Mississippi Central Railroad

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Mississippi Central Railroad
MSCI 1605.jpg
MSCI locomotive 1605 in Holly Springs
Reporting markMSCI
LocaleSouthern United States
Dates of operation1993–present
PredecessorIllinois Central Railroad Natchez Trace Railway
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Previous gauge,
5 ft (1,524 mm) and converted to
4 ft 9 in (1,448 mm) in 1886[1]
Length51 miles (82 km)
HeadquartersHolly Springs, MS
Mississippi Central Railroad
Grand Junction (Norfolk Southern)
Michigan City
Holly Springs (BNSF)
U.S. Route 78
Tallahatchie River
Lafayette County Industrial Park
University-Oxford Airport
Water Valley
Mississippi and Skuna Valley

Mississippi Central Railroad (reporting mark MSCI) is a short line railroad operating over 51 miles from Oxford, Mississippi to Grand Junction, Tennessee owned by Pioneer Railcorp. The railroad's principal commodities are wood products and fertilizer.[2] The MSCI offers connections to the BNSF Railway in Holly Springs and Norfolk Southern Railway in Grand Junction.

In 2013 the Mississippi Central purchased the Redmont Railway. [3]

In 2015 the Mississippi Central purchased the Tishomingo Railroad near Iuka, Mississippi.

Early history (1852–1861)[edit]

In 1852, the Mississippi Central Railroad was chartered by the Mississippi Legislature to build a railroad from Canton, Mississippi to Grand Junction, Tennessee, financed by wealthy cotton planters in LaGrange TN, and Oxford, MS, passing through the towns of Grenada, Water Valley, Oxford and Holly Springs. The first passenger trains from Holly Springs to Oxford ran in 1857. Passenger service further south to Water Valley began in 1858. On January 31, 1860, the final spike was driven in Winona, Mississippi establishing the first ever rail link between the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. The 26 miles (42 km) line was constructed with 5 ft (1,524 mm) track gauge.[4]

Civil War (1861–1865)[edit]

In November 1862, General Ulysses S. Grant began the Mississippi Central Railroad Campaign down the line with the ultimate goal of capturing Vicksburg, Mississippi in conjunction with General William Tecumseh Sherman. Grant established a base in Holly Springs and began advancing south along the railroad. Confederate soldiers built earthwork fortifications to defend the railroad's Tallahatchie River bridge near Abbeville but retreated south without firing a shot when they learned of a flanking maneuver by Grant. Skirmishes were fought along the railroad to Oxford and in the streets of the town itself. The Confederates were pushed further south past Water Valley, Mississippi but managed to damage a railroad trestle and lead a successful ambush at Oakland, Mississippi that stalled the Federal advance.

While Grant was stalled, Confederate General Van Dorn lead a successful cavalry raid on Grant's supply base at Holly Springs, burning most of his supplies and then moved north destroying the railroad and telegraph lines along the way. With the railroad destroyed Grant had no way to resupply his army and was forced to end the campaign and retreat to Memphis, TN.

Illinois Central years (1872–1982)[edit]

Illinois Central Depot in Oxford

After the Civil War, the Mississippi Central was rebuilt under the guidance of Absolom M. West and eventually the Illinois Central Railroad started to acquire the line in 1872. Illinois Central established their regional headquarters in Water Valley, MS and based a large maintenance facility there. Famed engineer Casey Jones regularly operated passenger trains along the line and it was said locals could set their watches by him due to his strict adherence to published schedules. In 1927, Illinois Central started to shift traffic to their Grenada-Memphis route and closed the maintenance facility in Water Valley. In 1941, passenger service ended along the route and five years later the regional headquarters was relocated from Water Valley to Jackson, TN. Finally, in 1982, 30 miles of track between Oxford and Bruce Junction in Coffeeville was abandoned and the remaining northern portion of the line sold. Illinois Central continued to operate the southern portion of the line from the junction of the Mississippi and Skuna Valley Railroad to Grenada, MS.


Illustration of the February 25, 1870 accident at Buckner's Trestle

Buckner's Trestle was a 100-foot (30 m) long 50-foot (15 m) high bridge located south of Oxford that was the site of two accidents. The first occurred on February 25, 1870, killed 20 people, and injured 60 when the bridge collapsed. The second accident occurred on June 10, 1928 and injured 42 passengers but resulted in no fatalities.[5][6]

Present day (1982– )[edit]

In March 1982, Kyle Railroad started operating the line under the name Natchez Trace Railway. In 1993, Pioneer Railcorp purchased the line and resurrected the name Mississippi Central Railroad.[7] The primary customer was a particle board plant in Oxford.

In the mid-2000s, all track south of University-Oxford Airport was abandoned and the airport runway expanded over the right of way. MSCI's tracks now end at the airport's perimeter fence. The remaining abandoned right of way has been turned into two different rail trails (Oxford Depot Trail and South Campus Rail Trail, formerly the Thacker Mountain Rail-Trail) and the Gertrude Ford Parkway in Oxford, MS.

In September 2013, Mississippi Central purchased the former Redmont Railway between Corinth, Mississippi and Red Bay, Alabama. This line is now operated as the Redmont Division.

In February 2016 Roseburg Forest Products, the only user of the railroad south of Holly Springs, announced that it would idle its plant in Oxford, with the last scheduled rail service on March 4.[8]

Little Tallahatchie River Bridge

Motive power[edit]

MSCI currently operates four locomotives:

  • 2 EMD GP16s (#1604 & 1605)
  • 1 CF7 (#488)
  • 1 CF7 (#101; still painted as Redmont Railway)

The line ran with steam locomotives until 1953.


  • In 2003, the University of Mississippi completely restored the depot in Oxford. It is now used as a meeting venue.[9]
  • The depot in Water Valley houses the Casey Jones Museum. An Illinois Central banana reefer and caboose are on display there.[10]
  • The large passenger depot in Holly Springs has been preserved, and is being considered for use as a meeting venue.[11]
  • The depot in Winona survives as a restaurant [12] and gym.[13] A monument in front of the depot commemorates the completion of the Mississippi Central Railroad.


  1. ^ The Days They Changed the Gauge
  2. ^ Pioneer Railcorp - Mississippi Central Railroad Co.
  3. ^ RRB Employer Status Determination
  4. ^ Confederate Railroads - Mississippi Central
  5. ^ Newsom, Michael (January 3, 2015). "Buckner's Trestle has tragic, but forgotten history". Archived from the original on October 28, 2018. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  6. ^ Simonton, J.W. (March 5, 1870). "The latest railway horror". New Orleans Picayune. Archived from the original on September 6, 2015. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  7. ^ HawkinsRails - Mississippi Central
  8. ^ Schnugg, Alyssa (February 25, 2016). "Roseburg Forest to close Oxford plant". Oxford Eagle. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  9. ^ Ole Miss Oxford Depot
  10. ^ Water Valley Casey Jones Museum
  11. ^ Holly Springs Depot Blog
  12. ^ The Tracks
  13. ^ The Depot Gym