The Southern Railway, "...Serves the South"


The Southern Railway, forever remembered by its famous slogan, “The Southern Serves the South – Look Ahead, Look South” (it was also known for the slogan "The Southern Gives a Green Light To Innovations"), was created from a number of smaller railroads, which merged over the years to form the system. At its height the railroad lived up to its name quite well as the road served virtually every state south of the Mason-Dixon Line and east of the Mississippi River.  Perhaps its famous green paint scheme was fitting for the railroad as it became the most respected and arguably the best managed railroad of its day before it disappeared into a merger with the Norfolk & Western Railway (N&W) in 1982 to form today’s Norfolk Southern (NS).  Today, much of the Southern remains an important component of NS.

The Southern had a long history of ordering its diesels with high, short hoods, even newer second-generation designs. Seen here is SD35 #3044 and two SD45s leading a freight past East Bridge Junction Tower in New Orleans during July of 1976.

The modern Southern was formed in 1894 when the Richmond & Danville and East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia railroads merged. After this initial merger the new Southern Railway began to grow through consolidations with other smaller railroads. During its final form the railroad stretched from Richmond to Florida and west to Memphis and New Orleans and would be made up of some 125 smaller railroads. The company's most important main line stretched from Atlanta to Washington, D.C. and was entirely double-tracked.

A significant reason why the Southern became so successful was because its innovative nature and sound business practices (and the company very much lived up to another slogan it used, “The Southern Gives A Green Light To Innovations”), especially in the railroad's later years. The railroad was quick to adopt new technologies that improved efficiencies such as Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) and began double-tracking lines to improve operations (it would eventually finish double-tracking its entire main line between Atlanta and Washington, D.C.). Because of its innovative nature it probably comes as no surprise that the company was quick to make the switch from steam to diesel locomotives as well, completely dieselizing its locomotive fleet by 1953.

Regarding the railroad’s steam locomotive fleet it rostered a wide range of wheel arrangements, from large to small. While the company rostered impressive power such as 2-8-8-2s to haul coal out of the mountains in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee (known as the Appalachia Division), the railroad is perhaps best known for its fleet of Ps4-class Pacifics, which were built by the American Locomotive Company (Alco) in 1926 and used to carry the very best passenger trains the company had to offer. The Ps4s are best remembered for their days hauling the Southern’s finest passenger train, the Crescent. They were adorned to match their trains in the company’s beautiful green, white, and gold-trimmed livery and are argued to be the most beautiful (from an aesthetic standpoint) steam locomotives ever built. Fortunately one has been saved, #1401, which today resides at the Smithsonian and is proudly on display in her original green, white, and gold-trim.

Class MS 2-8-2 #4501 (coincidentally the first such Mikado the road ever owned) pulls an excursion near Lake Ponchatrain with the assistance of an FP7 during November of 1985.

Much of what made company such a highly profitable railroad was its many fine business leaders. It began with Samuel Spencer in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which expanded the company to much of how it looked when it merged with the Norfolk & Western in 1982. Later Ernest Norris began dieselizing the company’s fleet of motive power and Harry deButts was able to understand the future economic growth of the South, and prepared the railroad accordingly.  By the time D.W. Brosnan rose to the helm of the company it was well on its way to becoming a powerhouse in its industry.

Diesel Locomotive Roster

The American Locomotive Company

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
S12000-2006, 6501-65021940-19419
RS22101-2130194930
RS32025-2062, 2131-2145, 6208-6239, 6875-68821950-195393
S22208-2232, 6057-60591941-194528
DL-109 (A)290419422
DL-110 (B)295419421
S46074-607519512
DL-107 (A)6400-640119412
DL-108 (B)6400B-6401B19412
PA-26900-690519536

The Baldwin Locomotive Works

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
VO-660DS-200519411
VO-1000DS-220519411
DS-4-4-10002285-228919485
S122290-2299195210

Electro-Motive Corporation/Electro-Motive Division

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
GP9302-303, 2500-2501, 6245-6249, 6898-6899, 8214-82151955-195613
SW12002-2004, 2007-2011, 85651940, 19478
GP72063-2077, 2156-2197, 6200-6205, 6240-6244, 6540-6544, 8210-82131950-195355
NW5210019471
NW22200-2207, 2233-2284, 6050-6056, 6850-6851, 85601940-194868
SW15002300-23471968-197048
MP15DC2348-24351977-198288
SD242502-2524, 6950-6953, 6305-63251959-196048
GP302525-26441962-1963120
GP352526 (Second), 2641 (Second), 2645-2704196562
TR22400A-2404A (Cow), 2400B-2404B (Calf)194710
GP382716-28781969-1971163
E6A2800-2802, 2900-290319417
E6B2900B-2903B19414
E7A2905-29221946-194918
E8A2923-2929, 6906-69151951-195317
SD353000-30991965-1966100
SD453105-3159196755
SD403170-32001971-197231
SD40-23201-33281972-1979128
FTA4100A-4108A, 4100D-4108D, 4105B, 4105C, 4120-4127, 6100A-6102A, 6100D-6102D, 6800A-6803A1939-194538
FTB4100B-4104B, 4100C-4104C, 4106B-4108B, 4106C-4108C, 4116-4119, 6100B-6102B, 6100C-6102C, 6800B-6803B1939-194530
F3A4128-4206, 6106-6113, 6702-6713, 6804-68061946-1949100
F7A4207-4269, 6114-6120, 6714-67191949-195165
F3B4320-4384, 6156-6159, 6750-6755, 68291946-194976
F7B4385-4428, 6160-6183, 6756-67581949-195171
GP39X4600-460519806
GP38-25000-52561972-1979257
SW96060-6073, 6505-6509, 6852-6863, 8200-8203195035
FP76130-6149195020
F2A6700-670119462
GP40X7000-700219783
GP507003-70921980-198190

Fairbanks Morse

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
H16-442146-2155, 6545-65501950-195116
H24-66 (Train Master)6300-630419545

Class Ps-4 4-6-2 #1374 awaits to depart Charlotte, North Carolina with its passenger train on June 4, 1940.

General Electric

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
44-Tonner1950-1953, 6010, 6520, 684019457
U30C3100-310419675
B30-7A3500-3521198222
B36-73815-382019816
U23B3900-39691972-197770
B23-73970-40231978-198154

Steam Locomotive Roster

Class Type Wheel Arrangement
A (Various)Switcher0-6-0
As (Various)Switcher0-8-0
B (Various)American4-4-0
CAtlantic4-4-2
DMogul2-6-0
G-2, H Through H-4, I, J/2, K (Various)Consolidation2-8-0
F-1 Through F-14Ten-Wheeler4-6-0
LsArticulated2-6-8-0
Ls-1, Ls-2Chesapeake2-8-8-2
Ms (Various)Mikado2-8-2
P-1 Through Ps-4Pacific4-6-2
Ss, Ss-1Santa Fe2-10-2
Ts, Ts-1Mountain4-8-2

Led by GP50 #7072 a northbound freight flies over the high bridge spanning the Cumberland River near Burnside, Kentucky on May 24, 1981.

Notable Passenger Trains

Aiken-Augusta Special: (Washington - Salisbury - Augusta)

Asheville Special: (Washington - Greensboro - Asheville)

Birmingham Special: (Washington - Birmingham)

Carolina Special: (Cincinnati - Greensboro/Charleston)

Crescent:  (New York-Washington-Atlanta-Montgomery-New Orleans)

Florida Sunbeam: (Cincinnati - Florida)

Kansas City-Florida Special: (Kansas City - Brunswick, Georgia/Florida)

Peach Queen: (Washington - Atlanta)

Pelican: (New York-Lynchburg-Bristol-Knoxville-Chattanooga-Birmingham-New Orleans)

Piedmont Limited: (Washington - New Orleans)

Ponce de Leon: (Cincinnati - Jacksonville)

Queen & Crescent: (Cincinnati - New Orleans)

Royal Palm: (Cincinnati-Chattanooga-Jacksonville)

Skyland Special: (Asheville - Jacksonville)

Southerner: (Washington-Atlanta-Birmingham-New Orleans)

Sunnyland: (Memphis - Atlanta)

Tennessean: (Washington-Lynchburg-Bristol-Knoxville-Chattanooga-Memphis)

Washington-Atlanta-New Orleans Express: (Washington - Atlanta - New Orleans)



Two GP30s hustle past the historic Huntsville, Alabama depot (which dates to the Civil War) with a freight train during November of 1984.

Brosnan would go on to expand the railroad in terms of new technologies and efficiencies, such as updating bottlenecks across its system and using computers for even better operations. Graham Claytor would be the railroad's last president and continued operations much as his previous predecessors.   In the Southern’s final days the railroad was a well-oiled machine. Even as the railroad industry hit an all-time low in the 1970s with many bankruptcies and outright liquidations (this was most prominent in the Northeast), the railroad continued to roll in profits, topping out at almost $1.8 billion in revenues in 1981, its last year as an independent company.

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