Louisville and Nashville Railroad

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Louisville and Nashville Railroad
L&N logo.png
1901 Poor's Louisville and Nashville Railroad.jpg
L&N system map, circa 1901
Reporting mark LN
Locale Alabama
Dates of operation 1850–1982
Successor Seaboard System Railroad
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Previous gauge 5 ft (1,524 mm)
Length 10,396 miles (16,731 kilometres)[1]
Headquarters Louisville, Kentucky

The Louisville and Nashville Railroad (reporting mark LN) was a Class I railroad that operated freight and passenger services in the southeast United States.

Chartered by the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1850, the road grew into one of the great success stories of American business. Operating under one name continuously for 132 years, it survived civil war and economic depression and several waves of social and technological change. Under Milton H. Smith, president of the company for thirty years, the L&N grew from a road with less than three hundred miles of track to a 6,000-mile system serving thirteen states. As one of the premier Southern railroads, the L&N extended its reach far beyond its namesake cities, stretching to St. Louis, Missouri; Memphis, Tennessee; Atlanta, Georgia; and New Orleans, Louisiana. The railroad was economically strong throughout its lifetime, operating both freight and passenger trains in a manner that earned it the nickname, "The Old Reliable."

The railroad started with the construction of 285 miles (459 km) of 5 ft (1,524 mm)[2] gauge.

At the end of 1925 L&N operated 5,038 miles of road on 7,885 miles of track; LH&StL operated 199 route-miles on 268 track-miles. At the end of 1970 L&N's totals were 6,063 and 10,051, not including the Carrollton Railroad.[citation needed]


19th century[edit]

In the 1840s Louisville, Kentucky, was developing into a river port and distribution center — except during seasons of low water in the Ohio River. The growing city needed more dependable transportation. Tennessee was already building railroads from Memphis and Nashville to Chattanooga, and the Western & Atlantic Railroad opened from Chattanooga to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1850. Nashville interests proposed a railroad north toward but not into Louisville to capture the trade that moved through Louisville. That proposal spurred Louisville into action: in 1850 the Kentucky General Assembly chartered the Louisville & Nashville Railroad (L&N) to build between the cities of its name, with branches to Lebanon, Kentucky, and Memphis, Tennessee. The state of Tennessee issued a charter for the southern portion of the line, with the condition that the railroad come no closer to Nashville than the north bank of the Cumberland River — any freight for Nashville would have to enter the city by wagon.[1]

L&N yard at Birmingham, AL, ca. 1900

Work progressed slowly because of problems with financing, disputes over the route, and low water that prevented materials from arriving at Louisville. In March 1850 the railroad was opened between Louisville and Lebanon. The segment between Nashville and Bowling Green opened in August 1859, and two months later the line was completed, including a bridge across the Cumberland into Nashville and another over the Green River at Munfordville, Kentucky that was the longest iron bridge in the U.S. at the time. The line to Memphis was opened in April 1861. It was a joint effort by the L&N, the Memphis & Ohio, and the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville railroads.[1]

By then the Civil War had begun, with Kentucky on one side and Tennessee on the other. During the war Union and Confederate forces fought up and down the L&N, destroying as they went. By mid-1863 the major action of the war had moved to the Southeast. L&N began to pick up the pieces and get to business — and there was enough business that L&N prospered.[1]

With the war over, L&N began to find its territory invaded by competing railroads. On the west the Evansville, Henderson & Nashville was completed in 1872 and sold to the St. Louis & Southeastern Railway (StL&SE), and to the east the city of Cincinnati was busy planning and building the Cincinnati Southern Railway.[1]

To the south, though, L&N faced little competition. By 1860 several railroad companies had put together a line from Nashville to Decatur, Alabama — they were consolidated in 1866 as the Nashville & Decatur Railroad (N&D) — and by 1870 a rail line was open from Montgomery, Alabama, through Mobile to New Orleans. The N&D proposed a lease to the L&N if L&N would guarantee the completion of the South & North Alabama, which was under construction from Mobile north through the infant industrial center of Birmingham to Decatur. The Louisville-Montgomery route was completed in 1872. L&N also began extending its Lebanon branch southeastward toward Knoxville and Cumberland Gap.[1]

In 1875 L&N had a main line for Louisville to Montgomery and branches from Lebanon Junction to Livingston, Kentucky, from Richmond Junction to Richmond, Kentucky, and from Bowling Green, Kentucky, to Memphis. L&N began expanding in earnest. It purchased the Evansville, Henderson & St. Louis (EH&StL) at foreclosure in 1879, gaining a second route from the Ohio River to Nashville. EH&StL owners, the StL&SE, had been in receivership since 1874; its line from East St. Louis to Evansville was purchased by the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis (NC&StL). On the southern front, L&N purchased the Montgomery & Mobile and the New Orleans, Mobile & Texas, obtaining a route to New Orleans; along with the Montgomery & Mobile came routes into western Florida. L&N was alarmed at the sudden expansion of the NC&StL that promised a bridge over the Ohio, a link between Owensboro and Evansville, and leases of the Western & Atlantic Railroad and Central of Georgia Railway. In 1880 L&N pulled a hostile stock takeover of the NC&StL, soon acquiring 90% control over its rival. L&N quickly took the East St. Louis-Evansville line from NC&StL and added it to its own system.[1]

One of L&N's major acquisitions was the "Short Line" between Louisville and Cincinnati. The Louisville & Frankfort and Lexington & Frankfort railroads completed a line from Louisville to Lexington in 1851. There were proposals to extend that line from Lexington to Cincinnati and to build a new short, direct line from Louisville to Cincinnati. The latter was built in 1869 by the Louisville and Frankfort in the face of rivalry between the cities of Louisville and Cincinnati, debate over the gauge (and thus over which city would have the freight transfer business), and even the route into Louisville — the city council advocated a route that the railroad said could be damaged by floods, and when the railroad knuckled under to the city and sent surveyors out, they found the proposed route deep under water. The two railroads consolidated in 1869 to form the Louisville, Cincinnati and Lexington Railroad, over the protests of the city of Frankfort that it would become simply a way station. L&N purchased the Louisville, Cincinnati & Lexington in 1881.[1]

Another major acquisition was the Kentucky Central Railway, purchased from the C. P. Huntington interests in 1892. The railroad consisted of a main line from Covington, Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati south to a junction with L&N's Lebanon Branch just north of Livingston, Kentucky, and a line from Lexington to Maysville, Kentucky, crossing the main line at Paris, Kentucky.[1]

L&N had made a connection with the Southern Railway (SOU) at Jellico, Tennessee, for traffic to and from Knoxville, but shortly after the turn of the century decided to build its own line south to Knoxville and Atlanta. In 1902 L&N acquired the Knoxville Southern and the Marietta & North Georgia railroads, which formed a line from Knoxville to Marietta, Georgia, 20 miles (32 kilometres) northwest of Atlanta on the Western & Atlantic. This line ran through an area rich in copper and marble — and through mountainous territory that required a pair of sharp curves between Whitestone and Talking Rock, Georgia — the "Hook" — and a complete loop between Farner and Appalachia, Tennessee — the Hiwassee Loop or "Eye." In 1906 L&N constructed a line with easier grades and curves between Etowah, Tennessee, and Cartersville, Georgia, west of the Hook & Eye line.[1]

In 1898 L&N became the sole lessee of the Georgia Railroad and the affiliated Western Railway of Alabama and Atlanta & West Point Railroad but almost immediately assigned a half interest in the lease to the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad (ACL).[1]

20th century[edit]

L&N dining car interior, circa 1921

In April 1902 Edwin Hawley and John W. Gates acquired a large block of L&N stock which they sold within a few weeks to J.P. Morgan & Co. Before the year was over Morgan sold his L&N interest — 51 percent — to the ACL. In May 1902 L&N and SOU, both under J. P. Morgan's control, jointly purchased the Monon Railroad. Many pieces of the Seaboard System Railroad were in place 80 years before the creation of that railroad.[1]

L&N was one of only a few railroads to build its own locomotives in any great numbers. Between 1905 and 1923 L&N's South Louisville Shops constructed more than 400 Consolidations, Pacifics, Mikados, and Eight-Wheel switchers. Although L&N was the largest coal hauler south of Virginia it began dieselizing relatively early. At the beginning of World War II (WWII) L&N purchased 14 Berkshires for freight and passenger service and simultaneously began dieselizing passenger trains with a fleet of EMD E6s. L&N had already purchased its first freight diesels, albeit for helper service, when 22 more Berkshires came from Lima in 1949 for service in the eastern Kentucky coalfields at a time when L&N was undertaking a great deal of branchline construction in that area. In 1950 L&N began to dieselize freight service in earnest, finishing the job by the end of 1956.[1]

The upgrading of passenger service after WWII centered on two coach streamliners, the Cincinnati-New Orleans Humming Bird and the St. Louis-Atlanta Georgian quickly outstripped that on its original route. The New York-New Orleans Crescent Limited, considered the premier train of the Southern Railway, but operated between Montgomery and New Orleans by L&N, was streamlined in 1950. In 1949 L&N and the Seaboard Air Line Railroad (SAL) partnered to offer the Jacksonville-New Orleans Gulf Wind. L&N was a key link in the busiest Chicago-Florida passenger route, the "Dixie Route (C&EI-L&N-NC&StL-ACL), and also forwarded the Pennsylvania Railroad's Chicago-Florida trains south of Louisville.[1]

Louisville Terminus at Union Station with 11-story L&N Building on the left

L&N completed its hostile stock takeover of the NC&StL on August 30, 1957 — a date some considered the beginning of the modern railroad merger era. It was also the beginning of L&N's modern expansion era: In 1969 L&N purchased the Woodland, Illinois-Evansville, Indiana, line of the Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad and acquired 140 miles (230 kilometres) of the abandoned Tennessee Central Railway from Nashville to Crossville, Tennessee. In 1971 L&N merged the Monon Railroad to obtain a second route from the Ohio River to Chicago. (L&N's financial interest in the Monon had been eliminated in Monon's 1946 reorganization.)[1]

L&N's ownership by the ACL included a joint lease of the Carolina, Clinchfield & Ohio Railway (operated by the Clinchfield Railroad) and the railroad properties of the Georgia Railroad & Banking Company. ACL merged with SAL in 1967 to form Seaboard Coast Line Railroad (SCL). In the mid-1970s SCL began to refer to the "Family Lines" in its advertising, and the ad usually included a list of the members. It was not an official railroad name, but it indicated probable merger in the future. On November 1, 1980, Seaboard Coast Line Industries, parent of SCL, merged with Chessie System to form CSX Transportation, and on December 29, 1982, SCL merged with L&N to form the Seaboard System Railroad.[1]


A number of historical groups and publications devoted to the line exist, and L&N equipment is well represented in the popular model railroading hobby. The L&N Railroad is also the subject of at least three songs - the 1950 Hank Snow song "Pan American," the 2003 Rhonda Vincent bluegrass song "Kentucky Borderline", and "The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore" by Jean Ritchie and performed by Michelle Shocked. Dutch blues/rockband The Bintangs had a hit in the Dutch charts in the late 1960s with "Ridin' on the L&N".

Revenue Freight Ton-Miles (Millions)
L&N NC&StL LH&StL Cumberland & Manchester
1925 12506 1306 410 4
1933 6871 851 (incl in L&N) (into L&N)
1944 17398 2766
1956 15257 2073
1960 16455 (merged)
1970 30580

Totals above do not include The Carrollton Railroad.

Passenger trains[edit]

While the Humming Bird and Pan-American, both from Cincinnati to New Orleans and Memphis, were two of the L&N's most popular passenger trains that ran entirely on its own lines. However, the Humming Bird later added a Chicago-New Orleans section in conjunction with the Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad utilizing the Georgian north of Nashville.[3] The railroad also hosted other named trains, including:

The L&N was one of few railroads to discontinue a passenger train that was en route. On January 9, 1969, as soon as a judge lifted the injunction preventing its discontinuance, the L&N discontinued its southbound Humming Bird at Birmingham, in mid-run from Cincinnati to New Orleans. The 14 passengers continuing south traveled by bus.[4]

Lebanon Branch[edit]

Construction began on the Lebanon Branch in 1857. The line branched off the main line that went from Louisville to Nashville in Lebanon Junction. The Lebanon Branch switching on the main line in Lebanon Junction gave the town its name. The Lebanon Branch was 77 miles across Kentucky from Lebanon Junction, Kentucky to Mt. Vernon, Kentucky, then on to Sinks, Kentucky. The line crossed through the towns Lebanon Junction, Boston, Nelsonville, Lyons Station, New Haven, New Hope, St. Fransic, Loretto, St. Mary's, Lebanon, Gravel Switch, Junction City, Crab Orchard, Mt. Vernon, and Sinks.

At first, the line was used during the Civil War hauling supplies, and troops. Later on, the Greensburg Branch was built switching off the Lebanon Branch on the outskirts of Lebanon, making its way through Campbellsville, Kentucky, and on to the end of the line in Greensburg, Kentucky.

The Lebanon Branch had several trains traveling on it such as Lebanon's local trains Nos. 21 (southbound) and 22 (northbound), along with the mail and express train, the Flamingo, and freight trains. The line stayed this way until passenger service ended in the 1950s. After this, freight trains occupied the line with coal trains from the Appalachian Mountains in eastern Kentucky. The line continued under this operation until the 1980s, when the Lebanon Branch and the rest of the L&N system came under control of the Seaboard System Railroad. The L&N and Seaboard merged, and later, Seaboard and the Chessie System merged to create CSXT. With multiple branch lines through the area, the decision was made that the Lebanon Branch was to be abandoned and taken up.

In 1991 the last train came through Lebanon. A portion of the Lebanon Branch was removed a few months later between Mt. Vernon to New Hope. A portion of the branch from Mt. Vernon to Sinks was saved by CSX and is still in use today for small local freight trains, as well as a portion of the branch from Boston to Lebanon Junction.

The portion of the branch from New Hope to Lebanon Junction is preserved by the Kentucky Railway Museum, which purchased the line from New Hope to Boston. The Kentucky Railway Museum operates passenger trains for tourists and visitors from their headquarters in New Haven to Boston (about eleven miles). The museum hauls three to seven passenger cars with their steam locomotive, L&N 152, or one of the historical diesels like the Monon BL-2 No. 32 or ex-Santa Fe CF-7 No. 2546.


There are several preservation organizations of L&N equipment and L&N lines, such as the Kentucky Railway Museum, The Historic Railpark and Train Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and the L&N Historic Society.

The city of Atlanta, Georgia is home to the General and the Texas, two 4-4-0 locomotives originally built for the Western and Atlantic Railroad, which was later leased to L&N predecessor Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis. The lease of the W&A was passed to, and renewed by L&N and its successors. The General and the Texas became famous for being participants in The Great Locomotive Chase during the Civil War. The General had been placed on display in the railroad's Union Depot in Chattanooga in 1901. In 1957, the L&N removed the engine and restored it to operating condition. The engine pulled the railroad's wooden center-door Jim Crow combine coach No. 665 as it traveled throughout the eastern U.S. as part of the observance of the Civil War Centennial, including a visit to the 1964 New York World's Fair. Between 1966 and 1971, a legal battle ensued between the railroad and the city of Chattanooga as the former had planned to send the engine to Georgia, while the latter claimed to be the owners of the engine. After the dispute was settled, the engine was formally presented to the state of Georgia in 1971. The engine currently resides at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Georgia, while the Texas is on display at the Atlanta Cyclorama & Civil War Museum in Atlanta's Grant Park.

The Kentucky Railway Museum consists of many pieces of L&N equipment, as well as a portion of the Lebanon Branch. The Museum owns the following L&N equipment: K2A Light Pacific 4-6-2 No. 152, a steam locomotive; heavyweight coaches Nos. 2572 and 2554; an observation car; heavyweight combine No. 1603; combine coach No. 665; sleeper the Pearl River, the Pullman coach Mt. Broderick which was used by the L&N; several baggage cars; an steam-powered crane, and E-6 diesel locomotive No. 770. All of the last seven pieces of equipment listed need restoration.

The Historic Railpark and Train Museum owns or operates several pieces of L&N equipment, including an EMD E8 diesel locomotive, a Railway Post Office car, dining car No. 2799, a sleeping car, an observation car, along with a Jim Crow combine in need of major overhaul.

There are several other museums that own L&N equipment, including the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chattanooga, TN. and the Bluegrass Railroad Museum.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Drury, George H. (1994). The Historical Guide to North American Railroads: Histories, Figures, and Features of more than 160 Railroads Abandoned or Merged since 1930. Waukesha, Wisconsin: Kalmbach Publishing. pp. 178–182. ISBN 0-89024-072-8. 
  2. ^ "Confederate Railroads - Louisville & Nashville". Retrieved October 4, 2014. 
  3. ^ The Official Guide of the Railroads, February 1952
  4. ^ Passenger Train News 7 (7). January 1969.  Missing or empty |title= (help);

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