Birmingham Special

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Birmingham Special
Service type Inter-city rail
First service May 17, 1909
Last service February 1, 1970
Former operator(s) Southern Railway,
Norfolk and Western Railway,
Pennsylvania Railroad
Start Birmingham, Alabama
End New York, New York
Train number(s) 29, 30

The Birmingham Special was a named passenger train operated by the Southern Railway, Norfolk and Western Railway, and Pennsylvania Railroad in the southeastern United States. The train began service in 1909 and continued, with alterations, after Amtrak assumed control of most long-haul intercity passenger rail in the United States on May 1, 1971. The Birmingham Special is the namesake of the famed Glenn Miller big band tune "Chattanooga Choo Choo."

The Southern Railway began the Birmingham Special on May 17, 1909. The new train ran from Birmingham, Alabama to New York City via Atlanta, Georgia and Washington, D.C.. The Southern operated the train between Birmingham and Washington; from Washington the Pennsylvania carried through cars to New York.[1] The new train carried both coaches and Pullman sleepers and a dining car. Its road numbers on the Southern Railway were #29 (southbound) and #30 (northbound).[2]

While the song points to track 29 for boarding the train at Pennsylvania Station, there has never been a track 29 there. In fact, at that time it was not a steam powered choo choo; it was electrically powered all the way to Washington D.C. The Pennsylvania, rival premier train, the 20th Century Limited ironically rolled out the red carpet at track 29 at Grand Central Terminal. The time points mentioned reflect liberties for ryhme and suggest the pre Bristol reroute.[citation needed][opinion]

On May 15, 1932, the Southern re-routed the Birmingham Special to skip Atlanta. The new route took the train via Chattanooga, Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee and Bristol. This new route involved the Norfolk and Western Railway, which hauled the train between Lynchburg, Virginia, and Bristol. This led the unusual (though not unique) situation of the Birmingham Special using two unconnected sections of the Southern Railway: Washington—Lynchburg and Bristol—Birmingham.[1][3] Mack Gordon and Harry Warren wrote "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" while traveling aboard this train, although the Birmingham Special is not mentioned directly by name.[4]

The Pennsylvania ended through service north of Washington in 1956. Through service to Memphis, Tennessee (connecting in Chattanooga) ended on January 31, 1967. The Southern Railway dropped the name itself on February 1, 1970; service south of Bristol ended August 11, 1970, although a rump train operated north from Birmingham to the Alabama/Tennessee border for a few more months.[1] The train was the last to serve Chattanooga's Terminal Station.[5] At the start of Amtrak on May 1, 1971, the former Birmingham Special remained as a Washington—Bristol service. The Norfolk & Western joined Amtrak; Amtrak chose not to continue the Lynchburg—Bristol portion of the train. This left the Southern Railway, which had not joined Amtrak, with the Washington—Lynchburg train as the sole remnant.[6]

The Southern Railway continued to operate a nameless Washington–Lynchburg train until June 1, 1975, using the new numbers #7 (southbound) and #8 (northbound).[1][7] The Southern Railway joined Amtrak in 1979.


  1. ^ a b c d Baer, Christopher T. (September 8, 2009). "NAMED TRAINS OF THE PRR INCLUDING THROUGH SERVICES" (PDF). The Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society. Retrieved May 7, 2011. 
  2. ^ "Birmingham Special". Southern Merchant. 21 (31). May 24, 1909. Retrieved May 7, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Through Passenger Service". LIFE. 22 (18). May 5, 1947. Retrieved 2011-05-07. 
  4. ^ Coates, Dan (2008). Decade by Decade 1940s: Ten Years of Popular Hits Arranged for EASY PIANO. Alfred Music Publishing. Retrieved May 7, 2011. 
  5. ^ Strickland, Justin W. (2009). Chattanooga's Terminal Station. Arcadia Publishing. Retrieved May 7, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Passenger trains operating on the eve of Amtrak". Retrieved May 7, 2011. 
  7. ^ Amtrak (November 14, 1971). "Nationwide Schedules of Intercity Passenger Service". Retrieved May 7, 2011.