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10 Another Renaissance

J. Parker Lamb Indiana University Press ePub

Congressional passage of the Staggers Rail Act of October 1980 was the most extensive overhaul of the nation’s railroads in over half a century. At once it redefined the rules by which railroad commerce was carried out by erasing many of the restrictions that remained from the early twentieth-century era of railroad dominance in interstate transport, a period characterized by the involvement of the Interstate Commerce Commission in virtually every strategic move by a railroad company. In the wake of this deregulation, rigid ICC control was replaced by the less restrictive policies of the Surface Transportation Board. The Staggers Act also allowed more aggressive marketing by railroads and redefined the playing field with respect to consolidations. One of its overall benefits was to transform rail investment into a more attractive market.

An anticipated effect of this loosened federal control was an acceleration of mergers by the nation’s largest companies, themselves formed from an earlier round of mergers during the 1970s. The first of these mega-mergers was the 1980 formation of CSX, which combined lines of the Chessie and Seaboard systems. The former was composed of Chesapeake & Ohio, Baltimore & Ohio, and Western Maryland, while the latter included the Seaboard Coast Line and affiliated lines such as L&N, Clinchfield, and the West Point route.

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3 A New Century

J. Parker Lamb Indiana University Press ePub

Although traffic levels on the Mobile & Ohio had increased substantially after the reorganization of 1879 and later completion of the line to Saint Louis, the road hovered near insolvency during the 1890s. It was hemmed in by Illinois Central lines on the west and those of Louisville & Nashville to the east. Many contemporary observers suggested that Mobile & Ohio needed a powerful partner to assure its future success. Not surprisingly, the growing Southern Railway system seized this opportunity to expand its influence by offering a stock swap to M&O owners, exchanging a share of M&O for a share of Southern Railway Co.– Mobile & Ohio. This led to acquisition of 90 percent of M&O stock by April 1, 1901, with the level reaching 94 percent by 1929. With this bold move, the moribund M&O became a member of the Queen & Crescent system, solidifying Meridian’s role as a Q&C hub.

The Southern undoubtedly expected this move to lead to outright merger, but there was opposition from elected officials in Mississippi who were unwilling to accept control of a homegrown railroad by a Virginia company. To non-southerners this might seem surprising in view of the two states being political allies during the Confederacy period. However, in hindsight it appears that opposition was rooted in the extreme dislike by average southerners for large corporations (especially railroads) in the wake of the distasteful times of Civil War Reconstruction. More details of what became known as the Mississippi Merger Suit will be discussed in a later section. Needless to say, Southern Railway put a positive spin on its control of M&O, noting publicly that the two roads enjoyed a harmonious relationship in their operations (Harrison, First Supplement).

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1 Antebellum Beginnings

J. Parker Lamb Indiana University Press ePub

Development of permanent communities in most of the Gulf states began with the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, signed in 1830 at the end of the War of 1812. This agreement ceded to the U.S. government lands previously controlled by indigenous tribes of Choctaws, Chickasaws, and others. Credit for establishing Meridian’s predecessor, a settlement known as Sowashee, belongs to Richard McLemore of Virginia, who purchased several thousand acres and began recruiting new settlers. The village was named for a nearby stream that flooded the area regularly. Thus, the Choctaws had given it the name “Angry Water.”

Eventually, McLemore sold large plots around the village to two ambitious businessmen, Lewis Ragsdale and John Ball, who soon began to lead in the development of a larger town. By late 1833 much of McLemore’s original tract had been incorporated into Lauderdale County, which by 1850 included five villages, with Marion as the county seat.

The initial line to reach east-central Mississippi began in the port of Mobile, Alabama. Always considered a poorer cousin to its western neighbor near the mouth of the Mississippi River, Mobile found its shipping tonnage in a declining position in the mid-1840s after its ranking among U.S. ports dropped from third (behind only New Orleans and New York City) to sixth position in a scant six years. Much of this was due to the rapid expansion of railroad building along the Eastern Seaboard during this period, as the complementary roles of railroads and waterborne transportation began to evolve. Such activity had been largely absent along the Gulf, as the major cotton states (Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi) contained a total of only 165 miles of trackage in 1848.

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5 Roller-Coaster Ride

J. Parker Lamb Indiana University Press ePub

The Mobile & Ohio timetable of October 1, 1922, included the same level of passenger service in Meridian as in 1916, namely, Nos. 1–4 plus locals 5 and 6. However, it shows that Pullman transfers had been revived by the Alabama Great Southern to Birmingham and the New Orleans & Northeastern to New Orleans, although there was no sleeping car occupancy leaving the Crescent City, requiring a passenger to ride coach to Meridian and then board the sleeper. Between Birmingham and Mobile, both M&O trains carried sleepers in both directions, although the road had discontinued (presumably due to cost) dining car service on Nos. 1 and 4 and reinstituted meal stops in Cairo, Illinois; Jackson, Tennessee; plus Corinth, Tupelo, and Meridian, Mississippi.

A new approach to passenger relations was clearly evident in M&O’S February 27, 1927, timetable. Gone were Nos. 3 and 4, replaced by the Gulf Coast Special (Nos. 15 and 16), which carried a New Orleans Pullman and a parlor-lounge-dining car. Schedules of the road’s four trains were shortened by over two hours, allowing it to advertise their rides as a “passage through the historic and scenic South in daylight.” The Special continued M&O’S connection with the Montgomery trains (now denoted as Nos. 115 and 116). This timetable also included a note that Nos. 1 and 2 carried a drawing room–sleeper between Memphis and Mobile (via transfer at Tupelo). Conversely, by this time there was only a single local on the main line between Mobile and Saint Louis, consisting of Nos. 7 and 8 between Meridian and Jackson, Tennessee. However, both of these trains also carried a Memphis connection at Tupelo.

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9 More Changes

J. Parker Lamb Indiana University Press ePub

Two alternative modes of transportation appeared during the postwar period. Expansions of America’s highway and airway systems would soon sweep away the centurylong monopoly of rail travel, resulting in a steady decline in passenger train service. Additional financial underpinning for such trains was removed with the cessation of mail-hauling contracts as well as railway post office (RPO) service by the nation’s postal department. As the number of daily trains decreased steadily during the 1950s, the cavernous waiting room at Meridian’s 1906 Union Station fell silent for hours on end. Indeed, the beginning of the end of the city’s passenger train era was the 1960 destruction of the old station. A smaller replacement was rebuilt from one of its single-story wings, while passenger sheds were removed from boarding platforms, leaving a strange, denuded atmosphere suggestive of an empty yard. Although such downsizing was repeated countless times throughout the nation, it was even worse for many towns and villages. For them, neither the service nor any replacement structures were left in the aftermath of this sea change in American travel.

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