Published: May 28, 2023
By: Adam Burns
The history of railroads in Kentucky is a testament to the transformative power of transportation and its profound impact on the state's growth and development. From the first iron tracks that stretched across the Bluegrass State to the modern, interconnected rail network, Kentucky's railroad history is a tapestry of innovation, challenges, and progress.
The origins of railroads in Kentucky can be traced back to the 1830s when the Lexington and Ohio Railroad Company was incorporated. This railroad, spanning from Lexington to Frankfort, marked the beginning of rail transportation in the state. By 1850, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad was incorporated and would later link its namesake cities, setting the stage for further expansion.
This article aims to provide a comprehensive account of the current short line railroads serving Kentucky, all of which were formed from the late 1970s through the 1990s of spun off secondary lines, sold or leased by the large Class 1 carriers.
(reporting mark, INDR): See Illinois.
(reporting mark, KWT): The KWT operates a 69-mile system of unconnected lines, mostly in northwestern Tennessee, which also reaches Murray, Kentucky. The road has been a G&W property since 2005 and hauls brick, clay, and food/feed products.
(reporting mark, LIRC): This short line, an Anacostia Rail Holdings property, has been in operation since 1994 that operates 106 miles of former PRR trackage between Indianapolis and Louisville, Kentucky.
The road's primary traffic consists of cement, chemicals, food products, grain lumber, manufactured goods, paper, plastics, scrap, and steel. It moves more than 35,000 carloads annually.
(reporting mark, PAL): The P&L is owned by Four Rivers Transportation, Inc., a CSX subsidiary. The railroad stretches throughout western Kentucky along a system covering 265 miles between primarily Louisville and Paducah.
The property was acquired from Illinois Central Gulf in 1986. Today, this Class II, regional moves a wide variety of freight from coal and lumber to agriculture and chemicals that total roughly 200,000 carloads annually.
(reporting mark, RJCR): Another division of RJ Corman this line runs roughly 20 miles from a connection with CSX west of Clermont and running east of Bardstown.
The corridor has been under RJ ownership since January of 1987 moving plate steel, plastics, lumber, building supplies, distillers' grain, and brick. It is also home to the My Old Kentucky Dinner Train excursion.
(reporting mark, RJCC): Another division of RJ Corman this collection of lines that comprise two different sections:
Both routes total roughly 115 miles moving peanuts, aluminum ingots, alcohol, paper, plastic, fertilizer, limestone, sand, scrap paper, brick, corn syrup, and oil.
(reporting mark, RJCM): This branch began operations in August, 1987 and runs from a connection with CSX, just south of Bowling Green to Cumberland City, Tennessee with a spur to Lewisburg. Overall the line is about 100 miles in length.
(reporting mark, TTIS): This short line was formed in 1979 by acquiring the L&N's' former branch between Paris and Maysville. While the road moved largely coal it also handled other types of freight.
However, when its contract expired in 2016 to carry this coal to a transload facility on the Ohio River at Maysville, it appeared the operation would discontinue.
In addition, heavy rains that summer washed out the railroad near Maysville. Today, TTI functions solely as a terminal line, serving a transload site in Paris.
(reporting mark, WTNN): This short line has been in service since 1984 utilizing the former Gulf, Mobile & Ohio main line between Jackson and Kenton, Tennessee.
In 2001 it expanded operations by leasing from NS the former GM&O to Corinth, Mississippi as well as the ex-Illinois Central to Fulton, Kentucky. Today, the road handles a variety of freight including agriculture, petroleum products, packaging material, paper, lumber, propane, and other products.