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Louisville and Nashville Railroad
Reporting mark LN
Locale Southern United States
Dates of operation 1850–1982
Successor Seaboard System
Track gauge 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)
Headquarters Louisville, Kentucky

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

Chartered by the state of Kentucky in 1850, the L&N, as it was generally known, 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. As one of the premier Southern railroads, the L&N extended its reach far beyond its namesake cities, ultimately building a network of nearly 7,000 miles (11,000 km) of track.


Early history and Civil War

Its first line extended barely south of Louisville, Kentucky, and in fact it took until 1859 to span the 180-odd miles 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. 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, it found that its Southern competitors 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 thirty 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 so active a 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

Railroads were much interested in coal, of course, as all locomotives were steam-powered, and wood-burning models had been found to be unsatisfactory. The L&N shrewdly 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. In the first half of the 20th century, the railroad's ready access to very high-grade coal eventually enabled it to boast the nation's longest non-stop run, nearly 500 miles (800 km) from Louisville to Montgomery, Alabama without refueling.

In the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, there were no such things as anti-trust or fair-competition laws and very little in the way of financial regulation. Business was a keen and mean affair, and the L&N proved a most formidable competitor. It could, and did, simply freeze out upstarts like the Tennessee Central Railway Company from critical infrastructure like urban stations. Where that wasn't possible, as with the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railroad (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 resulted from this, however, sufficient to convince the L&N directors that there were limits even to their power. They discreetly continued the NC&StL as a separate subsidiary, but now working in complement to, instead of in competition with, the L&N.

Somewhat ironically, in 1902 financial speculations by financier J.P. Morgan delivered control of the L&N to the rival Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. Curiously, however, this firm did not make any attempt to control L&N operations, and for many decades there were no consequences of this change.

The Twentieth Century

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

The World Wars brought heavy demand to 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.

Though well past its hundredth 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 rail center of Chicago, and some of the battered remains of the old rival, the Tennessee Central, were purchased as well.

In 1971, Seaboard Coast Line Railroad, the successor to Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, purchased the remainder of the L&N shares it did not already own, and the company became a subsidiary. During this period, in common with other lines, the L&N was cutting back passenger service. 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, it ceased passenger service to its namesake cities when Amtrak discontinued The Floridian.

By 1982, the rail industry was consolidating fast, and Seaboard System Railroad, successor to Seaboard Coast Line, absorbed the Louisville & Nashville entirely and withdrew its name from the market at the end of that year. Yet more consolidation was ahead, and in 1986, Seaboard System Railroad changed its name to CSX Transportation (CSX), which now owns and operates the former Louisville and Nashville railroad lines.

Few industries have as large and devoted a body of historians and fans as railroading does, and the long and colorful saga of the Louisville & Nashville has generated much interest. A number of historical groups and publications devoted to the line exist, and L&N equipment is well represented in the popular model railroading hobby.

Passenger Operations

While the Humming Bird and Pan-American were the L&N's most popular and remembered passenger trains the railroad also hosted a whole fleet of named trains. These include:

Further reading

  • Herr, Kincaid A. (2000). The Louisville and Nashville Railroad 1850–1963. The University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0813121841.  
  • Klein, Maury (2002). History of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0813122635.  

See also

External links

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