The Louisiana & North West Railroad (reporting marks, LNW) is a historic shortline that has been serving its home
state, as well as southern Arkansas since the early 1890s. For many
railfans, the L&NW is remembered for its fleet of Electro-Motive
"covered wagons", which have long since disappeared from its roster.
The roller coaster history of the line is very fascinating. At one
point it grew to more than 100 miles and then slowly abandoned sections
of its system as traffic evaporated; the company has also kept itself
afloat surviving on one form of traffic and then another. It was
conceived as a general common-carrier to operate a north-south route
connecting most of Louisiana and Arkansas although the intended traffic
never materialized. For many years oil was its lucrative mainstay
although today, the L&NW sustains itself on a variety of different
freight and has the luxury of established interchanges with two Class I railroads (a rarity for many shortlines).
The history of the Louisiana and North West Railroad begins with the Louisiana North & South Railroad Company,
chartered on November 28, 1885. The LN&S had been formed by the
town of Homer, in Claiborne Parish in hopes of seeing tracks connect it
to the outside world and keep the community from being isolated (a real
fear in those days when railroads were rapidly expanding and the hope
for economic growth lay in steel
rails reaching your town). This system had reached its namesake cities
in 1880 and would later become a part of the Illinois Central formally
in 1946 (it had been leased to its subsidiary, the Yazoo &
Mississippi Valley as early as 1923). Actual construction of the
LN&S began nearly two years after it was chartered when ground was
broken on April 30, 1887 to build a 19-mile line from Homer, south to a
location known as Gibsland along the VS&T.
Trains began running as early as January 1, 1888 along completed sections of the line but it was not fully operational until the summer of 1889. While the specific purpose of the new company was to reach the VS&T the new railroad also had hopes of stretching much further south for the freight potential found in the cities of Natchitoches and Alexandria. After the first section of this extension was opened on January 20, 1890 between Gibsland and Bienville (a distance of 17.33 miles) the L&NS was acquired a day later by the Louisiana and North West Railroad due to a loophole in the former's charter. For now further ambitions to the south were put on hold while the L&NW looked northward to reach Magnolia, Arkansas which since 1881 had only been served by the St. Louis Southwestern Railway (Cotton Belt). The railroad did have an incentive to do so as the right-of-way was already purchased by the city from the state.
The 35.7 miles from Homer to Magnolia were opened by October 4, 1898, which included the connection to the Cotton Belt's 6-mile branch, purchased by the L&NW a few months earlier on August 1. After 1900 the railroad continued southward again, reaching Natchitoches in March of 1905. At this point its length peaked at 124 miles and it never reached its ultimate goals; continuing on to Ashland and New Orleans along with a northward extension to Fort Smith for a total system that would have spanned nearly 600 miles. The L&NW struggled after opening its route to Natchitoches as freight never materialized and the debt of building the line forced it into bankruptcy in August, 1913. Thanks to the discovery of oil around Homer in January, 1919 the company was able to come out of receivership just a few years later on May 21, 1922.
A year earlier the L&NW also began to cutback its extension south of
Gibsland, abandoning the line between Natchitoches and Chestnut, 22
miles in all. The rest of the line was pulled up 20 years later in 1949
between Gibsland and Chestnut (except for the 15 miles between
Bienville and Gibsland, purchased by the North Louisiana & Gulf)
leaving the Louisiana and North West Railroad with a 61.5-mile system it
still operates today. During World War II the system was not able to
cash in on the explosion of traffic growth experienced by the industry
as a whole since it did not serve any munitions plants or related
companies that served the war effort. However, this changed a few
decades later with the start of the Vietnam War in the mid-1960s. It
moved munitions in conjunction with the IC via the Gibsland interchange
from the Louisiana Army Munition plant at Doyline.
This time period also signaled three other notable events for the
railroad; on June 5, 1958 it was added to the Salzberg family of
shortlines (which included the Fort Dodge Des Moines & Southern, Des
Moines & Central Iowa, and the well known Wellsvile Addison &
Galeton), Electro-Motive F units began to arrive (the largest
locomotives it owned up until that time), and a major source of new
traffic appeared, bromine. The red-colored chemical is highly corrosive
but is very useful as a fire retardant among other things. The
discovery of bromine in southern Arkansas, which just so happened to be home
to one of the largest concentrations of the substance anywhere on the
planet, could not have come at a better time with the traffic from
Vietnam conflict winding down. Today, it still makes up part of the
L&NW's traffic base.
Under Salzberg ownership the railroad gained a new, standard look sporting a common livery of red and yellow. However, unlike its cousin, the WAG, the L&NW sustained its profitability through the years. Interestingly, it still carries a version of its red/yellow scheme today even though it is now owned by Patriot Rail (since 2008). The arrival of the F7s (and an FP7) also drew the interest of railfans as the locomotives were still in regular use well through the 1980s. Today, the covered wagons have long since disappeared, replaced by various first and second-generation EMD Geeps. The railroad's traffic base has also changed. While bromine is still an important source of traffic it no longer moves petroleum products with other freight including, wood products (lumber and plywood), steel, and plastics. Major customers include Albemarle Corporation, Weyerhaeuser, Schlumberger, Kinder Morgan, CMC Steel Arkansas, Partee Flooring, and Berry Plastics.
It should be noted that for many years the L&NW offered regular
passenger service, through the late 1940s in fact, which is a quite long
for a railroad of its size. Until 1925 the railroad used standard
steamers to power its trains until it began acquiring American Car & Foundry/J.G. Brill Company carbodied gasoline-powered cars ("doodlebugs") to reduce operating costs.
The company owned three; #200, #300, and #400. The latter was
acquired on August 8, 1944 from the Chicago & Eastern Illinois,
which had received it new May, 1937 and named the Mount Vernon.
It was built with a shovel-nosed, streamlined design that sported a
eye-catching livery although was pulled from service in 1948 due to its
unreliability. The retirement of #400 that year ended all passenger services.
Louisiana & North West Locomotive Roster
Acquired new: December, 1950. Sold to NL&G in 1969.
Ex-Cotton Belt, sold in 1967 to Georgetown Railroad.
Ex-SP, all sold.
Ex-WP, trade-in to GE for a U23B in 1968 that went to the WAG.
Ex-UP, Ex-C&O: The former traded-in to GE, the latter sold to CSS&SB
Ex-UP, traded in to GE.
(Thanks to Alton B. Lanier's "567B's in the Bromine Belt" from the May, 1985 issue of Trains magazine as a primary reference for this article.)
Over the years, the Louisiana and North West Railroad owned a
wide variety of steam and diesel locomotives, both purchased new as well
as secondhand. Its largest steamer was a 2-8-2 Mikado and most such
locomotives were Baldwin products. However, during the diesel era it
owned only two Baldwins, a pair of VO-1000 switchers. Aside from these
its diesels have exclusively been EMD products from GP7s and GP9s to
GP35s and GP40s. The future of the L&NW looks to be very good with a
profitable mixed traffic base and connections to Union Pacific at
McNeil and Kansas City Southern at Gibsland (which purchased the old IC