The Crescent

For much of its life, Southern Railway’s flagship passenger train was the Crescent. This regal train, as it is best remembered, was an “All Pullman” operation running between Washington, D.C. and New Orleans.

However, the train has its roots dating back to the late 19th century, although in it’s earliest form it never traveled a route nearly as long as its later successor.

Southern's flagship is also distinguished as being the last privately operated streamlined passenger train in America when the Southern finally relinquished control of the train to Amtrak in 1979, eight full years after the national carrier began intercity operations! 

The Southern took great pride in its passenger fleet believing in the highest quality of service and keeping trains clean and on time (much of the same reason why it was so successful hauling freight as well). 

These traits have persevered throughout the years and those who rode its train still remember them fondly today.

A quarter of Southern E8A's depart Alexandria Union Station with the "Southern Crescent" in August, 1977. Jerry Custer photo.

A Brief History Of The Crescent

The Crescent has its beginnings dating back to a Southern predecessor, the Richmond & Danville in which the train was then named the Washington & Southwestern Vestibuled Limited and was inaugurated in 1891 (three years before the Southern itself was created!).

Prior to the Southern gaining its own lines between Washington, D.C. and New Orleans the Vestibule reached the two destinations via connections with railroads Atlanta & West Point, Western Railway of Alabama (both railroads were part of the West Point Route, and the Louisville & Nashville. In 1925 the train was renamed the Crescent Limited and updated with new equipment.

Southern Railway's High-Class Services

Birmingham Special: (Washington - Birmingham)

Carolina Special: (Cincinnati - Greensboro/Charleston)

Peach Queen: (Washington - Atlanta)

Ponce de Leon: (Cincinnati - Jacksonville)

Queen & Crescent: (Cincinnati - New Orleans)

Royal Palm: (Cincinnati-Chattanooga-Jacksonville)

It was a year later that the train became so well remembered when the Southern’s famous Class Ps4 Pacific, arguably the most beautiful steam locomotive design ever built, took over as power adorned in a beautiful livery of Virginia green with gold and silver trim.

Consist And Timetable (1952)

In 1938 the train was again renamed to simply the Crescent, in name it kept for the next four decades. And, just a few years later in 1941, the Pacifics lost their status as the premier source of power for the flagship train when EMC E6A streamlined diesel locomotives took over (also adorned in the Virginia green livery).

In 1950 the train finally received full, lightweight, streamlined cars to match the locomotives (and, in 1951, the Southern upgraded its passenger locomotive fleet with E8As from EMD).

Southern Railway E8A #2926 has train #1, the "Southern Crescent," boarding at Peachtree Station in Atlanta, Georgia on January 21, 1971. Roger Puta photo.

The new reequipped and streamlined train looked much different, both inside and out, with its new lightweight equipment.

Having a new consist that included things like coaches, diners, sleeper-lounges, full sleeping cars, and sleeper-observation the train was now completely contemporary.

Of particular note with the new equipment was the sleeper-observation, which featured extra-large windows with elevated seats that faced the outward so passengers could watch the scenery pass by.

The other feature of interest was master bedrooms, large enough to sleep three and include a private shower!

Master bedrooms on board passenger trains were extremely rare after World War II with the Pennsylvania Railroad’s flagship, the Broadway Limited, the only other train to include such a treat.

A quartet of Southern E8As, led by #6905, hustle the "Southern Crescent" southbound near Meridian, Mississippi during a spring rain in May, 1978. Gary Morris photo.

For the next twenty years Southern's flagship renamed a top-notch operation (although it was downgraded in the 1960s), vaunted for its on-time and splendid service.

Interestingly, as passenger railroading waned just prior to Amtrak taking over all intercity operations, the train actually expanded operations, albeit by the combination of trains, by expanding service to the Northeast.

In 1970 the railroad combined the Southerner, which operated as far north as Boston with the Crescent to form the Southern Crescent. The new train, in conjunction with the Penn Central, operated between Boston/New York and New Orleans.

The Crescent Timetable (April, 1950)

Read Down Time/Leave (Train #149/PRR) Milepost Location Read Up
Time/Arrive (Train #118/PRR)
2:35 PM (Dp)0.0
New York, NY (Pennsylvania Station) (ET)
9:05 AM (Ar)
2:49 PM10
Newark, NJ
8:50 AM
3:34 PM58
Trenton, NJ
8:04 AM
4:04 PM86
North Philadelphia, PA
7:35 AM
4:14 PM
Philadelphia, PA (30th Street Station)
7:23 AM
4:45 PM118
Wilmington, DE
6:45 AM
5:45 PM187
Baltimore, MD
5:40 AM
6:30 PM (Ar)227
Washington, DC (Union Station)
4:55 AM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Train #37/Southern) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (Train #38/Southern)
6:55 PM (Dp)227
Washington, DC (Union Station)
4:15 AM (Ar)
7:13 PM235
Alexandria, VA
3:57 AM
9:08 PM339
Charlottesville, VA (Union Station)
F 1:48 AM
10:10 PM (Ar)392
Monroe, VA
12:38 AM (Dp)
10:20 PM (Dp)392
Monroe, VA
12:30 AM (Ar)
10:31 PM (Ar)399
Lynchburg, VA
12:05 AM (Dp)
10:38 PM (Dp)399
Lynchburg, VA
11:55 PM (Ar)
11:46 PM (Ar)462
Danville, VA
10:37 PM (Dp)
11:56 PM (Dp)462
Danville, VA
10:27 PM (Ar)
Reidsville, NC
9:59 PM
12:55 AM (Ar)511
Greensboro, NC
9:30 PM (Dp)
1:05 AM (Dp)511
Greensboro, NC
9:25 PM (Ar)
1:23 AM526
High Point, NC
9:01 PM
1:55 AM (Ar)560
Salisbury, NC
8:25 PM (Dp)
2:02 AM (Dp)560
Salisbury, NC
8:15 PM (Ar)
Concord, NC
7:41 PM
2:47 AM (Ar)604
Charlotte, NC
7:15 PM (Dp)
2:54 AM (Dp)604
Charlotte, NC
7:10 PM (Ar)
3:22 AM626
Gastonia, NC
6:42 PM
4:20 AM (Ar)679
Spartanburg, SC
5:40 PM (Dp)
4:25 AM (Dp)679
Spartanburg, SC
5:35 PM (Ar)
5:10 AM (Ar)711
Greenville, SC
4:55 PM (Dp)
5:20 AM (Dp)711
Greenville, SC
4:50 PM (Ar)
7:18 AM811
Gainesville, GA
2:54 PM
8:14 AM860
Atlanta, GA (Peachtree Station)
1:55 PM
8:30 AM (Ar)864
Atlanta, GA (Terminal Station)
1:45 PM (Dp)
Time/Leave (A&WP) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (A&WP)
8:55 AM (Dp)864
Atlanta, GA (Terminal Station)
1:15 PM (Ar)
9:55 AM903
Newnan, GA
12:10 PM
10:35 AM935
La Grange, GA
11:20 AM
10:55 AM (Ar)951
West Point, GA (ET)
10:55 AM (Dp)
Time/Leave (WRA) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (WRA)
10:55 AM (Dp)951
West Point, GA (ET)
10:55 AM (Ar)
10:30 AM973
Opelika, AL (CT)
9:20 AM
10:41 AM980
Auburn, AL
8:58 AM
11:07 AM1000
Chehaw, AL
8:30 AM
12:01 PM (Ar)1039
Montgomery, AL
7:40 AM (Dp)
Time/Leave (L&N) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (L&N)
12:15 PM (Dp)1039
Montgomery, AL
7:20 AM (Ar)
1:10 PM1083
Greenville, AL
6:15 AM
1:49 PM1119
Evergreen, AL
5:25 AM
2:13 PM1144
Brewton, AL
2:33 PM (Ar)1157
Flomaton, AL
4:40 AM (Dp)
2:40 PM (Dp)1157
Flomaton, AL
4:20 AM (Ar)
3:24 PM1193
Bay Minette, AL
3:29 AM
4:05 PM (Ar)1217
Mobile, AL
2:45 AM (Dp)
4:15 PM (Dp)1217
Mobile, AL
2:30 AM (Ar)
5:03 PM1257
Pascagoula, MS
1:39 AM
5:35 PM1277
Biloxi, MS
1:03 AM
5:43 PM1283
Edgewater Park, MS
F 12:50 AM
5:51 PM1290
Gulfport, MS
12:42 AM
6:15 PM1305
Bay St. Louis, MS
12:16 AM
7:45 PM (Ar)1357
New Orleans, LA (Canal Street Station)
11:00 PM (Dp)

This new train would also remain the last privately operated streamlined passenger train in America. The Southern Railway was very proud of its passenger fleet and the service it provided passengers onboard those trains.

A quartet of Southern Railway E8A's have the northbound "Southern Crescent" as the train enters the super-elevated curve leading into the station at Alexandria, Virginia on a July evening in 1976. Jerry Custer photo.

So, it opted out of handing its flagship train over to Amtrak when the national carrier began operations in the spring of 1971. Instead, the train regained its luxurious Virginia green, gold, and silver livery in 1972 with E8As again leading the famous train.  

Southern Railway's train #37/#47, the combined southbound "Crescent"/"Southerner" has arrived at Alexandria Union Station (Virginia) on April 29, 1969. Roger Puta photo.

For the next seven years the train remained under Southern operation until the railroad finally handed over the train to Amtrak in 1979, thus ending private operation of passenger trains.

Today, while the train once again is named simply the Crescent its routing is slightly different than Southern's version.

It still connects New York with New Orleans but does so via Birmingham and Meridian (the routing of the original Southerner instead of its original route that connected Montgomery and Mobile).

Additionally, and perhaps more visible to passengers and/or those who rode the original, Amtrak's version is not nearly as opulent.

  1. Home
  2.  ›
  3. Fallen Flags
  4.  ›
  5. Southern Railway
  6.  ›
  7. Crescent

Wes Barris's is simply the best web resource in the study of steam locomotives. 

The amount of information found there is quite staggering; historical backgrounds of wheel arrangements, types used by virtually every railroad, preserved and operational examples, and even those used in other countries (North America and beyond). 

It is difficult to truly articulate just how much material can be found at this website.  It is a must visit!

Researching Rights-Of-Way

A popular pastime for many is studying and/or exploring abandoned rights-of-way. 

Today, there are tens of thousands of miles scattered throughout the country.  Many were pulled up in the 1970's and 1980's although others were removed long before that. 

If you are researching active or abandoned corridors you might want to check out the United States Geological Survey's (USGS) Historical Topographic Map Explorer

It is an excellent resource with thousands of historic maps on file throughout the country.  Just type in a town or city and click on the timeline of maps at the bottom of the page!