Railroad Information

Who Was Whom

The Railroad Companies listed on the 1935 Map Legend may be familiar to you.  If not, here is a summary of the companies with a brief summary of where and when they started and came to Birmingham, as well as where (who) they are today.  References are noted.

Alabama Great Southern

Drury, in the Historical Guide to North American Railroads, provides the following information about the Alabama Great Southern.

The Alabama Great Southern Railway Company, Ltd., was a British owned holding company that owned, with the Alabama, New Orleans, Texas and Pacific Junction Railways, Ltd., five railroad companies.  These five railroads formed the Queen & Crescent Route between Cincinnati and New Orleans.  The AGS Company was acquired in 1890 by the Richmond and Danville and the East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia.

The AGS was incorporated in 1877 and was the successor to the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad, which opened in 1871.  Its main line extended from Chattanooga, TN to Meridian, MS.  Southern acquired a minority interest in the AGS in 1969.  The Nashville and Chattanooga's predecessor's had been chartered in 1852 and in 1853, consolidated in 1868, and opened in 1871, which was the year that the City of Birmingham began.

Birmingham began, as a land development venture, although the real goal was the development of the mineral resources of the area.  When the project began, the Southwest and Northeast railroad, to connect Chattanooga and Meridian was to be crossed by the South and North railroad.  The site of the crossing would be the new City.

The Southwest and Northeast became the Alabama and Chattanooga, which became part of the Alabama Great Southern.

See related web link: Southern Railroad Historical Association

Alabama, Birmingham, and Coast

Drury, in the Historical Guide to North American Railroads, provides the following information about the Alabama, Birmingham and Coast.

Beginning as a logging railroad in 1887, by 1906 the Atlanta, Birmingham & Atlantic Railroad, located in Georgia, was ready to extend from Manchester, in western Georgia to Birmingham and to Atlanta, which is did by 1908.  Subsequent reorganizations driven by financial problems led to the Atlanta, Birmingham and Coast Railroad as the owner of assets by the year 1926.  In the meantime, the Atlantic Coast Line was in control of the A, B & C, and the Atlantic Coast Line had acquired control of the Louisville and Nashville in 1902.

See related web link:  ACL & SAL Historical Society

Birmingham Belt Railroad

Hudson and Cox, in Street Railroads of Birmingham, provide information on the Birmingham Belt Railroad.

According to Street Railroads, the Belt was a product of the vision of the Elyton Land Company, the original Land Company the laid out Birmingham.  Today the Birmingham Realty Company, has its roots in the Elyton Land Company.  Originally the street railroads in Birmingham were not electric, as this technology had not been perfected.  The early lines in Birmingham were steam powered and were called "dummies", with the locomotives "disguised" to look like passenger coaches.

The Land Company created a passenger line, the Highland Avenue Railroad, and a freight line, the Belt Railroad.  These lines originated in the downtown area, and crossed the "railroad reservation" on a wooden overpass, at 22nd Avenue South.  At Avenue E (5th Ave. S.) the lines split, although both lines were developed to reach Lakeview Park, a recreation facility for the new City.  These original lines included a "short" route and a "long" route, with the Belt being the so called long route.  It was intended to serve the warehouse district south of the central business district of the emerging City of Birmingham.  Freight lines were extended to other locations in the City in the 1890's.

Like so many rail ventures, financial problems caused reorganization, and in 1899, the passenger part of the business was sold to the Birmingham Traction Company, and the freight-only Birmingham Belt RR was created to continue the freight business.  Hudson and Cox indicate that the stock of the Belt was acquired by the St. Louis and San Francisco in 1902, and the latter line operated the Belt independently until the 1970's when the 5th Avenue South tracks were removed in 1975.

Birmingham Southern Railroad

The Birmingham Southern is alive and operating today.  In Lewis, American Shortline Railway Guide, there is a short summary of the operations of this railroad.

According to Lewis, the Birmingham Southern provides switching service in Birmingham, and operates 84 miles of track, at the time of publishing in 1991.  The railroad is tied to the operations of the U S Steel operations in Birmingham.

The company was founded in 1899, and is owned today by Transtar, Inc., which is related to USX, the Steel Company operation.  In 1966 the BS RR acquired the Federal Barge Line RR from Birmingport to Fairfield (18 miles) which is the location of the USX works.

According to the author's discussion with the managers of the BS RR, at one time the railroad employed 2,500 laborers in order to serve the continually changing operations at the steel works.  Today the operation is much smaller, but the railroad operates a "big time" railroad on a small amount of track.  USX imports iron ore, which is believed to be in the form of taconite pellets, via river barge, unloading at  the Birmingport unloading facility.  These unit trains go directly to the steel mill for unloading, and recently operated trains on a daily schedule, seven days per week.

For additional information see Ronald G. Mele, Birmingham Southern Railroad Company, The First Century (Rail Images, 2000).

See related web link:  Birmingham Southern Railroad

Birmingham Terminal Company

The only information available to the author at present is that the Terminal Company served the Birmingham Terminal Station as a switching railroad.  This is based on the 1935 map which shows the track symbol for this railroad as being limited to the area at the station.

Central of Georgia Railway

Drury, in the Historical Guide to North American Railroads, provides the following information about the Central of Georgia.

The Central is one of the oldest railroads in the United States, with a charter in 1833, which became the Central Rail Road & Banking Company operating a rail line from Savannah to Macon, Georgia by 1843.  By 1869, the Central gained access to Eufaula, Alabama, near the Georgia state line through a lease of the South Western Railroad.  Like many railroads, the ownership consisted of mergers, acquisitions and leases over the years.  By 1881, the Central had gained interests in the Atlanta and West Point as well as the Western Railroad of Alabama.  In the next several years, lines were extended to from Columbus to Birmingham  and to Chattanooga.

By 1888, the Central of Georgia system was leased to a predecessor of the Southern, the Danville and Eastern.  In 1892 the Central of Georgia was in receivership, reorganized as the C of G Railway, and by 1907 was in the hands of the Harriman interests which owned the Union Pacific, Southern Pacific, and the Illinois Central.  In order to gain a connected system, Harriman developed a Jackson, Tennessee to Birmingham connection controlled by the Illinois Central.  This effort consisted of 129 miles of trackage rights over other roads and 80 miles of new construction.

The Depression and changes in the textile industry and cotton shipping through Savannah continued to degrade the C of G fortunes, and the route entered receivership again in 1932, which brings us up to date with the 1935 map.  It was eventually reorganized, reformed and ultimately acquired by the Southern, now the Norfolk Southern.

See related web link: Central of Georgia Historical Society

Illinois Central Railroad

Drury, in the Historical Guide to North American Railroads, provides the following information about the Illinois Central Railroad.

The Illinois Central was formed in 1851, and by 1856 was establish in Illinois as a railroad and via steamboat service provided access from Chicago to New Orleans.  By 1881, the IC had control of a rail route from Chicago to New Orleans, a distance of 550 miles.

E. H. Harriman gained control of the IC by the late 1880's and by 1908 had developed a line from Jackson, TN. to Birmingham, AL., as related above.  At the same time Harriman gained control of the Central of Georgia which provided access to the Atlantic Coast and Florida until the Georgia system was lost to the Southern system in 1948.  So, during the time of the 1935 Map, the IC and C of G had a line through Birmingham that linked the Midwest to the southeastern coastal areas.

See related web link: Illinois Central Historical Society

Louisville and Nashville Railroad

The Louisville and Nashville is involved in the development of almost every aspect of the City of Birmingham.  Today, CSX Transportation successor to the L & N and many other railroads continues to serve Birmingham.

Begun in 1850, to connect Louisville, KY, and Nashville, TN., the railroad was completed by the Civil War, including a branch to Memphis, TN.  b the end of the Civil War, with a lot of damage from the war, the L & N found competition from all directions, except due south from Nashville.  The Nashville and Decatur Railroad, extended to from Nashville to the Tennessee River in North Alabama.  In the meantime, in Alabama, the South and North Railroad was working north from Montgomery to Birmingham, founded in 1871, and promising to be the heart of a great industrial revolution in the Deep South.

Drury, in the Historical Guide to North American Railroads, indicates that the N & D proposed a lease to the L & N if the latter would guarantee completion of the South and North so that it would complete a connection northward to Decatur.  This was done, with an eye to the opportunity that development of the Birmingham District could offer to a railroad ready to handle large amounts of heavy materials.  This was completed by 1875, and there existed a system from Louisville to the Gulf, but not under one railroad's control.  L & N, under Milton Smith, saw the opportunity for expansion, and by the 1880's had control of a system that included access to Mobile, Pensacola, and New Orleans, as well as other regional properties.

By 1902, however, stock manipulations left the L & N in the control of the Atlantic Coast Line railroad, through efforts of J. P. Morgan.  However, by this time the L & N had control of the Georgia Railroad, the Western Railway of Alabama, and the Atlanta & West Point Railroad.  Subsequent efforts by Morgan led to stock control of the Monon.  This assemblage and stock control ultimately led to the formation of the Seaboard System, and the "Family Lines".  Final merger/acquisition in the early  980's led to the formation of CSX Transportation.

See related web link: Louisville & Nashville Historical Society

Seaboard Air Line Railway

Drury, in the Historical Guide to North American Railroads, provides the following information about the Seaboard Air Line Railway.

The roots of the Seaboard Air Line of 1935 go back to the tidewater area of Virginia in 1832.  By  1881, through the typical merger and acquisition of routes, there emerged a system known as the Seaboard Air-Line System which extended from the Virginia tidewater through the Carolina's.  Subsequent expansions reached Atlanta in 1892, and a line was begun to Birmingham by 1903.  By this time, Birmingham was recognized as a lucrative destination from all regions of the county.

Subsequent expansion of the Seaboard included Florida, and Miami was reached by 1927.  This provided another link from Birmingham to the greater southeast.  However, the Depression found the Seaboard overextended financially and located between the Southern and the Atlantic Coast Line, both stronger regional roads able better able to weather the Depression.  In receivership by 1930, the route reemerged stronger after World War II in 1946, as the Seaboard Air Line Railroad.  Merger with the Atlantic Coast Line was proposed in 1958 but not completed until 1967, forming the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad.  In 1980, Seaboard Coast Line and Chessie System were merged into CSX Corporation.  In 1982, L & N was merged into the SCL to form the Seaboard System Railroad.  In 1986, the name of the Seaboard System  Railroad was changed to CSX Transportation.  In 1987, CSX Transportation merged the Chesapeake and Ohio.

See related web link:  ACL & SAL Historical Society

Southern Railway

Drury, in the Historical Guide to North American Railroads, provides the following information about the Southern Railroad.

The Southern has it's roots in the Richmond and Danville Railroad, chartered in 1847 in Virginia.  There were subsequent charters, and acquisitions, including the Georgia Pacific.  The Georgia Pacific was chartered in 1881 to build a railroad from Atlanta to Texarkana.  The GP was part of a set of properties controlled by the Richmond Terminal.  In 1892, these roads were rescued from receivership by J. P. Morgan.

The Southern Railway was chartered in 1894 to acquire a set of properties under the heading of the Danville and Eastern and Richmond Terminal names.  This included a line from Alexandria, VA through Birmingham to Columbus, MS., which was completed prior to 1890.

This connection was separate from and several years later than the Chattanooga to Meridian line known as the Alabama Great Southern, which was owned by British interests.  However, the Richmond & Danville and others acquired control of the AGS Company in 1890.  The AGS is addressed separately in these short summaries, since, in 1935, at the time of the map, AGS still maintained a separate identity, which was characteristic of the Southern properties.

Southern Railway and the Norfolk & Western Railway were merged under the control of a newly formed company called Norfolk Southern Corporation.  At the end of 1990, the Norfolk and Western Railway became a subsidiary of the Southern Railway, and the Southern Railway changed its name to Norfolk Southern Railway.  Today, Norfolk Southern is clearly one of the primary carriers in Birmingham, and the Amtrak Crescent passenger service operates over NS tracks.  In addition, until 1994, NS operated the wonderful steam excursions out of Birmingham from the shops at Norris Yard, located in Irondale, AL, home of the Whistle Stop Cafe, made famous in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes.

See related web link: Southern Railroad Historical Association

St. Louis-San Francisco Railway

Drury, in the Historical Guide to North American Railroads, provides the following information about the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway, better known as the "Frisco".

The Frisco has its roots in Missouri, with the charter of the South West Branch of the Pacific Railroad.  By 1875, a series of efforts and financial changes led to the name of the St. Louis & San Francisco Railway.  The fortunes of the property seemed tied to the efforts to reach the Pacific Ocean through a complex series of arrangements.

But all was not well, and by 1916, the St. Louis-San Francisco emerged from the earlier efforts and failures to become a regional railroad.  This included a route from Kansas City to Birmingham, the Kansas City, Memphis and Birmingham  Access to Birmingham for the Frisco was through Mississippi, entering west Alabama and coming through Jasper, AL to Birmingham.  A subsequent acquisition in 1925 included the Muscle Shoals, Birmingham, and Pensacola Railway, from Kimbrough, AL, to Pensacola, FL.

The Frisco merged with the Burlington Northern in 1980.

See related web link:  St. Louis-San Francisco Railway

Industrial Railroads

There are still several industrial railroads in the Birmingham area.  Most of these appear to be limited to on site operations at a particular plant.  In earlier days, the industrial railroads served their owners as local short lines, which operated between the plant and nearby quarries and mines.  Remember that it was the unique proximity of all the raw materials that were needed to make iron that made Birmingham truly unique and made it able to compete with other iron and steel centers.

Besides the 1935 Map, another good summary source of information on the industrial railroads is the book Birmingham Bound, An Atlas of the South's Premier Industrial Region, 1850-Present, published by the Birmingham Historical Society.

Go to Woodward Industrial RR Page

Return to Birmingham Rails Index Page