Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway

Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway

NC&StL steam locomotive 576 at Centennial Park, Nashville, Tennessee
Reporting mark NC
Locale Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia
Dates of operation 18511957
Predecessor Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad
Successor Louisville and Nashville Railroad
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Previous gauge 5 ft (1,524 mm)
and 4 ft 9 in (1,448 mm)[1]
Length 1900: 1,189 miles (1,914 km)
Headquarters Nashville, Tennessee

The Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway (reporting mark NC) 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 (1,524 mm) gauge[2] and was the first railway to operate in the state of Tennessee.[3] From this link between two Tennessee cities, it gradually grew until it formed one of the important railway systems of the South by the turn of the twentieth century.[4](iii, Dedication)


The Nashville & Chattanooga Railway, predecessor to the NC&StL Railway, was organized in 1848 by a group of prominent Nashville, Tennessee businessmen. By virtue of his connections to wealth from the Grundy and Bass families of Nashville, and of his vigorous promotion of a line between Nashville and Chattanooga, Vernon K. Stevenson was elected president of the line and served in that capacity for sixteen years. The first locomotive in Nashville arrived in December 1850 on the steamboat Beauty along with thirteen freight cars and one passenger car. The train made its first trip the following spring, 11 miles (18 km) to Antioch, Tennessee. It took nine years to complete the 150 miles (240 km) of line between Nashville and Chattanooga,[3] made difficult by the steep elevations of the Highland Rim and Cumberland Plateau between them. The 2,228 feet (679 m) Cowan Tunnel near Cowan, Tennessee was considered an engineering marvel of the time.[3] Due to terrain difficulties, the rail line crossed into Alabama and Georgia for short distances. Towns sprang up during construction, including Tullahoma and Estill Springs.

During the Civil War the rail line was strategic to both the Union and Confederate armies. The Tennessee campaigns of 1862 and 1863 saw Union troops force the Confederates from Nashville to Chattanooga along the line of the railroad. The tracks and bridges were repeatedly damaged and repaired, and at different times carried supplies for both armies. In 1885, the railroad successfully defended itself before the Supreme Court in Nashville, C. & St. L. R. Co. v. United States from repaying postage payments for mail in 1861 that was not delivered due to the war.

NC&StL system map, 1903

After the war the company purchased the Nashville and Northwestern Railroad[5] and the Hickman and Obion Railroad to Hickman, Kentucky to reach the Mississippi River. In 1873 it was reincorporated as the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway (NC&StL) (though the company's tracks never actually reached St. Louis, Missouri in the north). In early 1877 the NC&StL bought the bankrupt Tennessee and Pacific Railroad from the state government and operated it as a connection to Lebanon, Tennessee.

The Louisville and Nashville Railroad, an aggressive competitor of the NC&StL, gained a controlling interest in 1880 through a hostile stock takeover that caused much rancor between the cities of Nashville and Louisville.[6] However, the railroads continued to operate separately before finally merging in 1957. After the 1880 takeover, the NC&StL acquired branch lines in Kentucky and Alabama, and expanded from Nashville to Memphis. In 1890 the tracks reached Atlanta, Georgia, by leasing the state-owned Western and Atlantic Railroad.[4](List of Branches in Order of Their Acquisition)

In 1902, the L&N was acquired by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in a takeover similar to that of the NC&StL, but continued to operate as a separate company. In 1982, the L&N's corporate existence ended when it was merged into ACL's successor, the Seaboard System Railroad. After several other mergers, in 1986 the Seaboard System was renamed as CSX Transportation, which continues to use the original NC&StL route between Nashville, Chattanooga, and Atlanta.

Mileage and revenues

At the end of 1925 NC&StL operated 1259 miles of road on 1859 miles of track; at the end of 1956 mileages were 1043 and 1791.

Revenue freight traffic, in millions of ton-miles
Year Traffic
1925 1306
1933 851
1944 2766
1956 2073
Source: ICC annual reports
Revenue passenger traffic, in millions of passenger-miles
Year Traffic
1925 141
1933 41
1944 376
1956 52
Source: ICC annual reports

Passenger trains

Postcard promoting the Dixieland

The railroad operated a number of named passenger trains, including:

Thus, the railroad came to be advertised as the Dixie Line, beginning in the 1920s.[7] Additionally, the railroad operated the Quickstep (name dropped before 1910, then known as Nos. 3 and 4), Lookout (formerly the Nashville/Chattanooga Express), Georgian, City of Memphis, Volunteer, an unnamed night train (formerly the Memphis Limited), a Nashville-Hickman local, plus a through sleeping car from The Tennessean on Nos. 3 and 4.[8]

Surviving equipment

Two 4-4-0 locomotives, The General, and The Texas from the NC&StL's predecessor road, the Western and Atlantic, are on display in museums in the Atlanta suburbs of Kennesaw and Grant Park, respectively.

In 1953, the NC&StL donated its last remaining steam engine, No. 576, to the city of Nashville. This locomotive, a J3-57 class 4-8-4, originally known as a Yellow Jacket, was manufactured by the American Locomotive Company ("Alco") in 1942. In keeping with its Southern heritage, the NC&StL referred to 4-8-4 locomotives as Dixies, while most other railroads called them Northerns. It has been on display in Centennial Park since then. In 2016, a newly formed group called the Nashville Steam Preservation Society plans to lease and relocate the locomotive to the Tennessee Central Railway Museum for possible restoration, coinciding with an upcoming date to remove the locomotive to allow for the park's renovation.[9]

In 2004, a former NC&StL diesel locomotive 710, an EMD GP9 was restored to its original paint scheme by the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. The TVRM also has the tail car from the city of Memphis on display at its Grand Junction Yard in Chattanooga, TN.

In 2007 former NC&StL GE 44 ton Diesel (1950) Huntsville terminal switcher number 100 was moved from Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee to Cowan, Tennessee at the Cowan Railroad Museum. Though subsequently an L&N engine (number 3100), she was cosmetically restored to original scheme and number. In the process, the locomotive was found to be runable. It is important as the first transitorized remote control locomotive in the US (converted in 1962)

See also



  1. "The Days They Changed the Gauge".
  2. "Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad".
  3. 1 2 3 "The First Railroad Across Tennessee". Tennessee History for Kids. Retrieved October 4, 2011.
  4. 1 2 DeBow, James Dunwoody Brownson (1900). Legal history of the Entire System of Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Ry. and Possessions. Nashville, Tennessee: Press of Marshall & Bruce Co. Retrieved October 4, 2011.
  5. Nashville and Northwestern
  6. "A Vast Railroad Scheme", The New York Times, January 19, 1880
  7. Prince, Richard E. (1968). The Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railway: History and Steam Locomotives. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press. p. 5. ISBN 025333764X. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
  8. Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Ry. History and Steam Locomotives by Richard E Prince (1967) p. 152 & 163 Wheelwright Lithographing Co. (L of C # 67-26269) [later rereleased-see below], plus Official Guide(s) of the Railways Jan 1910, Feb 1926, May 1945, Mar 1952, July 1957
  9. Ibata, David (2016-04-26). "Team to restore a 'Dixie' 4-8-4". Trains Magazine. Retrieved 2016-04-26.


  • Anon. (June 1996) [January 1953]. Official Railway Equipment Register. The Railway Equipment and Publication Company, reprinted by National Model Railroad Association. ISBN 0-9647050-1-X. 
  • Drury, George H. (1985). The Historical Guide to North American Railroads. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Kalmbach Publishing Company. pp. 200–201. ISBN 0-89024-072-8. 
  • Prince, Richard E., Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway: History and Steam Locomotives. Indiana University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-253-33927-8.
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