10 Slices
Medium 9780253005922

2 A New Start

J. Parker Lamb Indiana University Press ePub

During the period immediately after the war, rail planning and construction again became important to Meridian’s economy as well as throughout all the former Confederate states. Both of the troubled lines in western Alabama were finally completed. The Selma & Meridian Railroad’s ongoing financial problems led to another reorganization in 1871 as the Alabama Central Railroad. However, a new disagreement arose after the Northeast & Southwest Alabama, operator of the York–Meridian line, refused to give Alabama Central the trackage rights into Meridian it had granted to the Selma & Meridian prior to the war. To counteract this decision, the Alabama Central obtained court approval to construct a 12-mile line from York to Lauderdale, Mississippi, where it would be granted trackage rights over the M&O. This line began operating in July 1878, although later consolidations would render it unnecessary.

These difficulties were no doubt tied to the bankruptcy of the North & South Alabama line in October 1868. This allowed its return to the previous owners, the Wills Valley, which renamed it the Alabama & Chattanooga Railroad. However, financial problems continued, and on January 1, 1871, the state of Alabama foreclosed on its bonds and became the legal owner. The state’s efforts to sell the road to another investor dragged out for nearly six years before a London banking firm, Emile Erlanger & Co., made a successful bid in June 1877. It renamed the line Alabama Great Southern Railway Co. Ltd. and began rebuilding it to contemporary standards (Harrison, First Supplement).

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253005922

4 Entrepreneur Extraordinaire

J. Parker Lamb Indiana University Press ePub

While the early history of the GM&N was developing to the west of Meridian, another of its citizens would follow the path of William H. Hardy, developer of the New Orleans & Northeastern. Sam A. Neville entered the city’s rail scene as an archenemy of the traffic monopoly by the Queen & Crescent combine. Neville was born in Kemper County (immediately north of Meridian) in 1870, and his family moved to Meridian when he was seventeen. He later became associated with a number of businesses with a wide range of products, from caskets to pickles. By 1906 he was a partner in the Meyer-Neville Hardware Co., located on Front Street, which was adjacent to rail lines in the downtown area. After a fire destroyed the building, Neville soon became an officer of the Millbrook Lumber Co. and was also chosen to be president of the Meridian Board of Trade and Cotton Exchange. Such local groups were the ancestors of today’s Chambers of Commerce.

His position with the Board of Trade eventually fueled Neville’s desire to expand Meridian’s rail service to include a competitor to the Q&C. However, this would not be an easy task, since the most valuable corridors were already under Q&C control. His first rail venture began with the April 1911 charter for the Meridian & Deep Water Railroad, an attempt to tap into the thriving north–south boat traffic on the Tombigbee River, which lay only 50 miles eastward in Alabama. Construction began on Meridian’s east side, with rails extending from M&O’S Bonita Branch. Soon there was widespread concern within Meridian that the construction would damage the Bonita Lakes, the city’s main water supply, and the resulting public outcry caused Neville to halt the grading. Interestingly, evidence of this early construction is still visible today along the hiking trail at the lakes and at the picnic island formed by one of the early cuts.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253005922

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.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253005922

6 A Tumultuous Decade

J. Parker Lamb Indiana University Press ePub

Early operations of the Rebel streamliner (see Plate 1) proved to be the economic miracle hoped for by GM&N’S management. In 1935 its total cost was 44.4 cents per mile (including a direct operating cost of 31.8 cents), while it produced a surprising income of 59 cents. The excess of 14.6 cents per mile provided needed funds for general operations. But, more fundamentally, this surprising experience began to convince the road’s management that using diesel-electric locomotives for freight could also produce similar savings. It was a lesson they would not forget in the coming years.

An important event in 1936 was the road’s decision to create an independent highway subsidiary, Gulf Transport Co., thus consolidating and formalizing its earlier forays into supplementary highway transportation. The road’s management emphasized that this company would not seek new business but would be a low-cost supporting element of its rail-based operations. Consequently, the bus company was never a large moneymaker, but neither did it produce a drag on net income. However, it did go a long way in convincing shippers in its service area that GM&N valued their business (Oliver).

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253005922

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.

See All Chapters

See All Slices