The Tennessee, Alabama And Georgia Railway: The Tag Route

The TAG Route, as it came to be known, was a small Class I which served all three of its namesake states. The company was just slightly less than 100 miles in length and dated to the 1890s. After a few reorganizations it acquired its final name in the early 1920s. The railroad survived on various forms of traffic over the years, such as coal early on to steel in its later years. After World War II it predominantly remained profitable by working as a bridge route between Chattanooga and its southern terminus of Gadsden with little online traffic of its own. As a means of removing the competition and gaining access to this freight itself the Southern Railway purchased the TAG in 1971. Already operating its own line between these two points the Southern had little need for the TAG property and abandoned it over the years. Today, virtually nothing remains of the railroad, with the last segment abandoned in the 2000s.  

The history of the Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia Railway begins in April of 1890 with the chartering of the Chattanooga Southern Railway, a system created to move coal, iron, and timber from Lookout Mountain to nearby Chattanooga as well as points further south. After just a year of construction the 93-mile route south to Gadsden, Alabama was open in 1891. Along the way it passed through the northwestern tip of Georgia and along the base of the Pigeon Mountain plateau, which gave the Chattanooga Southern the nickname as the "Pigeon Mountain Route." To the south at Gadsden the line connected with the Louisville & Nashville and the Alabama Great Southern (a Southern Railway subsidiary) and to the north at Chattanooga interchanged again with Southern and L&N, as well as the Central of Georgia and Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific Railway (another Southern subsidiary).

Unfortunately, the company's debt quickly overwhelmed it and it fell into receivership a few years later in 1896, reemerging as the Chattanooga Southern Railroad. Two more bankruptcies would continue to plague the line; in 1911 it was reorganized as the Tennessee, Alabama, & Georgia Railroad and for a final time in 1922 as the Tennessee, Alabama, & Georgia Railway, acquiring its famous slogan as The Tag Route. At this time of the system's history coal from Lookout Mountain still played an important role in sustaining the company, which remained this way through World War II. Additionally, the TAG had a coal branch from the main line at Menlo, Georgia to Coe/Chesterfield, Alabama along the state line. This short extension was only about five miles in length and survived until 1920 when it was abandoned.

While the TAG Route had little online industry of its own it was able to build up a profitable level of bridge traffic, which was vital after it lost its coal business following the end of the war. This freight was derived from its interchange connections, which usually was bound for other northern or southern points such as Cincinnati, Louisville, Birmingham, Montgomery, or even New Orleans. The 1950s were, perhaps, the best years for the railroad as profits were high enough that diesels replaced the steam locomotives, track speed was 50 mph for passenger trains and 40 mph for freight movements, and the infrastructure was upgraded to 100 pound rail (quite heavy for that period of the industry, particularly for a system of the TAG's size). During the 1960s the railroad gained an important new source of traffic, steel. 

It came to serve two mills; the Siskin Steel Company in Chattanooga (whose owners also owned the TAG, Mose and Garrison Siskin) and Republic Steel located in Gadsden which received both scrap steel and raw materials for production. In 1968 even more new traffic was gained when a latex plant, owned by Reichold Industries, opened in Kensington about 22 miles south of Chattanooga. Unfortunately, the '60s spelled trouble for the TAG. Much larger systems, like the Southern and L&N were trying to undercut the little line since its primary source of revenue was still bridge traffic. To them, the TAG was nothing more than a nuisance taking away potential freight from their own lines. A number of court attempts to force the TAG to capitulate failed. So, the Southern sidestepped the courts and simply purchased the railroad itself in 1971. 

Diesel Locomotive Roster

Builder Model Type Road Number Notes Quantity
EMDGP1850Acquired new, 1960, named "Dave E. Hedges" after the railroad's president.1
EMDGP3880Acquired new, 1968, named "John A. Chambliss" after the railroad's vice president.1
EMDGP7707-709Acquired new, 1951.3

Steam Locomotive Roster

Builder Wheel Arrangement Road Number Quantity
Baldwin4-4-0 American1-5/101-1045
Baldwin2-6-0 Mogul6-72
Baldwin4-6-0 Ten Wheeler8-92
Baldwin/Cooke/Rhode Island2-8-0 Consolidation100-108, 20110
Baldwin/Alco2-8-2 Mikado202-205, 301-307, 350, 401-40315
Lima2-8-4 Berkshire601-6022

Of course, the Class I already served the same territory as the TAG via its Alabama Great Southern line to the west and slowly began abandoning the railroad. The middle sections of the system were the first to go in the early 1980s with the entire southern section gone by the end of that decade. For many years a 22-mile section between Chattanooga and Kensington was operated by shortline Chattooga & Chickamauga Railway (a Genesee & Wyoming property) that served the Reichhold Industries plant. However, after the facility closed in 2008 so did the need for the railroad, which ended service soon after. 

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