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The St. Louis Southwestern Railway , known by its nickname of "The Cotton Belt Route" or simply "Cotton Belt", was organized on January 15, 1891, although it had its origins in a series of short lines founded in Tyler, Texasmarker, in 1877 that connected northeastern Texasmarker to Arkansasmarker and southeastern Missourimarker.

The company gained trackage rights in 1905 over the Missouri Pacific Railroad to reach the St. Louis, Missourimarker, area. SSW also operated a yard and locomotive servicing facility in East St. Louis, Illinoismarker, 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 St. Louis Southwestern and its subsidiaries operated a total of 1,607 miles of track in 1945; 1,555 miles of track in 1965; and 2,115 miles of track in 1981 after taking over the Rock Island's Golden State Route.

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. The letters "SSW" were painted on the nose and "Cotton Belt" on the sides.

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. Former SSW locomotives have been 'patched' with the UP logo and locomotive numbers, although a few locomotives still have the words "COTTON BELT" painted on the side.

Cotton Belt Passenger Service

The St. Louis Southwestern operated passenger service from St. Louis to Texas points and from Memphis to Shreveport and Dallas. Cotton Belt's Lone Star operated from Memphis Union Stationmarker to Dallas Union Terminalmarker with a branch from Lewisville, Arkansasmarker to Shreveport, Louisianamarker. The Morning Star was the second named train over much of this route, operating out of St. Louis Union Stationmarker.

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 locomoitves 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.

St. Louis Southwestern 819 is maintained at the Arkansas Railway Museum in Pine Bluff, Arkansasmarker, by the Cotton Belt Rail Historical Society. The #819 was the last new steam locomotive purchased by the Cotton Belt in 1943 and it was built in the Pine Bluff Shops.

External links


  • Moody's Steam Railroads 1949
  • Moody's Transportation Manual 9/1968
  • Goen, Steve Allen (1999), 'Cotton Belt Color Pictorial', Four Ways West Publications. ISBN 1-885614-25-X

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