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. 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).
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).
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
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.)
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).
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