Arkansas, known for its beautiful, rugged topography and gorgeous rivers, has seen its share of trains since the mid-19th century. Over the years the state would become home to several railroads, which operated through or within its borders, including four classic, "fallen flags". Even today, Arkansas is still home to some twenty-six different railroads; four Class Is (including Amtrak), one regional, and twenty-one shortlines. Along with operating freight lines, the state is also home to several railroad museums and tourist lines. In any event, the information listed on this page gives a general overview of Arkansas railroads, the state's history with trains, and its current operations. Also, when possible, links are included to other pages here on the website that provide additional information about various subjects (such as Arkansas train museums, excursion trains, various railroads, etc.).
Railroads here have their history dating back to January 10, 1853 when the Memphis & Little Rock chartered by the state of Arkansas. It first completed a 38-mile line connecting Hopefield (near Memphis) and Madison (the railroad's first train also pulled six bales of cotton) and eventually the company would complete its 133-mile main line between its namesake cities by 1871 (it was originally built as a five-foot gauge system). After numerous bankruptcies the M&LR route eventually was purchased by the Choctaw, Oklahoma, & Gulf Railroad (the Choctaw Route) in 1900 and this company would later become part of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad system (Rock Island). As the years progressed so did the state's railroad mileage, which quickly surpassed 800 by 1880.
During the railroad industry's golden era the state would be home to several now-classic fallen flag railroads which include Missouri Pacific Railroad; Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad; St. Louis-San Francisco Railway (Frisco); and Kansas City Southern (still operating). Of these railroads the Missouri Pacific by far had the most trackage in the state and the Union Pacific Railroad today operates nearly half of the state's total route mileage thanks in large part to the MP's heavy concentration in Arkansas. For more information regarding the classic railroads which operated in the state please check out the links below, which provide a brief history of each:
Although the state's railroads have been reduced in number through mergers and acquisitions it is still home to three systems; Union Pacific, BNSF Railway, and Kansas City Southern Railway. Today, while UP dominates much of the state BNSF has trackage rights on UP between Texas and Memphis and two lines between St. Louis and Springfield, Missouri. KCS's mainline also runs along Arkansas' western edge and is home to the railroad's steepest grade at Rich Mountain. As for major yards and facilities, the notable ones all belong to Union Pacific in North Little Rock and Pine Bluff, along with a locomotive repair facility also located in North Little Rock (Downing P. Jenks shop).
For a more in-depth look at Arkansas's rail mileage over the years please refer to the table below. During the state's heyday it saw a rail network that stretched more than 5,000 miles. However, today that number has fallen to just over 2,700 miles. At a loss of 48% of its railroad infrastructure, Arkansas's decline is not unusual as most states experienced similar decreases.
Arkansas used to be home to several well-known passenger trains including the MoPac's Texas Eagle and KCS's Southern Belle. Today, however, the state is home to just one through passenger train, Amtrak's continued Texas Eagle, which makes five different stops across the state. These also include twenty-two different smaller
Along with the state's one Class II, Missouri & Northern
Arkansas Railroad its short lines include the Arkansas, Louisiana &
Mississippi, Arkansas Midland Railroad, Arkansas & Missouri Railroad, Arkansas Southern Railroad, Bauxite
& Northern Railway, Caddo Valley Railroad, Dardanelle &
Russellville Railroad, Delta Southern Railroad, Delta Valley &
Southern Railway, De Queen & Eastern Railroad, East Camden &
Highland Railroad, El Dorado & Wesson Railway, Fordyce & Princeton Railroad, Fort Smith Railroad, Kiamichi Railroad, Little Rock Port Authority
Railroad, Little Rock & Western Railway, Louisiana & North West
Railroad, Ouachita Railroad, Prescott & Northwestern Railroad, and
the Warren & Saline River Railroad.
Arkansas logging railroads once constituted dozens of small operations
as the state field vast reserves of timber due to its rugged topography
and home to the Ozark Mountains.
The earliest such lines to be found in the state date back to the
1870s and while most were abandoned by the 1920s some remained in use
through the 1950s. In terms of size, most Arkansas logging railroads
were no more than 5 or 10 miles in length although some operated as
common-carrier short lines and were several miles in length. The
information below is not a complete listing of all logging lines once
located in Alabama, only those with an available history. It is rather difficult finding
information on many lines considering the lack of coverage many
received due to the obscurity of the industry and the simple fact that
many were located so far away from populated areas. Some were as small as just a
mile or less while others operated, more or less, as standard
short lines. These latter operations are what will be primarily focused
on here since there is more information about them than the privately operated lumber operations.
Antoine Valley Railroad
The Antoine Valley Railroad was owned by the Grayson-McLeod Lumber Company beginning operations around the turn of the century. The railroad connected Graysonia with McLeod, west of Arkadelphia. The AV did not haul the logs directly to the lumber company's mill but rather the finished lumber to a connection with the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway (a Missouri Pacific predecessor), a through main line railroad.
Arkansas Eastern Railroad
The Arkansas Eastern Railroad was owned by the Baker Lumber Company
and began operations in 1907 connecting its mill at Turrell with Hafer,
a distance of about seven miles. The primary purpose of the AE was to
simply haul logs to the company mill. It remained in operation through the early 20th century before operations were suspended.
Ashley, Drew & Northern Railroad
The Ashley, Drew & Northern Railroad came about in 1912 to construct a railroad between Cremer and Monticello, Arkansas. One of its predecessors was the Crossett Railway, a 10 mile line originally built and owned by the Crossett Lumber Company in 1902 to haul logs to the lumber mill. The Crossett Railway was sold to the Crossett, Monticello & Northern Railroad, which subsequently was purchased by the AD&N. Interestingly, the AD&N's headquarters and main enginehouse were always located in Crossett. The AD&N operated a common-carrier system about 41 miles in length and remained in use through the mid-1990s.
Bearden & Ouachita River Railroad
The Bearden & Ouachita River Railroad was owned by the Cotton Belt Lumber Company and dates
back to around 1904. It brought logs from timber spurs located near
Caney to the company lumber mill at Best, a distance of about 14 miles.
The B&OR remained in operation until the 1920s.
Blytheville, Leachville & Arkansas Southern Railroad
The Blytheville, Leachville & Arkansas Southern Railroad was owned by the Chicago Mill & Lumber Company, dating
back to the spring of 1908. It operated about 15 miles of track
serving the company's lumber mill at Glenco (near Blytheville).
Caddo & Choctaw Railroad
The Caddo & Choctaw Railroad was owned by the Caddo River Lumber Company and was incorporated in 1907. It connected Rosboro (where it had a connection with the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway)
with Cooper, a distance of about 14 miles. The C&C served the
company's lumber mill located near Rosboro, hauling logs from the
surrounding area. The line was eventually taken over by the Memphis,
Dallas & Gulf Railroad.
Central Arkansas & Eastern Railroad
The Central Arkansas & Eastern Railroad began operations in 1901, originally owned by the Arkansas Cypress Shingle Company. It originally connected England with Ryan, Arkansas, a distance of about nine miles. The CA&E was purchased by the St. Louis Southwestern Railway in 1910, although the Cotton Belt continued adding to the system.
Cornie Valley Railroad
The Cornie Valley Railroad was owned and operated by the Edgar Lumber Company,
serving its mill at Wesson. The railroad began operations in 1904 and
at its peak featured about 30 miles of track, including timber spurs.
The Crittenden Railroad was operated by the Crittenden Lumber Company and was incorporated in the summer of 1905. It operated about 20 miles of track including timber spurs and had connections with both the Rock Island and St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway.
Doniphan, Kensett & Searcy Railway
The Doniphan, Kensett & Searcy Railway was originally constructed by the Doniphan Lumber Company
around 1906. It served the company mill at Doniphan and stretched as
west as Searcy, about 15 miles away. While the railroad primarily
hauled logs to the mill given that it connected with three through
railroads (the Rock Island, Missouri & North Arkansas, and St.
Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway), it also hauled other minor freight.
El Dorado & Wesson Railroad
The El Dorado & Wesson Railroad was also owned and operated by the Edgar Lumber Company,
and served its mill at Wesson. The railroad included interchanges with
two railroads, the Rock Island and St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway. It remained in use until around 1930.
Fourche River Valley & Indian Territory Railway
The Fourche River Valley & Indian Territory Railway, originally called the Arkansas River & Southern Railway, was owned by the Fourche River Lumber Company
beginning operations around 1905. The railroad served the company
lumber mill at Graytown, operated, at its peak about 15 miles of
trackage to tap nearby timber reserves. Overall it connected the town's
of Bigelow and Bellevue, connected with Class I Rock Island.
Freeo Valley Railroad
The Freeo Valley Railroad was owned by the Eagle Lumber Company, which was incorporated in 1904. The FV served a mill at Eagle Mills and overall operated about 22 miles of track.
Louisiana & Arkansas Railway
The Louisiana & Arkansas Railway was owned by the Bodcaw Lumber Company and was a bit unique in that it was created in 1898 to take over former logging properties that were either not profitable or already abandoned. The L&A was essentially a common-carrier, operating more than 300 miles across Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. It became part of the Kansas City Southern System in the late 1930s and was completely dissolved by 1992.
Mississippi, Arkansas & Western Railway
The Mississippi, Arkansas & Western Railway was controlled
by the Bliss-Cook Oak Company around 1904, although the property was
originally owned by the Chico Lumber Company. The railroad hauled logs
to the company sawmill at Blissville and operated about eight miles of
track. The MA&W connected with the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway (a Missouri Pacific predecessor) to haul the finished lumber products.
Ultima, Thule, Arkadelphia, & Mississippi Railway
The Ultima Thule, Arkadelphia, & Mississippi Railway was owned by the Arkadelphia Lumber Company beginning operations in the mid-1880s. It was originally meant to connect Arkadelphia with Ultima Thule but ultimately only connected Daleville with Dalark (just east of Arkadelphia). At its peak the UTA&M operated nearly 50 miles of track, including timber spurs. The railroad remained in use until the company's saw mill closed in 1912, ceasing operations.
Warren & Ouachita Valley Railway
The Warren & Ouachita Valley Railway was jointly owned by
the Arkansas Lumber Company and the Southern Lumber Company. It was
incorporated in 1899 and began operations around 1901 connecting Banks
with Warren, a distance of about 16 miles. At both locations the
W&OV had connections with Class I lines, the Rock Island (Banks) and
the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway (Warren). The
railroad was another of the "tap lines", hauling the finished lumber
products to the Rock Island and StLIM&S. However, it also operated
direct logging trains to the mills as well.
Warren, Johnsville & Saline River Railroad
The Warren, Johnsville & Saline River Railroad was owned
by the Bradley Lumber Company and began operations around 1901. At its
peak the railroad operated some 15 miles in length connecting Warren
(where there was a connection with the St. Louis, Iron Mountain &
Southern Railway) with Hermitage and a connection with the Rock Island.
The WJ&SR brought logs to the company mill at Warren at which point
the finished products are shipped off to the Rock Island and
StLIM&S at their respective interchange points. In 1920 it was
renamed as the Warren & Saline River Railroad and is still in
operation today owned by the Potlatch Corporation.
Helena Southwestern Railroad
The Helena Southwestern Railroad was a small 2.3 mile logging line that was owned by the Chicago Mill & Lumber Company. It served the company's lumber mill at West Helena and interchanged freight with the Missouri & North Arkansas Railway and Missouri Pacific. Operations began in late 1913 and the railroad was abandoned by 1920.
De Queen & Eastern Railroad
The De Queen & Eastern Railroad began operations in 1900 and was originally owned by the Dierks Lumber & Coal Company. It was a larger operation and operated as much as a shortline as a logging railroad (even operating passenger service) initially owning 37 miles of track serving De Queen, Provo, and Perkins. Today, the railroad still operates and still moves large amounts of wood-based products. It is currently owned by Patriot Rail, Corporation.
Fordyce & Princeton Railroad
The Fordyce & Princeton Railroad dated back to 1889 when it was chartered by the Fordyce Lumber Company to tap nearby timber reserves to serve its mill located in Dallas County. The line was originally narrow-gauge but later switched to standard gauge. When it originally opened the railroad operated 9.4 miles of track between Fordyce and Toan although as the years went it cutback operations to just a little more than 1 mile. In 1963 it was purchased by Georgia Pacific during which time it grew to its largest size in the early 1980s when it picked up a former Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad (Rock Island) branch to Crossett. Today, it is owned by Genesee & Wyoming and operates about 57 miles of trackage.
Central Railway Company of Arkansas
This logging line was chartered by the Fort Smith Lumber Company in 1906 and was intended to build 130 miles from Hot Springs to Casa. However, only 13 miles were ever built between Brizi and Ola, where it connected with the Rock Island. The railroad served its mill at Plainview, about half-way along the main line. It remained in operation until about 1932.
Memphis, Dallas & Gulf Railroad
The MD&G was owned by the Graysonia & Nashville Lumber Company and created on June 1, 1910 when it took over the operations of the Antoine Valley Railroad and Ultima, Thule, Arkadelphia & Mississippi Railway. The railroad served Murfreesboro, Tokio, Nashville, Schaal and a connection with the Kansas City Southern and Frisco at Ashdown. It remained in operation until 1922.
Homan & Southeastern Railway
The Homan & Southeastern Railway was founded in 1904 by the Kelly Lumber Company to serve its mill near Arthur, which was very close to the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway's main line. From there, the railroad operated 12 miles into the Arkansas countryside to tap the area's timber reserves. Just two years after operating, Kelly Lumber failed and was replaced by the Homan Lumber Company. The operation ceased after 1910 when the mill was destroyed by fire.
The Reader Railroad is one of Arkansas's more historic such companies. It dated back to the Sayre Narrow Gauge Railway of 1889, which was built to serve a sawmill near Gurdon (where there was an interchange with the StLIM&S) and tap lumber reserves just south of Reader. In 1925 A. S. Johnson purchased then owner Valley Lumber Company and renamed the operation as the Reader Railroad. New ownership built the line further to Waterloo where it gained new freight in the way of oil discovered in there, a staple that would carry the railroad nearly through its end. It was the last system to use steam locomotives, which remained on the roster until the late 1960s and was finally abandoned in 1991. There is currently an effort underway to resume tourist train operations on part of the line.
L'Anguille River Railway
This railroad was chartered in 1902 by the Miller Lumber
Company and operated just over one-mile of track from Marianna to lumber
mills located along the nearby L'Anguille River. It did move some
additional freight, like bricks, but was finally abandoned in 1932.
Little Rock, Maumelle & Western Railroad
This railroad, chartered and originally owned by the A. J.
Neimeyer Lumber Company, began service in 1907 serving an area just
south of Little Rock where it connected with the StLIM&S to Maumelle
and Carnes. From this point the line operated several small logging
branches. The LRM&W remained in service until about 1932.
Saline Bayou Railway
The Saline Bayou Railway was chartered by the Oak Leaf Mill
Company in 1905. It served the lumber mill at Oak Leaf and nearby
connection with the StLIM&S, reaching 14 miles to tap various timber
reserves. It remained in use until only 1913.
Beirne & Clear Lake Railroad
The Beirne & Clear Lake Railroad was chartered by the Penn
Lumber Company in 1909. At its peak the narrow-gauge line operated 41
miles of logging spurs serving the company's mill at Beirne.
Brookings & Peach Orchard Railroad
The Brookings & Peach Orchard Railroad was charted by the Quellmalz Lumber & Manufacturing Company in 1908 to take over the operations of the Harris Manufacturing Company. It had originally built a narrow-gauge railroad to serve its lumber mill at Brookings with a connection to the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern about three miles away. Quellmalz Lumber updated the railroad to standard gauge although it never grew any larger than its original 3 miles.
Saginaw & Ouachita River Railroad
The S&ORRR was chartered by the Saginaw Lumber Company in 1905 to serve its mill near Saginaw with the StLIM&S's line a little more than two miles away. The line remained in use until only 1913.
Saline River Railway
The Saline River Railway was chartered by the Saline River
Lumber in 1897. The railroad had two interchange points; at Draughon it
connected with the St. Louis Southwestern Railway where the company's
mill was located and Glynn, where it interchanged with the Warren &
Ouachita Valley Railway, another logging line. Overall the railroad
operated just 2 miles of track.
Thornton & Alexandria Railway
The Thornton & Alexandria was founded by the Stout Lumber Company in 1904 to take over a narrow-gauge line that was originally built by the Stout-Greer Lumber Company. The mill was located at Thornton, where it interchanges with the Cotton Belt, and also reached Hampton from which point logging spurs radiated about five miles to tap timber reserves. It remained in operation until around 1927.
Blytheville, Burdette & Mississippi River Railway
This logging railroad was constructed by the Three States Lumber Company in 1906 to serve its mill Burdette with fresh logs near Wolverton Landing, about five miles away. It was a standard gauge line and interchanged with the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway.
Along with Arkansas's railroads, the state also features a number of tourist railroads and museums. So, if you are either a vacationer interested in something to do or someone interested in railroads you may want to check them out. These include the A&M listed above, Arkansas Railroad Museum and Cotton Belt Historical Society, Fort Smith Trolley Museum, Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway, and the Frisco Depot Museum. With everything Arkansas railroads have to offer, from shortlines to Class Is, a trip to see the Natural State is well worth it!
Check out the website's digital book (E-book), An Atlas To Classic Short Lines, which features system maps and a brief background of 46 different historic railroads. To learn more please click on the image below.