The Southern Belle was the Kansas City Southern’s very
belated entrance into the streamliner revolution that had hit the
nation’s railroad industry beginning in the mid-1930s. While up until
the time of the Belle’s debut the KCS had offered merely
second-rate passenger service its flagship train plied a route that was
very lucrative, making it a household name in the markets it served.
While the Bell was discontinued two years prior to the startup of
Amtrak it lives on today as the KCS’s business train which is a near
replica of the flagship, right down to the original livery of dark
Brunswick Green (which looks almost black), yellow, and red with a
silver roof lining (although most of the equipment on the train is not
of KCS origin since the railroad had sold its passenger fleet after
discontinuing services in 1969).
The Kansas City Southern Railway, better known as simply the KCS may currently be our country’s smallest Class
I railroad in terms or route miles, surrounded by the other four
American giants Union Pacific, BNSF Railway, CSX Transportation, and Norfolk
Southern. However, the railroad is the second oldest still carrying its
original name next to the UP, and its history dates back to the late
19th century. 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
For more reading about the Belle please click here. 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. The Belle
began, interestingly enough, as a publicity campaign by the Kansas City
Southern. Looking for a beautiful young lady to model for the train as
“Miss Southern Belle” the winner eventually chosen was Margaret Landry.
The train itself was inaugurated on September 2, 1940 and Miss Landry
traveled on the train during a 10-day publicity tour to showcase the new
The route the Belle followed was north-south connecting Kansas City with New Orleans,
a bit unconventional as far as rail operations are concerned, which
usually travel east-west. In any event, this mattered little as the
train turned out to be quite successful being that the southern regions
the Belle traveled through offered little in the way of reliable roadways. Listed as Trains #1 and #2 on the KCS timetable the Belle could make the jaunt between Kansas City and New Orleans
in about 21 1/2 hours (by the 1960s the railroad had shaved about an
hour from this time) and could carry an average train speed of between
40 and 42 mph. The Belle featured almost entirely all sleepers along with diner-lounges and "De Luxe" chair cars.
The coming of World War II only increased passenger traffic for the Kansas City Southern between New Orleans
and Kansas City, which was partly helped by the fact that the railroad
served a number of bases between the two cities. Interestingly enough,
the region and Belle proved to be so lucrative for the KCS that
the railroad continued to order new equipment from Pullman-Standard
through 1966 (passenger traffic had actually jumped during the mid-1960s
from its levels at the beginning of the decade), the last purchase of
passenger equipment by a private railroad before the days of Amtrak,
which began in the spring of 1971.
would be the discontinuance of the US Postal Service’s mail contracts in 1967,
along with a cutback in feeder trains to the main line services that
ultimately did in not only the Belle but also nearly all
passenger trains offered by Kansas City Southern. In just three years since the railroad
had ordered new equipment from Pullman it discontinued the Bell on November 2, 1969. Today, however, you can still catch a version of the Southern Belle
in the way of the railroad’s business train, which has brought back its
old livery and pulls the train with a matching A-B-A set of FP9s (all
units, of which, are ex-Canadian National).
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