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Southern Railway History

Southern Railway is the product of nearly 150 predecessor lines that were combined, reorganized and recombined since the 1830s. 

The nine-mile South Carolina Canal & Rail Road Co., Southern's earliest predecessor line, was chartered in December 1827 and ran the nation's first scheduled passenger service to be pulled regularly by a steam locomotive -- the wood-burning "Best Friend of Charleston" -- out of Charleston, S.C., on Christmas Day 1830. When its 136-mile line to Hamburg, S.C. was completed in October 1833, it was the longest continuous line of railroad in the world. 

As railroad fever struck other Southern states, networks gradually spread across the South and even across the Allegheny Mountains. Charleston and Memphis, Tenn., were linked by 1857, although rail expansion halted with the start of the Civil War. 

Known as the "first railroad war," the Civil War left the South's railroads and economy devastated. Most of the railroads, however, were repaired, reorganized and operated again. In the area along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, construction of new railroads continued throughout Reconstruction. 

Southern Railway was created in 1894, largely from the financially-stressed Richmond & Danville system and the East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia Railroad. The company owned two-thirds of the 4,400 miles of line it operated, and the rest was held through leases, operating agreements and stock ownership. 

Southern also subsequently controlled the Queen & Crescent Route (Alabama Great Southern; New Orleans & Northeastern; Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific; and for a time the Alabama & Vicksburg), and the Georgia Southern & Florida, which were operated separately. 

Samuel Spencer 

Southern's first president, Samuel Spencer, drew more lines into Southern's core system. During his 12-year term, the railway built new shops at Knoxville, Tenn., and Atlanta, and purchased more equipment. He moved the company's service away from an agricultural dependence on tobacco and cotton and centered its efforts on diversifying traffic and industrial development. 

By the time the New Orleans & Northeastern (Meridian-New Orleans) was acquired in 1916 under Southern's president Fairfax Harrison, the railroad had attained the 8,000-mile, 13-state system that marked its territorial limits for almost half a century. 

The Central of Georgia became part of the system in 1963, and the former Norfolk Southern Railway Co. (Norfolk-Charlotte) was acquired in 1974. 

Southern and its predecessors were responsible for many firsts in the industry. Its predecessor, the South Carolina Canal & Rail Road Co., was the first to carry passengers, U.S. troops and mail on regularly-scheduled steam-powered trains, and it was the first to operate at night. In 1953, Southern Railway became the first major railroad in the United States to convert totally to diesel-powered locomotives, ending its rich history in the golden age of steam. 

From dieselization and shop and yard modernization, to computers and the development of special cars and the unit coal train, Southern often was on the cutting edge of change, earning the company its catch phrase, "The Railway System that Gives a Green Light to Innovations."

from Norfolk Southern website

 

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Southern Railway Historical Association
P. O. Box 33 
Spencer, NC  28159