Southern Railway (U.S.)

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Southern Railway
Southern Railway Logo.jpg
Reporting mark SOU
Locale U.S. Southern states
Dates of operation 1894–1990
Successor Norfolk Southern
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Headquarters Washington, D.C.

The Southern Railway (reporting mark SOU) was a US class 1 railroad. It was the product of nearly 150 predecessor lines that were combined, reorganized and recombined beginning in the 1830s, formally becoming the Southern Railway in 1894. It was placed under control of the Norfolk Southern Corporation, along with the Norfolk and Western Railway (N&W), in 1982, and was renamed Norfolk Southern Railway in 1990. (The N&W continued to exist as a subsidiary until 1997.)

At the end of 1970 Southern operated 6,026 miles (9,698 km) of railroad, not including its Class I subsidiaries AGS (528 miles) CofG (1729 miles) S&A (167 miles) CNOTP (415 miles) GS&F (454 miles) and twelve Class II subsidiaries. That year Southern itself reported 26111 million net ton-miles of revenue freight and 110 million passenger-miles; AGS reported 3854 and 11, CofG 3595 and 17, S&A 140 and 0, CNO&TP 4906 and 0.3, and GS&F 1431 and 0.3


An 1895 system map.
A 1921 system map.

The pioneering South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company, Southern's earliest predecessor line and one of the first railroads in the United States, was chartered in December 1827 and ran the nation's first regularly scheduled steam-powered passenger train – the wood-burning Best Friend of Charleston – over a six-mile section out of Charleston, South Carolina, on December 25, 1830. (The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad ran regular passenger service earlier that year.) By 1833, its 136-mile line to Hamburg, South Carolina, was the longest in the world.

Southern's 4501 on display at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.
SOU 4610 working train GD01 in Dalton, Georgia, on January 19, 2006.

As railroad fever struck other Southern states, networks gradually spread across the South and even across the Appalachian Mountains. By 1857 the Memphis and Charleston Railroad was completed to link Charleston, South Carolina, and Memphis, Tennessee, but rail expansion in the South was halted with the start of the Civil War. The Battle of Shiloh, the Siege of Corinth and the Second Battle of Corinth in 1862 were motivated by the importance of the Memphis and Charleston line, the only East-West rail link across the Confederacy. The Chickamauga Campaign for Chattanooga, Tennessee was also motivated by the importance of its rail connections to the Memphis and Charleston and other lines. Also in 1862 the Richmond and York River Railroad, which operated from the Pamunkey River at West Point, Virginia to Richmond, Virginia, was a major focus of George McClellan's Peninsular Campaign, which culminated in the Seven Days Battles and devastated the tiny rail link. Late in the war, the Richmond and Danville Railroad was the Confederacy's last link to Richmond, and transported Jefferson Davis and his cabinet to Danville, Virginia just before the fall of Richmond in April 1865.

Known as the "First Railroad War," the Civil War left the South's railroads and economy devastated. Most of the railroads, however, were repaired, reorganized and operated again. In the area along the Ohio River and Mississippi River, construction of new railroads continued throughout Reconstruction. The Richmond and Danville System expanded throughout the South during this period, but was overextended, and came upon financial troubles in 1893, when control was lost to financier J.P. Morgan, who reorganized it into the Southern Railway System.

Southern Railway came into existence in 1894 through the combination of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, the Richmond and Danville system and the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad. The company owned two-thirds of the 4,400 miles of line it operated, and the rest was held through leases, operating agreements and stock ownership. Southern also controlled the Alabama Great Southern and the Georgia Southern and Florida, which operated separately, and it had an interest in the Central of Georgia.

Southern's first president, Samuel Spencer, drew more lines into Southern's core system. During his 12-year term, the railway built new shops at Knoxville, Tennessee, and Atlanta, Georgia and purchased more equipment. He moved the company's service away from an agricultural dependence on tobacco and cotton and centered its efforts on diversifying traffic and industrial development. Spencer was killed in a train wreck in 1906.

After the line from Meridian, Mississippi, to New Orleans, Louisiana was acquired in 1916 under Southern's president Fairfax Harrison, the railroad had assembled the 8,000-mile, 13-state system that lasted for almost half a century. (SR itself operated 6791 miles of road at the end of 1925, but its flock of subsidiaries added 1000+ more.)

The Central of Georgia became part of the system in 1963, and the former Norfolk Southern Railway was acquired in 1974.

Notable features[edit]

Southern and its predecessors were responsible for many firsts in the industry. Starting in 1833, its predecessor, the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road, was the first to carry passengers, U.S. troops and mail on steam-powered trains,[1] and it was the first to operate at night.[citation needed]

On June 17, 1953, the railroad's last steam-powered freight train arrived in Chattanooga, Tennessee, behind 2-8-2 locomotive No. 6330.

From dieselization and shop and yard modernization, to computers and the development of special cars, the unit coal train and Radio Controlled Mid-Train Helper Locomotives, Southern often was on the cutting edge of change, earning the company its catch phrase, "Southern Gives a Green Light to Innovation".[citation needed]

In 1966, a popular steam locomotive excursion program was instituted under the presidency of W. Graham Claytor, Jr., and included Southern veteran locomotives such as Southern 630, Southern 722 and Southern 4501, along with non-Southern locomotives, such as Texas & Pacific 610, Canadian Pacific 2839 and Chesapeake & Ohio 2716. The steam program survived the 1982 merger with the Norfolk and Western to form the Norfolk Southern. The program was discontinued in 1994 but was reinstated on a limited basis in 2010 as the 21st Century Steam program.

In the early 2000s, a 22-mile (35 km) loop of former Southern Railway right-of-way encircling central Atlanta neighborhoods was acquired and is now the BeltLine trail.

Passenger trains[edit]

Postcard showing the Tennessean in its 1940s livery, with an EMD E6A locomotive on the point.

Along with its famed Crescent and Southerner, the Southern's other named trains included:[2]

Merger into Norfolk Southern[edit]

In response to the creation of CSX in 1980, the Southern Railway merged with Norfolk and Western Railway to form the Norfolk Southern Railway in 1982, further consolidating railroads in the eastern half of the United States.

Roads owned by the Southern Railway[edit]

Major railroad yards[edit]

Company officers[edit]

Presidents of the Southern Railway:

Heritage Unit[edit]

As part of the 30th anniversary of Norfolk Southern's formation, the company painted 20 new locomotives with the paint schemes of predecessor railroads. NS #8099, a GE ES44AC, was painted using the passenger paint scheme found on Southern's E-units and EMD F-units.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brown, William H. (1871). "Chapter XXIX: Explosion of "Best Friend"". The History of the First Locomotives in America; From Original Documents And The Testimony Of Living Witnesses. New York: D. Appleton and Company. Retrieved 2008-05-28. 
  2. ^ Schafer, Mike (2000). More Classic American Railroads. Osceola, WI: MBI. p. 156. ISBN 076030758X. OCLC 44089438. 
  3. ^ "The History of the railroad and Spencer". North Carolina Transportation Museum. Retrieved 2007-01-25. 
  4. ^ White, John H., Jr. (Spring 1986). "America's most noteworthy railroaders". Railroad History 154: pp. 9–15. ISSN 0090-7847. OCLC 1785797. 
  5. ^ quotes from article by journalist Don Phillips of the Washington Post in a "Tribute to W. Graham Claytor, Jr." published May, 1994

External links[edit]


  • Murray, Tom. Southern Railway (MBI Railroad Color History). St. Paul: Voyageur Press, 2007. ISBN 0-7603-2545-6