Southern Railway - Norfolk Southern, Central Division, Cincinnati New Orleans & Texas Pacific 1st District


Cincinnati Southern Railway/CNO&TP

Broad gauge (5'-0") line opened to Chattanooga in 1880, converted to standard gauge in 1886

Downtown terminal: Central Union Depot (3rd Street & Central Avenue)

In active use


The NS line from Cincinnati to Danville, Kentucky has probably the most unique history of any line into the Queen City. It was chartered in 1869 through the efforts of attorney E.A. Ferguson, by the City of Cincinnati to provide a more direct connection with the south and the port of New Orleans, bypassing the slow, upriver Mississippi and Ohio and the competing cities along that route. Named the Cincinnati Southern, it was completed at a cost in excess of $18 million and began operations on February 12, 1880 after years of opposition and multiple bond issues. Engineering was supervised by W. A. Gunn, who planned the route, with construction supervised by G. B. Nicholson and G. Bouscaren. The line was completed with a total of 27 tunnels totaling 4.6 miles in length and 105 bridges of various lengths. The many tunnels were a serious impediment to operations, as they were very narrow, and mostly lined with wood in the early years. Water leaks would cause trains to slip and stall in the tunnels, and fires and accidents were all too common. In 1881, the line was leased to the Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific Railway since the city itself had no interest in, nor authority to, operate the railroad itself.


Originally built to 5 foot gauge, the Cincinnati Southern was converted to standard gauge on May 30, 1886 in a single day along with thousands of miles of other southern railroads that had been built to that gauge. In 1890 the CNO&TP came under the control of the newly formed Southern Railway. The CNO&TP entered receivership in 1893 due to the fraudulent issuance of hundreds of blank stock certificates by the company's secretary, George Doughty. He used the certificates to secure loans for investing in another railroad project, and after dying of diphtheria in 1882 the railroad was held responsible for repaying the losses. Even though the railroad was performing admirably, with improving traffic and revenues, this was too much for the young company to handle, and receivership lasted until 1899. Plans to sell the Cincinnati Southern to the Southern Railway system were narrowly defeated by a vote of the city population in 1896.


Operations were managed out of Ludlow, Kentucky where yards and most of the maintenance facilities were located. In the early years, there was virtually no decent terminal for freight operations on the Ohio side of the river. By the first decade of the 20th century, the McLean Avenue yard and many freight sidings were constructed right in the location that Union Terminal occupies today, at which point most freight classification was moved to a new Gest Street yard. The downtown freight station was just west of the approach to the Roebling suspension bridge on the waterfront, and it remained there in a rather limited capacity until the end of the 20th century.


The CNO&TP was associated with the Queen & Crescent Route in honor of its terminal cities nicknames (Cincinnati the Queen City and New Orleans the Crescent City). Although it was never completed to its intended destination, it did reach the major southern rail hub of Chattanooga, where it connected with other Q&C roads. In the early 1960's the Southern Railway rebuilt much of the Second District, which greatly modernized and revitalized the line, making it a major rail artery in the Midwest. Many of the old tunnels were enlarged or removed altogether, bridges were replaced, and grades were reduced. Today, Norfolk Southern, successors to the Southern Railway, still leases the Cincinnati Southern through the CNO&TP from the City of Cincinnati for approximately $21 million per year as of 2015. The Cincinnati Southern is the only municipally owned trunk railroad in the United States, and it represents an incredibly far-sighted investment by the city of Cincinnati, having paid back over $450 million in rent over the intial $18 million investment, on top of all the industrial development and associated rail business it brought to the city.


The line is divided into three districts, the First District is between Cincinnati and Danville, Kentucky. The Second District runs between Danville and Oakdale, Tennessee, while the Third District is from Oakdale to Chattanooga. More than 50 trains a day can be seen on the CNO&TP, with the heaviest concentration between Danville and Harriman, Tennessee. Quite a bit of the traffic is intermodal and automotive, while general manifests, local freights, grain, coal, and other bulk commodities make up the rest.


Photographs from Queensgate to Ludlow, KY


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