Impact of Mergers on Freight Traffic Flows

With acknowledgement to Richard Saunders, Jr's two books 'Merging Lines, American Railroads 1900-1970' and 'Main Lines, Rebirth of the North American Railroads, 1970-2002'.

An overall summary of the changes in traffic flows between Chicago/St. Louis and the Northeast from the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroad era, through the Conrail era, and into the devolved Norfolk Southern and CSX era, is here.

An overall summary of the traffic flows between Chicago and the various destinations and origins in the Southeast throughout the merger era between the 1950s and 2000s is here.



Erie-Lackawanna, 1960


C&NW takes over Minneapolis & St. Louis, 1960


MoPac and L&N split C&EI, 1963


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. In 1963, L&N and Missouri Pacific jointly purchased C&EI, giving both railroads direct lines to Chicago (the C&EI line from Woodland Junction, IL, to Chicago became a shared line.). As a result, L&N became a system with two major routes, crossing and interchanging at Nashville:

L&N Chicago to Atlanta route descriptions
L&N Cincinnati/Louisville to Birmingham, Montgomery, etc., route descriptions


Norfolk & Western, 1964


The original Norfolk & Western main line, later known as the Pocahontas route and then the Heartland Corridor, runs from Virginia Tidewater to Cincinnati and Columbus, OH. Connections onward to Chicago and Detroit were over the PRR.

N&W route descriptions

N&W Traffic:

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:


Seaboard Coast Line, 1967


Penn Central, 1968

On the Pennsylvania Railroad, freight traffic headed from New Jersey, Philadelphia or Baltimore to the west end of the system, traveled across Pennsylvania on the four-track current-of-traffic "broad way", to Pittsburgh, and then diverged, with traffic for Chicago traveling via Crestline and Fort Wayne and traffic for St. Louis traveling via Columbus (OH) and Indianapolis. Mail traffic ran the same routings, in passenger trains prior to 1967.

The "Broad Way" route descriptions and St. Louis line

PRR Chicago to Cincinnati/Louisville route descriptions

Pennsylvania Railroad (and successors) Freight Traffic from the 1940s to the 1970s

On the New York Central, freight traffic headed from New England, New York and New Jersey headed across upstate New York on the four-track, current-of-traffic, Water-level Route, to Buffalo, turning southwest through Cleveland and diverging at Berea (SW Cleveland), with traffic for Chicago heading via Toledo and traffic for St. Louis heading via Marion (OH) and Indianapolis. Mail traffic ran the same routings, in passenger trains prior to 1967.

Water-level Route descriptions and St. Louis line

NYC Chicago to Cincinnati route descriptions

NYC Traffic:

The Penn Central merger (February 1, 1968) made little difference to these traffic flows (except for the downgrading of the NYC and PRR lines between Indianapolis and Chicago in favor of the former NYC routing to Elkhart via Anderson, Marion and Goshen), due to the Penn Central bankruptcy.


C&NW takes over Chicago Great Western, 1968


Burlington Northern, 1970


L&N acquires Monon, 1971


At the beginning of this analysis, the L&N did not reach north of the Ohio River, making use of the tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad to reach Chicago from Louisville, KY (as well a portion of the C&EI, further to the west, merged partially with the L&N in 1963). In 1971, the L&N merged the Monon to reach Chicago from Louisville over its own rails.As time passed, the former Monon connection was de-emphasized in favor of the former C&EI, and partially abandoned in the CSX era.

Monon route description


Illinois Central Gulf, 1972


Conrail, 1976


Over time, Conrail rationalized its route structure, combining parts of both the NYC and PRR routes between Indianapolis and St. Louis, downgrading the PRR routes between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis  and between Alliance, OH, and Chicago (the Fort Wayne Line), and turning the trunk routes into a large distorted 'X', centered on Berea, OH, with Pittsburgh to Chicago traffic turning north at Alliance (onto the Cleveland Line) to go via Cleveland and then the former NYC (the Chicago Line), and Pittsburgh to St. Louis traffic diverging from this route at Berea, also on the former NYC (the Indianapolis Line and the St. Louis Line). Traffic for Texas departed the St. Louis line for the MoPac/UP at St. Elmo, IL, avoiding St. Louis. East of Harrisburg/Enola, the PRR freight routes were downgraded, and perhaps closed if they were freight-only lines, in favor of a former Reading/CNJ route via Allentown. Conrail's access to Boston used the former Boston & Albany (a subsidiary of the New York Central).

Traffic between Cincinnati and the northeast used the Dayton District, created from pieces of the former New York Central (from Cincinnati to London) and PRR (from London to Columbus), and then the former NYC Cleveland route onwards to the connection with the Indianapolis Line at Galion, OH. The PRR route from Cincinnati to London was closed.

Boston & Albany route descriptions

Conrail/NS Dayton District route descriptions

Conrail Traffic:


"Family Lines", 1976

As a result of the ACL/SAL merger, the L&N had become a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Seaboard Coast Line. In 1976, in what was mostly a marketing effort, this combination was dubbed the "Family Lines", allowing its routes to be promoted as a whole. The Family Lines arrangement, which also swallowed up the Clinchfield route, long jointly owned by L&N and SCL, had the effect of providing corporately-owned connections onward into the Southeast from the L&N terminals.

Clinchfield route descriptions

Atlanta to Hamlet route description

Atlanta, Birmingham & Coast route description

Family Lines Traffic:


BN + Frisco, 1980


CSX, 1980


The Baltimore & Ohio had routes from Philadelphia and 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. Mail traffic ran the same routings, in passenger trains prior to 1967.

B&O Chicago line route descriptions, Cincinnati line and St. Louis line

B&O Traffic:

The B&O lines became part of the Chessie System (another marketing branding of two closely-associated but not merged railroads), and then that Chessie System became part of CSX Transportation. Since the Chessie System had two routes from the east coast to Cincinnati, inevitably one of them became preferred and one downgraded, and ultimately, the B&O through route between Cumberland and Cincinnati was reduced to a series of coal lines in West Virginia and removed entirely in Ohio, except for a segment closer to Cincinnati, which has been operated by a regional railroad.

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 route descriptions
C&O Chicago to Cincinnati route descriptions

C&O Traffic:

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:

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. Like Conrail, CSX 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.

CSX Traffic:


Rock Island Bankruptcy, 1980


Norfolk Southern, 1982


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, 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.


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.

Southern/NS Chicago to Atlanta route descriptions


Guilford, 1982


UP + MoPac + WP = UP, 1982


Rio Grande + SP = SP, 1987

As the Illinois Central divested some of the lines it acquired in the GM&O merger, SP picked up the former Alton, from St. Louis as far as Joliet, with trackage rights into Chicago, giving itself a direct Chicago connection from the Cotton Belt line from Texas, and thus removing the need for a connection with another railroad for Chicago traffic.

The Rio Grande merger gave SP a new eastward connection at Ogden, replacing that lost when UP merged WP in 1982, and this, along with trackage rights on the former Missouri Pacific's line from Pueblo, CO, to Herington, KS (on the Cotton Rock) gave SP a new 'central corridor' line from the Bay Area and the Rockies to the midwest and Chicago, permitting the development of the innovative coal/ore loads-both-ways operation between Utah and Wisconsin [see Coal Freight Flows in the 1990s].


BNSF, 1995


UP + C&NW, 1995 and UP + SP, 1996


CN + WC + IC, 1999


Conrail Split, 1999

The process of re-engineering the CSX and NS trunk routes would not truly come to fruition until these two systems jointly took over Conrail, in 1999, and split it between them.


After Conrail—Norfolk Southern

Traffic from New Jersey, Philadelphia or Baltimore continues to run from Pittsburgh to Cleveland, and that for Chicago continues to run on the Chicago line thereafter. Some traffic from these sources to St. Louis now continues west on the Chicago line as far as Butler, IN, where it turns onto the former Wabash line through Fort Wayne and Lafayette, IN and Decatur, IL, to get to St. Louis, while other traffic uses the former Nickel Plate through Bellevue to reach the former Wabash at Fort Wayne before joining that line for St. Louis  For example, the former Mail-44, TV-3, TV-3H, and TV-20T have become 20A, 21T, 21A, and 20T, and the former TRPI has become 34N, on the Butler routing, and the former NLPI, PIEW, and PIIC have become the 10E, 11E, and 17K on the Bellevue routing.

Traffic connecting Cincinnati with the east uses the former Conrail Dayton District, now owned by NS, to connect to the NS Sandusky District to and from Bellevue Yard and connections therefrom. Trains connecting to and from the Pittsburgh area use the southeast quadrant connector at Bucyrus to connect to/from the (former) Fort Wayne Line.

NS Sandusky District route descriptions

The split left NS with no route to Boston, so some ten years later, one was cobbled together with help from Canadian Pacific (the former Delaware & Hudson) and the current owners of the former Boston & Maine, the latter in a joint venture, to form the Patriot Corridor.

Patriot Corridor route descriptions

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.

NS Traffic:

After Conrail—CSX

CSX now owns and operates the Water-level Route east of Berea, OH, as well as retaining its own route from Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, DC, through Pittsburgh. CSX also took over the Indianapolis Line and the St. Louis Line from Conrail, using them to connect from the Water-level Route to St. Louis, as before, but also using the Indianapolis Line to connect to the former B&O Chicago route at Greenwich, to deliver its traffic west to Chicago using that line. For example, the former (Conrail—and maybe NYC, since the NYC trade name for intermodal trains was "Trail Van") TV-7, TV-8, TV-9, TV-24, TV-77, TV-99, TV-100 and TV-304, all of which used the Water-level Route the whole way, have become CSX Q.117, Q.160, Q.119, Q.112, Q.161, Q.109, Q.110, and Q.164 over the revised routing. However, the new arrangements reduced traffic on the Indianapolis Line, since some of the traffic that used to run this way now uses the NS (former Wabash) routing through Decatur, IL, and Fort Wayne, IN.

The new arrangements also make it possible for traffic from the former B&O to head to St. Louis through the connection with the Indianapolis Line, leading to reductions in traffic via the former B&O between Cincinnati and St. Louis. For example, the former INCU and CUIN become Q.358 and Q.359

Autorack ("multi-level") trains that turned directly onto the Water-level Route at Toledo in New York Central, Penn Central, and Conrail days now take the former C&O/Hocking Valley line from Toledo to Fostoria, the former B&O main line to Greenwich, and the "Indianapolis Line" east from Greenwich to Berea, to gain their former routing east. For example, the former Conrail ML-231 and ML-276, which used the Water-level Route all the way east from Toledo, have become the CSX Q.231 and Q.276 on the revised routing.

Traffic from Cincinnati for the northeast which used to use the Dayton Line to connect to the Indianapolis Line at Galion now uses the Toledo sub. to the new Sydney Junction (southeast quadrant connector), transferring to the Indianapolis Line there. Traffic from Cincinnati to Columbus now uses this same connector and then takes the former Conrail Toledo Line south from Ridgeway, permitting the former B&O line between Cincinnati and Columbus to be downgraded and eventually sold-off.

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.

CSX Traffic: