There are two somewhat separate groups of line considered here—those running north-south, west of or just in the Appalachians, before turning east or southeast, and those running northwest-southeast, through the Appalachians, to points generally somewhat further north than the first group. In the early years, these groups include quite different railroads, but as time passes the railroads in the different groups become associated with and then merged with, those in the other group.
Furthest west is the Illinois Central, which runs north-south, not far east of the Mississippi River, with a branch from Fulton, KY, that turns south-southeast to head for Birmingham, AL, where it connects with other lines to continue to the Southeast.
IC southeastern connection route descriptions
IC traffic to the Southeast:
Next to the east are two different lines of the Louisville & Nashville, At the beginning of this analysis, the L&N did not reach north of the Ohio River, making use of the tracks of the Chicago & Eastern Illinois to reach Chicago from Evansville, IN, and the Pennsylvania Railroad to reach Chicago from Louisville, KY. In later years, the L&N would merge with other railroads to reach Chicago over its own rails. Various railroads made connections further southeast.
to Atlanta route descriptions
L&N Cincinnati/Louisville to Birmingham, Montgomery, etc., route descriptions
PRR Chicago to Cincinnati/Louisville route descriptions
The Southern Railway used (and today's Norfolk Southern still uses) the rails of the Cincinnati Southern (operated as the Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific) to connect Cincinnati and Chattanooga (and thus the Atlanta area, from which various Southern lines reach the entire Southeast. North of Cincinnati, lines of the New York Central (Big Four), Pennsylvania (Panhandle), Chesapeake & Ohio, and Baltimore & Ohio made connection from Chicago and from Detroit.
Chicago to Atlanta route descriptions
NYC Chicago to Cincinnati route descriptions
Southern/NS Cincinnati to Atlanta traffic:
Another L&N line connects Cincinnati to Atlanta, with similar connections as the Southern, north of Cincinnati. Various railroads made connections further southeast.
L&N/CSX Cincinnati to Atlanta route descriptions
L&N Cincinnati to Atlanta traffic:
The final north-south route is the Clinchfield, which depends on one of the northwest-southeast routes for its northerly connections.
Clinchfield route descriptions
The most northerly of the northwest-southeast routes, the Baltimore & Ohio, (also part of the flow between Chicago and the Northeast) had routes from Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, DC to Chicago and St. Louis, diverging at Cumberland, MD, with the former route running via Pittsburgh and the latter via Cincinnati.
B&O Chicago line route descriptions, Cincinnati line and St. Louis line
Almost coincident with the B&O, the Western Maryland formed part of the "Alphabet Route" of connecting lines between Baltimore and Chicago. This route essentially disappeared after the Chessie System took over the Western Maryland in the early 1970s, and plays no part in what follows.
The Chesapeake & Ohio main line connected the Washington DC and Virginia Tidewater areas to Cincinnati and Chicago, with a spur to Columbus, OH, later extended by acquisition of the Hocking Valley and Pere Marquette to reach Detroit.
C&O Chicago to Cincinnati route descriptions
The final route in this survey is the Norfolk & Western main line, later known as the Pocahontas route and then the Heartland Corridor, running from Virginia Tidewater to Cincinnati and Columbus, OH. Connections onward to Chicago and Detroit were over the PRR.
N&W route descriptions
The first major change to the original routes was the expansion of the Norfolk & Western in 1964, when it merged with the Nickel Plate, leased the Wabash, and acquired the former PRR line from Columbus to Bellevue, OH, to connect the original lines with the new acquisitions. From the perspective of Chicago to East Coast traffic, this has the effect of downgrading the PRR connections through Cincinnati and emphasizing the connections at Bellevue onto the former Nickel Plate. Acquisition of the Wabash provided N&W with direct access to St. Louis, for the first tine, as well as Kansas City. The Nickel Plate line to St. Louis was downgraded in favor of the Wabash route.
Nickel Plate route descriptions
Wabash Detroit-Kansas City route descriptions and St. Louis line route descriptions
Extended N&W Traffic:
At about the same time, the C&O effectively took over the B&O, a combination which had little immediate impact on traffic flows. Not until the 1970s, when the Western Maryland was also included (and almost immediately downgraded), did this combination actually merge into the Chessie System. Later on, Chessie System downgraded and eventually closed the C&O of Indiana line from Cincinnati to Chicago in favor of a route over the former B&O, north on the Toledo line, connecting via the southwest quadrant connector at Deshler onto the line to Chicago.
Chessie System Traffic:
Starting in the 1960s, the L&N moved to own its connections to the north, initially acquiring a half share in the Chicago & Eastern Illinois when the MoPac acquired the other half in 1963 (the C&EI line from Woodland Junction, IL, to Chicago became a shared line.), and then later acquiring the Monon as its connection from Louisville to Chicago (replacing the PRR, which had disappeared into the Penn Central and was clearly de-emphasizing this line). As time passed, the former Monon connection was de-emphasized in favor of the former C&EI, and partially abandoned in the CSX era. Over the same time period, the L&N itself, long owned by the Seaboard Coast Line and one of its predecessors, was more firmly combined with SCL into the Family Lines arrangement, which also swallowed up the Clinchfield route, long jointly owned by L&N and SCL. The Family Lines arrangement had the effect of providing corporately-owned connections onward into the Southeast from the L&N terminals.
Monon route description
Atlanta to Hamlet route description
Atlanta, Birmingham & Coast route description
Family Lines Traffic:
Meanwhile, Penn Central had downgraded the NYC (from Cincinnati) and PRR (from Louisville) lines between Indianapolis and Chicago, in favor of the former NYC route to Elkhart via Anderson, Marion and Goshen. The combination of Penn Central and other northeastern lines into Conrail, in April, 1976, had no direct impact on these flows as they were by that time, but served to remove (over time) some of the competing lines in the vicinity of the erstwhile connections onward into Chicago.
The resurgent success of the lines absorbed and kept by Conrail had noticeable impacts on the performance of the Chessie System and Family Lines routes into the area served by Conrail, leading to the early 1980s merger of these two systems into CSX Transportation, and the resultant combination of the extended Norfolk & Western and the Southern Railway into Norfolk Southern, as a defensive response to the CSX combination. Like Conrail, CSX and NS assessed their various routes, particularly those that now duplicated one another, and pruned the lesser performing routes, either by closure or sale to the newly burgeoning regional railroads. For example, CSX now had duplicate lines between Louisville and Cincinnati: the direct route on teh former L&N and a longer route on the former B&O via Seymour, IN. The vast majortiy of the traffic betwen the two points was moved to the former L&N line, although in later years, capacity problems resulted in one or two throught rains (Q.268 in 2012, for example) returning to the former B&) route.
The process of re-engineering their trunk routes, however, would not truly come to fruition until these two systems jointly took over Conrail, in 1999, and split it between them.
Since the Conrail split, Norfolk Southern has had three basic routes from the Chicago area to the Atlantic Coast: down the former Southern "Rat Hole" to Harriman Junction, then southeast to Knoxville, and either northeast on the Crescent Corridor or east through Asheville to Linwood; southeast along the Heartland Corridor (former Pocahontas Route), through Kenova and Roanoke; and east, across Pennsylvania, to Enola/Harrisburg and then down the Port Road to Baltimore or across the Harrisburg Line into New Jersey. Of these, the Rat Hole and its connections onward to Linwood were available for double-stacks as a result of the line and tunnel changes in the 1950s and 1960s (with only a couple of tunnels north of Oakdale needing notches to be cut in them for double-stack passage), while the line across Pennsylvania was cleared for double-stacks in the 1990s, during the Conrail era. The Pocahontas line has been cleared more recently, opening to double stacks on September 9, 2010, when trains 217 and 218, between Linwood and Chicago, and 233, 234 and 236, between Norfolk and Chicago, started carrying double-stack containers.
Connections from Chicago/Elkhart to these lines are: via either the Marion (IN) branch or former Nickel Plate New Castle District, both feeding at Muncie, IN, into a former PRR line onwards to Cincinnati; south from Oak Harbor (on the Chicago Line) and Bellevue to Columbus and Portsmouth, OH (with the connection from Cincinnati via the Dayton District feeding in at Columbus); and across the Chicago Line to Cleveland, down the Cleveland Line to Alliance and then east through Pittsburgh.
Crescent Corridor route descriptions
Harriman Junction to Salisbury route descriptions
At the time of the split, CSX had no lines to the Atlantic Coast cleared for double-stacks, other than the circuitous routings via upstate New York, on the one hand, or the former L&N lines into Alabama (and Georgia?), on the other. It has been working frantically to clear the former B&O Sand Patch and East End lines for these larger clearances, with the Sand Patch tunnels done in 2010, and the work on the Magnolia Cutoff in West Virginia and Maryland proceeding apace in early 2012 (the so-called Heritage Corridor).
South of Nashville, traffic to and from Florida points can take either the route via Chattanooga and Atlanta or the route via Birmingham, coming back together at Manchester, GA, to head through Waycross to Folkston, GA. All manifest traffic seems to terminate and originate at Waycross.