You Can't Tell the Players Without a Program
It is interesting to note the number of railroads that came to
Birmingham. History tells us that many came to try to (literally) cash in
on the success of the Magic City. We also learn that the
Louisville and Nashville, The Old Reliable, to a large extent invested in the
future of the Magic City at
critical times in the growth of Birmingham. If not for this, the history
of both the City and the railroad would likely be different today.
There are several great resources which provide information about the rail
industry and the role that the L & N played in the development of
Birmingham, as well as the industrial area that came to be known as the
Birmingham District. One of these is a new book, out last year, titled
Alabama Railroads, by Wayne Cline and published by The University of Alabama
Press (ISBN 0-8173-0812-1). It is an historical account of the development
of railroads in Alabama. It has some great photos, and a lot of
text. This is a true history, and not a picture book about trains. I
like both kinds, although pictures are good.
Another great resource is The Historical Guide to North American Railroads,
compiled by George H. Drury, and published by Kalmbach Books (ISBN
0-89024-072-8). This source provided me with information about the
individual railroads listed in the map index, and gave an overview of their
history and territory served. Simple line maps show how Birmingham figured
into their overall service area. Finally, this book clarifies the mergers
and acquisitions that have led to these railroad names no longer being commonly
recognized today. For example, when I obtained the 1935 map, I had never
heard of some of the railroads listed, yet I fancied that I knew a bit about
railroads, at least in the Southeast. You learn something every day, if
One of the interesting things to me is that these various railroads were
often competitors, although several may have had corporate relationships that
were not obvious to the public. In any event, over the years the lines of
these roads developed on parallel locations, and when the companies merged or
acquired one another then they may have had redundant trackage. In
Birmingham, this has led to the abandonment of lines, or remaining closely
parallel tracks that have no apparent reason for being located so close
One example of this is the trackage of the L & N route through Shades
Mountain, now located in Hoover, Alabama, which is my home. The Atlanta,
Birmingham & Coast (their name by the time the map was printed) predecessor,
Atlanta, Birmingham & Atlantic, built a line to Birmingham via Bessemer
which was completed in 1907. Atlantic Coast Line succeeded A,B & C, and
eventually became part of CSX Transportation. The point of the story is
that at Shades Mountain we have three alignments passing within a few hundred
feet of each other yet all alignments are now part of the same system. One
sees this occuring frequently in model railroading, when we have to have
multiple tracks, close together that are part of the same "railroad",
yet here we find that their is a prototypical example of that happening.
To make is more interesting, one of the tracks passes under the mountain in a
tunnel, and the other, very close by in a cut. In between is the old cut
of the original South & North alignment, long since abandoned since the L
& N successor built the tunnel in the 1920's (I think).
To carry this a little farther, the abandoned ACL tracks were removed from
Bessemer to the CSX mainline, to a point between Hwy 150 and Shades Mountain,
but at the mountain, both lines remain, crossing the mountain and then each
other (in Helena, AL) before going on to separate destinations, with the old L
& N going to Montgomery, Alabama, and the ACL going to Atlanta.
If you have gotten this far, you are either a confirmed railroad nut, or have
a lot of time on your hands. In any event, this sort of thing is of
interest to train buffs, and it is sort of a detective game to figure some of
this out. You can see this site from I-459 as you pass over the railroad
northbound about milepost 8, with the cut and the tunnel on the right as you go
north. There is an historical marker nearby on South Shades Crest Road
where the road passes by the old cut, which is partly filled.
Another good thing about this situation with abandoned lines is that it leads
to opportunities for Rails to Trails projects. These are being pursued in
the Birmingham area as part of a metro area Greenway and Bikeway plan.
Some of the trail routes, such as the Vulcan Trail follow rail lines, L &
N's Red Mountain line, while others such as the Shades Creek Greenway do
not. The Vulcan Trail will be addressed elsewhere in this website.
I have not made an effort, so far, to give information about each of the
Class I railroads listed. That's only part of the story. The last
item in the map legend is industrial railroads of which there were another half
dozen or so. Some of these survive today. In the heyday of the heavy
industry in Birmingham, each of the large iron or steel companies operated their
own railroads, and most went some distance from the plant to the mines.
Woodward Iron and Republic, Sloss-Sheffield, Tennessee Coal and Iron, Mary Lee
Railroad, Jefferson Warrior, Alabama By Products, and others had extensive
operations in the area. Some of this equipment has been saved and awaits a
future through the efforts of the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum.
Of these local carriers, one of interest is the Birmingham Southern (not the
college) Railroad. This shows on the 1935 map and is alive and well today
as one of the biggest "little" railroads around. At one time,
according to BS staff the railroad employed 2500 people, counting laborers, who
kept the railroad operational, locating and relocating tracks as part of US
Steel's operations at Fairfield. Today the Birmingham Southern has an
intense and interesting operation which seems to primarily serve US Steel.
If you think that unit trains of "ore jennies" are only to be found in
the Midwest and Northeast, then come to Birmingham. I have included some
of this information on the Railroading Today page of this Website.