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History of the Railroads in Kentucky

Railroads of Kentucky - A historical Overview

The Commonwealth of Kentucky has been served by railroads for well over a century and a half, and for most of that time, railroads, with their primary and secondary routes, helped form the backbone of the states transportation network.

The Lexington and Ohio, Kentucky's first railroad was built between Lexington and Frankfort in the early 1830's and began full operation in 1834 using horse pulled cars. The horses were later replaced by wood burning locomotives. The line intended to build west to Louisville but that trackage was finished in 1851 by the Louisville and Frankfort, a separate company.

The Louisville and Nashvile railroad , chartered in 1850, was Kentucky's first interstate common carrier railroad and completed its main line to Nashville in 1859. Its construction marked the largest internal improvement project in the state at that time. Louisville providing much of the needed funding. Also during the same decade Covington, Paris and Lexington were joined by rail by the Kentucky Central, and the Mobile and Ohio coming north from the gulf bisected the Purchase area of Western Kentucky to reach Columbus Ky in 1861.

During the three and a half decades following the Civil war, much of Kentucky's primary rail network was formed. Principal routes included Louisville to Cincinnati, Elizabethtown to Paducah, Lebanon, corbin to Middlesboro, Henderson to Hopkinsville, Covington to Somerset to Chattanooga, Ashland to Covington and Lexington, Winchester to Jackson, Henderson to Louisville and Danville to Louisville. By 1900 Kentucky Rail Mileage totalled 3000 miles.

Following the Civil war bridges were constructed across the Ohio River at Louisville the first by the L&N and Indianapolis and Louisville at Jeffersonville Indiana, The second the Kentucky and Indiana at New Albany which also provided the first bridge for horse and wagon traffic as well. and the third the Big four Bridge. And Trackage was changed from Southern Gauge to Standard gauge during this time allowing for through shipments from North to South.

Between 1900 - 1920, important feeder routes were pushed into the coal fields of Eastern and Western Kentucky by the Chesapeake and Ohio, Illinois Central, Louisville and Nashville, Clinchfield, Southern and Norfolk and Western.

And during this time some 250 miles of Electric Interurban Railroads were built as commuter carriers to serve metro areas at Covington, Henderson, Lexington, and Louisville. Peak rail mileage was reached in 1930; lines both steam and electric tapped over half the states counties.

While no through routes were constructed after 1930 , railroads continued to add more feeder lines in to the mining districts in Eastern and Western Kentucky and countless short lines appeared. Coal long ranked as the principal freight comedy hauled by the states railroads, although agricultural and manufactured products also contributed to the total traffic.

The largest of these pioneer railroads in Kentucky was the Louisville and Nashville Railroad who's headquarters were in Louisville. Until its acquisition by the Seaboard System Railroad in the 1980 s

Kentucky's railroads provided excellent passenger service, and provided an extensive network of mail and express services. The Chesapeake and Ohio operated its George Washington, Sportsman, and F.F.V. The Illinois Central s Panama Limited, and Irvine S Cobb. The Southern railways Royal Palm and Carolina Special, Louisville and Nashville's all Pullman Pan American , Flamingo, Southland, Dixieland ,New Orleans Limited. And many other locals plying the main lines and branches through out the state. The Baltimore and Ohio, New york Central, Monon and Pennsylvania all served Louisville. with passenger service. Louisville had two main railway terminals Central at 7 th and River and Union at 10th and Broadway.

The 1930s saw the beginning of the federal highway system, and the thirties saw the end of many rail services the electric interurban came first, and then the traffic on the rural branches of the steam railroads. During world was two the passenger business swelled to record numbers and engines and coaches that had set idle during the depression were pressed in to service. But following the end of the war and its traffic the railroads were back to square one in the passenger business.

In an attempt to draw passengers the first streamlined trains appeared The South Wind, Dixie Flaggler and City of Miami were the first followed by the New Royal Palm, Hummingbird and Georgian but despite their lustre passengers were getting other means of getting places. The development of the Interstate highway system and the airline industry slowly killed the passenger business. The local and branch line trains went first. And by the 1950s local trains disappeared to places like Hazzard, Paducah, Pikeville. The final blow came in the 1960 s when the government eliminated the Railway Post Offices and begin the service we know today.

The 1960s saw the end of passenger service on the Southern Railway, Baltimore and Ohio, Monon in Kentucky and severe cutbacks on the Chesapeake and Ohio, Louisville and Nashville and Illinois Central. Communities like Corbin Richmond Somerset Danville and Paris were left with out service by 1968.

By the end of the 1960 s only Seven State Routes Survived a Chicago to Washington line operating from Covington Maysville and Ashland and a Louisville Frankfort Lexington route to Ashland operated by the Chesapeake and Ohio. A Cincinnati , Louisville ,Nashville to Gulf Coast Route. A Louisville to Florida Route. A St Louis, Evansville , Henderson, Hopkinsville, Nashville Route operated by the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, A Chicago to Florida route and a Chicago to New Orleans Route at Fulton operated by the Illinois Central and a Chicago to Louisville route by Penn Central.

In 1970 Congress created RailPax to bail out the private railroads passenger operations this later became known as Amtrak. The slow process of selecting the routes to be included in the Amtrak system begin. On April 30 1971 the last trains were operated by the private railroads The Cincinnati to New Orleans Pan American, St Louisville , Evansville, Nashville Atlanta Georgian both operated by Louisville and Nashville, The Louisville to Ashland Section of the George washington operated by Chesapeake and Ohio, and the City of Miami operated by the Illinois Central were discontinued. Leaving only three rail routes in Kentucky. The City of New Orleans in western Kentucky, The South Wind between Louisville and Nashville and the George Washington between Cincinnati and Ashland.

The early seventies saw two new rail routes to come to Kentucky the Cincinnati to Norfolk Mountaineer later renamed the Hilltopper, and the Louisville to Sanford Fla Auto Train. These services were both short lived. Auto train in 1977 and The Hilltopper in 1979.

The Chicago to Florida South Wind was renamed the Floridian but soon this train became a victim of Penn Central bad track in Indiana and was temporally re routed through Evansville and finally back to Louisville on the Monon. Bad Track and Bad Management By Amtrak caused this train to be put up for discontinuance in 1979 ( see History Of the Floridian Report) In October 1979 rail service ended to Louisville and Bowling Green a service begun in 1859 by the Louisville and Nashville.

For a brief period in 1982 the Chicago to Washington Cardinal ( X George Washington) was discontinued but was resurrected by efforts of the City of Cincinnati and Senator Byrdd of West Virginia as a tri weekly train. In 1996 through a co-operative effort between Amtrak and Greyhound connecting bus service to Indianapolis and Chicago to Louisville was restored. And rail advocates in Kentucky and Tennessee are continually working to get service restored between Chicago and Florida on the South Wind Route.

There are currently six Major rail operators of freight service in Kentucky, and seven regional carriers operating some 2,400 miles of track in the state. These Carriers employ about 4,800 men and women

Researched and written by Charles B Castner, member of the steering committee Kentuckiana rail Advocates August 1998.

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