The state of Alabama has its beginnings with railroads in 1830 when the
little Tuscumbia Railway, originally horse-powered, was chartered on
January 16th of that year to connect Tuscumbria with the nearby
Tennessee River. Overall, the little line was just 2.1 miles in length
although it successfully served its purpose of moving
cotton bales to the river. The railroad was the fourth incorporated
railroad in the country and was the first built west of the Alleghenies.
With the success of the line it was reorganized in 1832 as the
Tuscumbia, Courtland & Decatur Railroad, connecting its namesake
cities just a few years later.
The railroad eventually became part of the Memphis & Charleston Railroad, a system that would come under the ownership of the Southern Railway. Interestingly, today, the original TC&D route is still operated by Class I, Norfolk Southern. In any event, as Alabama's network became established its natural resources began to be tapped with railroads finding sources of traffic from such things as timber, coal, and iron. In later years Alabama would be accessed by several classic fallen flag railroads including (the links below provide a brief history of each company):
In terms of overall mileage, currently Alabama railroad mileage ranks somewhere in the middle of the pack. During the heyday of the railroad industry Alabama was home to around 5,300 route miles of rails although today that number has dropped by about 48% to slightly over 3,300 miles (this is actually quite common, as most states have seen a similar decline from their peak mileage in the 1920s). The short table below lists the state's mileage rise and decline.
Today, through mergers, abandonments, and acquisitions Alabama has been
reduced to just two Class I railroads, CSX and Norfolk Southern which
command 86% of the state's rail mileage although BNSF Railway, Canadian National
and Kansas City Southern also have a presence (although their total
mileage is less than 400 combined). However, they are not the only two
railroads still operating within the state as there are several
shortlines found there, including regional Alabama & Gulf Coast
The state's shortlines include the Alabama & Florida Railway, Birmingham Southern Railroad, Eastern Alabama Railway, Huntsville-Madison County Railroad Authority, Jefferson Warrior Railroad, Alabama Southern Railroad, Alabama & Tennessee River Railway, Alabama Warrior Railway, Bay Line Railroad, Chattahoochee Bay Railroad, Conecuh Valley Railroad, Georgia Southwestern Railroad, Luxapalila Valley Railroad, Meridian & Bigbee Railroad, Redmont Railway, Sequatchie Valley Railroad, Tennessee Southern Railroad, Three Notch Railroad, Wiregrass Central Railroad, and the Terminal Railway-Alabama State Docks.
Classic Railroads That Served Alabama
Atlantic Coast Line, "Standard Railroad Of The South"
Central of Georgia, "The Right Way"
Gulf, Mobile & Ohio, "The Rebel Route"
Louisville & Nashville, "The Old Reliable"
Seaboard Coast Line, "We're Pulling For You"
Southern Railway, "Look Ahead - Look South"
Tennessee, Alabama & Georgia Railway, "The TAG Route"
Illinois Central, "The Main Line Of Mid-America"
The West Point Route: The Georgia Railroad/Atlanta & West Point/Western Railway Of Alabama
Regarding the Class I carriers, major facilities in Alabama can
be found in Birmingham
- Boyles Yard for CSX, Norris Yard for Norfolk Southern and Thomas Yard
for BNSF Railway - as well as another for NS, Sheffield Yard. While
Alabama railroads do not include many passenger trains, Amtrak does
currently operate one train through the state, the Crescent, which stops at Anniston, Birmingham, and Tuscaloosa along the Norfolk Southern's main line through the state.
There are also plenty of tourist railroads and museums dotting
Alabama. These include the Foley Museum, Heart of Dixie Railroad
Museum, Historic Huntsville Depot, and the North Alabama Railroad
Museum. Lastly, Alabama has a few relic stations still standing,
Montgomery Union Station and Mobile & Ohio Gulf Terminal in downtown
(for any history, rail, and/or architecture buff these railroad
stations are worth the drive to see). So, if you are interested in
either Alabama's railroad history or just looking for something to do
you may want to visit one of these places.
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