The Kansas City Southern Railway, Route Of The Southern Belle
The Kansas City Southern Railway, better known as simply the KCS, may be our country’s smallest Class
I railroad in terms of route miles, surrounded by the other four giants
Union Pacific, BNSF Railway, CSX Transportation, and Norfolk Southern
(six including the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific). However, the railroad is the second oldest Class
I still in operation, next to the Union Pacific, and its history dates
back to the late 19th century. Other than the Union Pacific, the KCS is
the only remaining Class I railroad whose name has never changed prior
to the diesel era. In recent years the railroad has witnessed
substantial growth by acquiring four different railroads, two of which
are located in Mexico. Today, the railroad has a much further reach than it ever has during its long history and the future for the company looks very bright.
Three six-axle Electro-Motive units with SD40-2 #601 up front pull a westbound freight near Pelahatchie, Mississippi on June 9, 2005.
The KCS’s story is actually quite recent when compared
to the railroad industry as a whole; the railroad was not charted until
1890 (long after the industry had been established) when it was
originally known as the Kansas City Suburban Belt Railroad later to
become the Kansas City, Pittsburg & Gulf. The railroad’s initial plan
was to build to the Gulf of Mexico connecting its namesake city with
the ocean in an attempt to give farmers a means of shipping their goods,
as well as hauling goods inland from incoming ocean shipments.
This plan, however, was never successful and after falling into
receivership it was reorganized as today’s Kansas City Southern in 1900.
Even after the reorganization the railroad struggled to earn
income until its savior came in the way of "black gold," oil. With the
discovery of oil the railroad’s southern tier, its lines located in
Texas and Louisiana, boomed with new oil refineries, many of which can
still be found to this day along both states’ coastal regions. This new
traffic would account for well over one-quarter of the system’s profits for much of its early years (and continue
to provide a substantial amount of its overall earnings).
(Please note that the below map of the KCS depicts the railroad as it historically appeared in 1950, not today.)
For roughly the first half of the 20th century the KCS prospered, earning
considerable profits on a railroad system that was less than 1,000
total miles in length. However, beginning in the late 1950s the
railroad would once again go through a period of hard times, much like
its early days. Things got so bad by the early 1970s (mostly a result
of deferred maintenance) that derailments became commonplace across the
entire system. If it were not for record volumes of traffic continuing
to pour over the KCS during this time the railroad could have faced a
serious problem, similar to its northern neighbor, the Rock Island.
While the KCS was never a big player in the passenger rail
market like several other roads, it did have a few notable trains such
as its Southern Belle streamlined train which operated between
Kansas City and New Orleans. Adorned in an eye-catching Brunswick Green
(which appears almost black), yellow, and red the train operated
between 1940 and 1968 until hard times and a weakening passenger market
forced the train’s cancellation. In any event, with plenty of traffic
to keep the railroad stable it began to pull out of the mess it was in
during the latter half of the 1970s, and by the 1980s it was once again earning healthy profits and running efficient operations (a result of physical plant upgrades and better train blocking and scheduling).
These F-unit covered wagons remained in regular service on the KCS until the 1980s. Seen here are no fewer than six units powering a long train of empty hoppers heading westbound near Sulphur Springs, Texas during December of 1981.
In the last decade the railroad has grown, and quite substantially,
for the first time since its early years. In the 1990s it acquired two
railroads, the Gateway Western Railway and Mid-South Rail Corporation.
The former gave the Kansas City Southern access into St. Louis and
Springfield, Illinois and the latter into Mississippi. Also, in recent
years the KCS was able to gain complete control of two railroads south
of the border, the Texas Mexican Railway and Grupo Transportación
Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM), putting the KCS solidly
into Mexico and giving it access to many of the country’s largest
In the mid-2000s the KCS brought back its classic Southern Belle livery, as seen here on two of its newer units, an ES44AC and SD70ACe as they lead a manifest freight (with another SD70ACe) through Lanagan, Missouri on the evening of September 18, 2009.
While the KCS itself is only about 3,100 miles in length its
acquisition of Tex Mex and TFM (now known as Kansas City Southern de
Mexico) added about 2,800 miles to its overall system, giving it a
railroad of nearly 6,000 miles. Still, this mileage pales in comparison
to the other six North American Class Is which rank as follows:
Union Pacific Railroad - 32,000 miles (5,000 of which are trackage rights.)
BNSF Railway - 32,000 miles (8,000 of which are trackage rights.)
An odd collection power including two covered wagon B units and two more SW1500s (up front is #4340), lead a freight along the Lake Charles Branch near Mossville, Louisiana during November of 1976.
The KCS wasn't really known for its steam power although it did roster some large designs such as 2-10-2s and even articulateds. Here is Class H 4-6-2 #804 mingling with Rock Island power at Kansas City during May of 1928.
Steam Locomotive Roster
K, K-1, K-21
Another KCS Class H Pacific, #807, rolls through the yard in Kansas City during July of 1931. In total the railroad only owned eleven of these fairly common steamers (most lines used them in passenger service).
Flying Crow: (Kansas City - New Orleans/Port Arthur)
Shreveporter: (Hope - Shreveport)
The KCS came to dislike this all-white livery since it could never be kept clean. A trio of Geeps (with GP40 #771 up front) and F7A #4060 lead a northbound freight through DeQuincy, Louisiana during December of 1985.
Its logo virtually unchanged throughout its life, with its recent
acquisitions the railroad looks poised to continue to remain successful
throughout the coming years (perhaps as they sometimes say, change is
not always a good thing!). While the railroad has had a number of
different paint schemes over the
years ranging from whites, reds, blacks, and grays recently the
railroad decided to switch its locomotives back into the it’s classic
Brunswick Green, yellow, and red (in recent years locomotives have been
adorned in a simpler all-gray with red and yellow trim).