal fields of western Kentucky. In 1883, the L&N completed a 170-mile rail link from Pensacola to Chattahoochee, Florida. In all, 56 railroads were acquired, leased, or constructed during the 1880s and 1890s, as the L&N system began to take its final form.

            One of the L&N's most important expansions came early in the 1900s, when the railroad pushed its tracks deep into the coal fields surrounding Hazard and Harlan in eastern Kentucky. Acquisition in 1909 of two smaller lines and construction in 1911 and 1912 of more than 150 miles of track along the Cumberland River and the North Fork of the Kentucky River gave the L&N access to the landlocked bituminous coal riches of eastern Kentucky. In the preceding decades, the L&N built additional rail lines, not only in eastern Kentucky, but in western Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama, to help develop new coal production points.

            The L&N and other railroads were called on to move unprecedented numbers of passengers and amounts of freight during World War II. More than 90 percent of the nation's military equipment and supplies and 97 percent of all its troops rolled by rail to military bases and ports of embarkation. With dozens of on-line training camps and defense plants, L&N traffic soared, with increases of 80 percent in freight traffic and more than 300 percent in passenger traffic. And yet, its successful handling of those increases was performed with comparatively little addition to power, rolling stock or personnel. During World War II, some 6,900 L&N employees were furloughed to the armed forces.

            The postwar years brought swift, striking changes to railroading, as the L&N, which purchased its first diesel in 1939, retired its last steam locomotive in 1957. The L&N introduced streamlined passenger service with the advent of The Humming Bird and The. Georgian, and gradually updated the equipment on such passenger trains as The Pan- American, The Piedmont Limited, The Crescent, The Azalean, The Dixie Flyer, The Flamingo and The Southland. Other innovations included pushbutton electronic classification freight yards at major cities, computers, telecommunications and microwave transmission, hundreds of miles of continuously-welded rail, new signaling and centralized traffic dispatching systems and thousands of special-purpose freight cars.

            The first major expansion following World War II occurred in 1957 when the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway, a subsidiary, was merged into the company. The NC&StL, some 1,200 miles long, connected Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and Atlanta.

            In 1969, the L&N acquired a portion of the Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad between Evansville, Indiana, and Chicago, permitting it to enter that important midwestern railcenter. That same year, a 131-mile segment of the Tennessee Central Railroad between Nashville and Crossville, Tennessee was purchased. In 1971, the 573-mile Monon Railroad was merged into the L&N system. It connected Louisville with Chicago and provided a valuable second entry into the Great Lakes area. By the end of 1971, the L&N operated more than 6,574 miles of track in 13 states.

            During that year, however, the Seaboard Coastline Railroad, which had owned 35 percent of the L&N's stock for many years, bought the remainder of the outstanding shares, and the L&N became the wholly-owned subsidiary of Seaboard Coast Line Industries. On December 31, 1982, the corporate entity known as the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company was officially merged into the Seaboard System Railroad, ending the L&N's 132-year existence under a single name. The Seaboard System quickly lost its own corporate identity as it and the Chessie System became CSX Transportation in 1986.

            The name may now be gone, but thousands of miles of trackage still exist today, serving America's transportation needs under a different banner. They remain as a tribute to one of the nation's premiere railroads, the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company.

All content and images belong to the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Historical Society. All rights reserved.

     The following two maps were cut from larger maps and enlarged to try to show rail lines in and around Ohio County.

Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis RR System 1900

The full map above can be seen at the following link:  

Louisville & Nashville RR System 1970

The full map above can be seen at the following link:

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