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St. Louis Southwestern Railway

St. Louis Southwestern Railway
File:St. Louis Southwestern Railway system map (1918).svg
Cotton Belt system as of 1918
Reporting mark SSW
Locale Arkansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas
Dates of operation 1891–1992
Successor Southern Pacific
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Headquarters St. Louis, Missouri

The St. Louis Southwestern Railway (reporting mark SSW), known by its nickname of "The Cotton Belt Route" or simply Cotton Belt, is a former US Class I railroad which operated between St. Louis, Missouri, and various points in the states of Arkansas and Texas from 1891 to 1992.

Corporate history

The Cotton Belt was one of the lines comprising the railroad empire acquired by financier Jay Gould in the last quarter of the 19th century; according to the Handbook of Texas, "By 1890 Gould owned the Missouri Pacific, the Texas and Pacific, the St. Louis Southwestern, and the International-Great Northern, one-half of the mileage in the Southwest."[1]

The railroad was organized on January 15, 1891, although it had its origins in a series of short lines founded in Tyler, Texas, in 1870 that connected northeastern Texas to Arkansas and southeastern Missouri. Construction of the original Tyler Tap Railroad began in the summer of 1875.

On October 18, 1903, the Cotton Belt gained trackage rights via the Thebes Bridge and the Missouri Pacific Railroad along the eastern shore of the Mississippi River to reach East St. Louis, Illinois, and then used Terminal Railroad Association trackage rights into St. Louis. The Cotton Belt also operated a yard and a locomotive servicing facility in East St. Louis, just east of Valley Junction, and south of Alton and Southern Railroad's Gateway Yard, and north of Kansas City Southern's East St. Louis Yard. They also had a freight station in downtown St. Louis. Union Pacific Railroad now operates the yard (still named "Cotton Belt Yard"), but the engine servicing facilities have been demolished.

The Cotton Belt and subsidiary St. Louis Southwestern Railway of Texas together operated 1,607 miles of road in 1945; 1,555 miles in 1965; and 2,115 miles in 1981 after taking over the Rock Island's Golden State Route. In 1925 SSW and SSW of Texas reported a total of 1474 million net ton-miles of revenue freight and 75 million passenger-miles; in 1970 it carried 8650 million ton-miles and no passengers.

The Southern Pacific Company gained Interstate Commerce Commission approval to control the Cotton Belt system on April 14, 1932, but continued to operate it as a separate company until 1992, when the SP consolidated the Cotton Belt's operations into the parent company. Cotton Belt diesel locomotives from 1959 on were painted in Southern Pacific's "bloody nose" scheme - dark gray locomotive body with a red "winged" nose. "Cotton Belt" was painted on the sides and in later years the letters "SSW" were painted on the nose.

In 1996 the Union Pacific Railroad finished the acquisition that was effectively begun almost a century before with the purchase of the Southern Pacific by UP in 1901, until divestiture was ordered in 1913. The merged company retains the name "Union Pacific" for all railroad operations. Many former SSW locomotives are used by Union Pacific today, although few still sport unmodified "Cotton Belt" paint. Most of the remaining units have been repainted into the UP scheme, while others wear patched SSW paint with a UP shield logo and new numbers applied over the SSW number. [1]

Passenger service

The Cotton Belt ran passenger trains from St. Louis to Texas and from Memphis to Shreveport, Louisiana, and Dallas. Cotton Belt's Lone Star operated from Memphis Union Station to Dallas Union Terminal with a through section from Lewisville, Arkansas, to Shreveport. The Morning Star was the second named train over much of this route, operating out of St. Louis Union Station, inaugurated in 1941 to provide a convenient connection with the Southern Railway's Tennessean to and from Washington, D.C. and New York City.

The Cotton Belt began a series of passenger train cutbacks in the early 1950s. The railroad had 25 steam engines and four gas electric motor cars available for passenger service in 1949. By late 1952 nine diesels had replaced the steam locomotives and motorcars and passenger train mileage had been trimmed considerably. The last Cotton Belt passenger train, #8, operated on November 30, 1959, from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to East St. Louis, Illinois.

Predecessor railroads

Cotton Belt 819

St. Louis Southwestern 819 is maintained at the Arkansas Railroad Museum in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, by the Cotton Belt Rail Historical Society. The #819 was the last new steam locomotive acquired by the Cotton Belt in 1943. It was built in the Pine Bluff Shops.

File:AR flag stop.jpg
St. Louis Southwestern 819 on an early excursion run in 1986.

Notable employees

Louisiana politician Andrew R. Johnson (1856–1933) was once a depot agent for the Cotton Belt Railroad.[2]

See also


  1. ^ Vivian, Julia L. "Jay Gould". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 4 April 2015. 
  2. ^ "Mike Miller, "Andrew R. Johnson," from Henry E. Chambers, A History of Louisiana, Vol. II, Chicago and New York City, 1925, pp. 147-148". usgarchives.rog. Retrieved May 25, 2010. 

External links


  • Moody's Steam Railroads, 1949.
  • Moody's Transportation Manual, 1968.
  • Goen, Steve Allen. Cotton Belt Color Pictorial, Four Ways West Publications, 1999, ISBN 1-885614-25-X.
  • Eighty Years of Transportation Progress: A History of the St. Louis Southwestern Railway (Cotton Belt Public Relations Department, 1957) as published in the October 1957 issue of The Cotton Belt News.