Louisville and Nashville Railroad

Last updated
Louisville and Nashville Railroad
L&N logo.png
1901 Poor's Louisville and Nashville Railroad.jpg
L&N system map, circa 1901
Headquarters Louisville and Nashville Railroad Office Building, 908 West Broadway, Louisville, Kentucky (1907–1980)
Seaboard Coast Line Railroad Building, 500 Water Street, Jacksonville, Florida (1980–1982)
Reporting mark LN
Locale Alabama
North Carolina
Dates of operation18501982
Successor Seaboard Coast Line Railroad
Track gauge 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Previous gauge 5 ft (1,524 mm), converted by 1870. [1] [2]
Length10,396 miles (16,731 kilometers)

The Louisville and Nashville Railroad( reporting mark LN), commonly called the L&N, was a Class I railroad that operated freight and passenger services in the southeast United States.


Chartered by the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1850, the road grew into one of the great success stories of American business. Operating under one name continuously for 132 years, it survived civil war and economic depression and several waves of social and technological change. Under Milton H. Smith, president of the company for 30 years, the L&N grew from a road with less than three hundred miles (480 km) of track to a 6,000-mile (9,700 km) system serving fourteen states. As one of the premier Southern railroads, the L&N extended its reach far beyond its namesake cities, stretching to St. Louis, Memphis, Atlanta, and New Orleans. The railroad was economically strong throughout its lifetime, operating freight and passenger trains in a manner that earned it the nickname, "The Old Reliable."

Growth of the railroad continued until its purchase and the tumultuous rail consolidations of the 1980s which led to continual successors. By the end of 1970, L&N operated 6,063 miles (9,757 km) of road on 10,051 miles (16,176 km) of track, not including the Carrollton Railroad.

In 1971 the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad, successor to the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, purchased the remainder of the L&N shares it did not already own, and the company became a subsidiary. By 1982 the railroad industry was consolidating quickly, and the Seaboard Coast Line absorbed the Louisville & Nashville Railroad entirely. Then in 1986, the Seaboard System merged with the C&O and B&O (known as the Chessie System) and the combined company became CSX Transportation (CSX), which now owns and operates all of the former Louisville and Nashville lines.

Early history and Civil War

Its first line extended barely south of Louisville, Kentucky, and it took until 1859 to span the 180-odd miles (290 km) to its second namesake city of Nashville. There were about 250 miles (400 km) of track in the system by the outbreak of the Civil War, and its strategic location, spanning the Union/Confederate lines, made it of great interest to both governments.

During the Civil War, different parts of the network were pressed into service by both armies at various times, and considerable damage from wear, battle, and sabotage occurred. (For example, during the Battle of Lebanon in July 1863, the company's depot in Lebanon, Kentucky, was used as a stronghold by outnumbered Union troops). However, the company benefited from being based in the Union state of Kentucky, and the fact that Nashville fell to Union forces within the first year of the war and remained in their hands for its duration. It profited from Northern haulage contracts for troops and supplies, paid in sound Federal greenbacks, as opposed to the rapidly depreciating Confederate dollars. After the war, other railroads in the South were devastated to the point of collapse, and the general economic depression meant that labor and materials to repair its roads could be had fairly cheaply.

Buoyed by these fortunate circumstances, the firm began an expansion that never really stopped. Within 30 years the network reached from Ohio and Missouri to Louisiana and Florida. By 1884, the firm had such importance that it was included in the Dow Jones Transportation Average, the first American stock market index. It was such a large customer of the Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works, the country's second largest locomotive maker, that in 1879 the firm presented L&N with a free locomotive as a thank-you bonus.

Coal and capital in the Gilded Age

Union Station in Louisville, Kentucky UnionStationLouisville.jpg
Union Station in Louisville, Kentucky
Gold Bond of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company, issued 2. June 1890 Louisville & Nashville RR 1890.jpg
Gold Bond of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company, issued 2. June 1890

Since all locomotives of the time were steam-powered, many railroads had favored coal as their engines' fuel source after wood-burning models were found unsatisfactory. The L&N guaranteed not only its own fuel sources but a steady revenue stream by pushing its lines into the difficult but coal-rich terrain of eastern Kentucky, and also well into northern Alabama. There the small town of Birmingham had recently been founded amidst undeveloped deposits of coal, iron ore and limestone, the basic ingredients of steel production. The arrival of L&N transport and investment capital helped create a great industrial city and the South's first postwar urban success story. The railroad's access to good coal enabled it to claim for a few years starting in 1940 the nation's longest unrefuelled run, about 490 miles (790 km) from Louisville to Montgomery, Alabama.

In the Gilded Age of the late 19th century there were no such things as anti-trust or fair-competition laws and very little financial regulation. Business was a keen and mean affair, and the L&N was a formidable competitor. It would exclude upstarts like the Tennessee Central Railway Company from critical infrastructure like urban stations. Where that wasn't possible, as with the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway (which was older than the L&N), it simply used its financial muscle—in 1880 it acquired a controlling interest in its chief competitor. A public outcry convinced the L&N directors that there were limits to their power. They discreetly continued the NC&StL as a separate subsidiary, but now working with, instead of in competition with, the L&N.

Ironically, in 1902 financial speculations by financier J.P. Morgan delivered control of the L&N to its rival Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, but that company made no attempt to control L&N operations, and for many decades there were no consequences of this change.

20th century

Interior of an L&N dining car, ca. 1921 L and N dining car service.jpg
Interior of an L&N dining car, ca. 1921

The World Wars placed heavy demand on the L&N. Its widespread and robust network coped well with the demands of war transport and production, and the resulting profits harked back to the boost it had received from the Civil War. In the postwar period, the line shifted gradually to diesel power, and the new streamlined engines pulled some of the most elegant passenger trains of the last great age of passenger rail, such as the Dixie Flyer , the Humming Bird , and the Pan-American .

Louisville Terminus at Union Station with 11-story L&N Building on the left Louisville aerial.jpg
Louisville Terminus at Union Station with 11-story L&N Building on the left

Though well past its 100th anniversary, the line was still growing. In 1957, the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis was finally fully merged. In the 1960s, acquisitions in Illinois allowed a long-sought entry into the premier railroad nexus of Chicago, and some of the battered remains of the old rival, the Tennessee Central, were sold to the L&N as well.

In 1971 the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad, successor to the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, purchased the remainder of the L&N shares it did not already own, and the company became a subsidiary. Prior to the purchase, the L&N, like other railroads, had curtailed passenger service in response to dwindling ridership. Amtrak, the government-formed passenger railway service, took over the few remaining L&N passenger trains in 1971. In 1979, amid great lamentations in the press, the last passenger service over L&N rails ceased when Amtrak discontinued The Floridian, which had connected Louisville with Nashville and continued to Florida via Birmingham.

By 1982 the railroad industry was consolidating quickly, and the Seaboard Coast Line absorbed the Louisville & Nashville Railroad entirely. The merged company was known as "SCL/L&N", "Family Lines," and was depicted as such on the railroad's rolling stock. During the next few years several smaller acquisitions resulted in the creation of the Seaboard System Railroad. Yet more consolidation was ahead, and in 1986, the Seaboard System merged into the C&O/B&O combined system known as the Chessie System. The combined company became CSX Transportation (CSX), which now owns and operates all of the former Louisville and Nashville lines, except for some routes abandoned or sold off.


A number of historical groups and publications devoted to the line exist, and L&N equipment is well represented in the model railroading hobby. The L&N Railroad is mentioned by country music pioneer Jimmie Rodgers in his "Blue Yodel #7." It is also the subject of two other songs: the 2003 Rhonda Vincent bluegrass song "Kentucky Borderline", and "The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore" by Jean Ritchie and individually performed by Michelle Shocked, Johnny Cash, Billy Bragg & Joe Henry and Kathy Mattea. Dutch blues/rockband The Bintangs had a hit in the Dutch charts in the late 1960s with "Ridin' on the L&N" (a cover from the Dan Burley / Lionel Hampton – composition from 1946). This composition also was covered by John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers.

In 1926 the L&N turned over approximately 137 acres [3] to the Kentucky State Park Commission, making possible the creation of the state's Natural Bridge State Park.

Revenue Freight Ton-Miles (Millions)
L&NNC&StLLH&StLCumberland & Manchester
19336871851(incl in L&N)(into L&N)
Totals do not include the Carrollton Railroad.

Passenger operations

The Humming Bird and Pan-American , both from Cincinnati to New Orleans and Memphis, were two of the L&N's most popular passenger trains that ran entirely on its own lines. However, the Humming Bird later added a Chicago to New Orleans section in conjunction with the Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad utilizing the Georgian north of Nashville. (The Official Guide of the Railroads, February, 1952) The railroad also hosted other named trains, including:[ citation needed ]

The Georgian at St. Louis Union Station, 1970 Under the St. Louis Train Shed - 2 Photos (26538805383).jpg
The Georgian at St. Louis Union Station, 1970

The L&N was one of few railroads to discontinue a passenger train that was en route. On January 9, 1969, as soon as a judge lifted the injunction preventing its discontinuance, the L&N discontinued its southbound Humming Bird at Birmingham, in mid-run from Cincinnati to New Orleans. The 14 passengers continuing south did so by bus. [4]

Lebanon Branch

Construction began on the Lebanon Branch in 1857. The line branched off the main line that went from Louisville to Nashville in Lebanon Junction. The Lebanon Branch switching on the main line in Lebanon Junction gave the town its name. The Lebanon Branch was 77 miles (124 km) across Kentucky from Lebanon Junction, Kentucky, to Mt. Vernon, Kentucky, then on to Sinks, Kentucky. The line crossed through the towns Lebanon Junction, Boston, Nelsonville, Lyons Station, New Haven, New Hope, St. Fransic, Loretto, St. Mary's, Lebanon, Gravel Switch, Junction City, Crab Orchard, Mt. Vernon, and Sinks.

At first, the line was used during the Civil War hauling supplies, and troops. Later, the Greensburg Branch was built switching off the Lebanon Branch on the outskirts of Lebanon, making its way through Campbellsville, Kentucky, and on to the end of the line in Greensburg, Kentucky.

The Lebanon Branch had several trains traveling on it such as Lebanon's local trains Nos. 21 (southbound) and 22 (northbound), along with the mail and express train, the Flamingo, and freight trains. The line stayed this way until passenger service ended in the 1950s. After this, freight trains occupied the line with coal trains from the Appalachian Mountains in eastern Kentucky. The line continued under this operation until the 1980s, when the Lebanon Branch and the rest of the L&N system came under control of the Seaboard System Railroad. The L&N and Seaboard merged, and later, Seaboard and the Chessie System merged to create CSX. With multiple branch lines through the area, the decision was made that the Lebanon Branch was to be abandoned and taken up.

In 1991 the last train came through Lebanon. A portion of the Lebanon Branch was removed a few months later between Mt. Vernon to New Hope. A portion of the branch from Mt. Vernon to Sinks was saved by CSX and is still in use today for small local freight trains, as well as a portion of the branch from Boston to Lebanon Junction.

The portion of the branch from New Hope to Lebanon Junction is preserved by the Kentucky Railway Museum, which purchased the line from New Hope to Boston. The Kentucky Railway Museum operates passenger trains for tourists and visitors from their headquarters in New Haven to Boston (about eleven miles or eighteen kilometers). The museum hauls three to seven passenger cars with their steam locomotive, L&N 152, or one of the historical diesels like the Monon BL-2 No. 32 or ex-Santa Fe CF-7 No. 2546.


There are several preservation organizations of L&N equipment and L&N lines, such as the Kentucky Railway Museum, The Historic Railpark and Train Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and the L&N Historic Society.

The city of Atlanta, Georgia, is home to the General and the Texas, two 4-4-0 locomotives originally built for the Western and Atlantic Railroad, which was later leased to L&N predecessor Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis. The lease of the W&A was passed to, and renewed by L&N and its successors. The General and the Texas became famous for being participants in The Great Locomotive Chase during the Civil War. The General had been placed on display in the railroad's Union Depot in Chattanooga in 1901. In 1957, the L&N removed the engine and restored it to operating condition. The engine pulled the railroad's wooden center-door Jim Crow combine coach No. 665 as it traveled throughout the eastern U.S. as part of the observance of the Civil War Centennial, including a visit to the 1964 New York World's Fair. Between 1966 and 1971, a legal battle ensued between the railroad and the city of Chattanooga as the former had planned to send the engine to Georgia, while the latter claimed to be the owners of the engine. After the dispute was settled, the engine was formally presented to the state of Georgia in 1971. The engine currently resides at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Georgia, while the Texas is currently at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, North Carolina undergoing restoration for inclusion into an addition to house it and the cyclorama painting of the battle of Atlanta. The Texas should return to Georgia in late 2016.

The Kentucky Railway Museum consists of many pieces of L&N equipment, as well as a portion of the Lebanon Branch. The museum owns the following L&N equipment: K2A Light Pacific 4-6-2 No. 152, a steam locomotive; heavyweight coaches Nos. 2572 and 2554; an observation car; heavyweight combine No. 1603; combine coach No. 665; sleeper the Pearl River, the Pullman coach Mt. Broderick which was used by the L&N; several baggage cars; a steam-powered crane; and E-6 diesel locomotive No. 770. All of the last seven pieces of equipment listed are in need of restoration.

The Historic Railpark and Train Museum owns or operates several pieces of L&N equipment, including an E-8 diesel locomotive, a Railway Post Office car, dining car No. 2799, a sleeping car, an observation car, along with a Jim Crow combine in need of major overhaul.

There are several other museums that own L&N equipment, including the Bluegrass Railroad Museum.

L&N 2132 a South Louisville shop Steam locomotive is also on static display in Corbin Ky. 2132 was moved from Bainbridge Georgia to Corbin and underwent a fully cosmetic restoration. Along with 2132 and her tender is L&N caboose 1056.

The Wilderness Road Trail is a rail trail built on the ROW from Cumberland Gap National Historical Park to Ewing, Virginia.

See also

Related Research Articles

Seaboard System Railroad

The Seaboard System Railroad, Inc. was a short-lived former US Class I railroad that was created on December 29, 1982, after the consolidation of the Seaboard Coast Line and its sister railroads into a single entity. It was one of two operating companies of CSX Corporation, the other being Chessie System.

The Seaboard Coast Line Railroad was a Class I railroad company operating in the Southeastern United States beginning in 1967. Its passenger operations were taken over by Amtrak in 1971. Eventually, the railroad was merged with its affiliate lines to create the Seaboard System in 1983.

Southern Railway (U.S.) Railway company in the United States, active 1894–1990

The Southern Railway was a class 1 railroad based in the Southern United States between 1894 and 1982, when it merged with the Norfolk & Western to form Norfolk Southern. The railroad was the product of nearly 150 predecessor lines that were combined, reorganized and recombined beginning in the 1830s, formally becoming the Southern Railway in 1894.

Western and Atlantic Railroad

The Western & Atlantic Railroad of the State of Georgia (W&A) is a government-owned railroad and is currently leased by CSX, which CSX operates in the Southeastern United States from Atlanta, Georgia, to Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Defunct American Class I railroad

The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad is a former U. S. Class I railroad formed in 1900, though predecessor railroads had used the ACL brand since 1871. In 1967 it merged with long-time rival Seaboard Air Line Railroad to form the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad. Much of the original ACL network has been part of CSX Transportation since 1986.

Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway Defunct railway company in the southeastern United States (1851-1957)

The Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway was a railway company operating in the southern United States in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. It began as the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, chartered in Nashville in December 11, 1845, built to 5 ft gauge and was the first railway to operate in the state of Tennessee. By the turn of the twentieth century, the NC&StL grew into one of the most important railway systems in the southern United States.

Georgia Railroad and Banking Company

The Georgia Railroad and Banking Company also seen as "GARR", was a historic railroad and banking company that operated in the U.S. state of Georgia. In 1967 it reported 833 million revenue-ton-miles of freight and 3 million passenger-miles; at the end of the year it operated 331 miles (533 km) of road and 510 miles (820 km) of track.

<i>Floridian</i> (train)

The Floridian was a train operated by Amtrak from 1971 to 1979 that ran from Chicago and–via two sections south of Jacksonville–Miami and St. Petersburg, Florida. Its route mainly followed that of several former Louisville & Nashville Railroad (L&N) passenger trains, including the Humming Bird. Originating in Chicago, the train served Lafayette and Bloomington, Indiana; Louisville and Bowling Green, Kentucky; Nashville, Tennessee; Decatur, Birmingham, Montgomery and Dothan, Alabama; and Thomasville, Valdosta and Waycross, Georgia.

Alabama and Tennessee River Railway

The Alabama and Tennessee River Railway is a shortline railway operating over trackage formerly operated by CSX Transportation. The line's western terminus is a junction with the CSX main line in Birmingham, Alabama, near CSX's Boyles Yard. The eastern terminus is Guntersville, Alabama, near the Tennessee River. The parent company of the ATN is OmniTRAX, a major operator of American and Canadian short lines.

Atlanta Union Station (1930) Smaller of two principal train stations in downtown Atlanta

The Union Station built in 1930 in Atlanta was the smaller of two principal train stations in downtown, Terminal Station being the other. It was the third "union station" or "union depot", succeeding the 1853 station, burned in mid-November 1864 when Federal forces left Atlanta for the March to the Sea, and the 1871 station.

The South Wind was a named passenger train equipped and operated jointly by the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, and the Florida East Coast Railway. The South Wind began operations in December 1940, providing streamliner service between Chicago, Illinois and Miami, Florida. This was one of three new seven-car, all-coach streamliners operating in coordination every third day along different routes between Chicago and Miami. The other two longest enduring Chicago-Florida trains were the City of Miami and the Dixie Flagler. The South Wind remained in service through the creation of Amtrak in 1971.

Louisville and Nashville 152 Preserved American 4-6-2 locomotive

Louisville & Nashville 152 is a preserved K-2a class 4-6-2 "Pacific" type steam locomotive listed on the National Register of Historic Places, currently homed at the Kentucky Railway Museum at New Haven, Kentucky in southernmost Nelson County, Kentucky. It is the oldest known remaining 4-6-2 "Pacific" type locomotive to exist. It is also the "Official State Locomotive of Kentucky", designated as such on March 6, 2000. The locomotive is currently owned and being restored back to operating condition by the Kentucky Railway Museum.

<i>Dixie Flagler</i>

The Dixie Flagler was a streamlined passenger train operated by the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) between Chicago, Illinois and Miami, Florida. It began in 1939 as the Henry M. Flagler, a regional service between Miami and Jacksonville, Florida; the FEC renamed it and extended it to Chicago a year later. It was one of the few Chicago to Florida trains that passed through Atlanta. As an overnight streamliner it was part of the every-third-day pool shared by the City of Miami and South Wind. It was renamed Dixieland in 1954 and discontinued altogether in 1957.

Western and Atlantic Depot (Dalton, Georgia) United States historic place

The Western and Atlantic Depot is a historic Western and Atlantic Railroad train depot in Dalton, Georgia. It was built in 1852 in the Greek Revival style. The building is the oldest surviving commercial structure in Dalton and is a "fine example" of depot architecture in Georgia in the mid-1800s. It served as both a freight and passenger station.

<i>Dixie Flyer</i> (train)

The Dixie Flyer was a premier named passenger train that operated from 1892 to 1965 via the "Dixie Route" from Chicago and St. Louis via Evansville, Nashville, and Atlanta to Florida. However, the train persisted to 1969 as an Atlanta to Florida operation, solely run by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and its successor. The Flyer's route varied in early years, but by about 1920 was set as follows:

Chattanooga Union Station, more commonly known as the Union Depot in Chattanooga, constructed between 1857-1859, served as a train car shed in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Located at Broad and Ninth Streets, the station was one of two major railroad terminals in the city, the other being the Southern Railway's Terminal Station.

The Florida Gulf & Atlantic Railroad is a Class III railroad owned and operated by RailUSA in the Florida Panhandle. The line consists of 373 miles of track running from Baldwin, Florida west through Tallahassee to Pensacola. The line also has a short branch from Tallahassee north to Attapulgus, Georgia. The line connects to CSX lines in Baldwin, Pensacola, and Attapulgus.

The Marietta depot is a former freight and passenger stop in Marietta, Georgia. It was originally built in 1864 for the Western and Atlantic Railroad, a railroad between Chattanooga, Tennessee and Atlanta, Georgia. That railroad was absorbed by the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway. In turn, the latter railroad was merged into the Louisville and Nashville Railroad in 1957.


  1. Maury Klein (2013). History of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. p. 95. ISBN   9780813146751.
  2. "Mortgages, Charters and Other Documents of the Louisville and Nashville ..." 1871.
  3. "Louisville & Nashville Employes' Magazine :: Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company Records". digital.library.louisville.edu. Retrieved 2017-02-14.
  4. & Extra 2200 South: Passenger Train News, January 1969 (Vol. 7 No. 7)

Further reading