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Portsmouth, Charleston, & South Western

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Portsmouth, Charleston, & South Western

Portsmouth, Charleston, & South Western

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Owner: David Thompson

System Map: 1950 System Map

History: [Note- an "f" in parentheses denotes a freelance predecessor]

The Portsmouth Charleston & South Western got its start as the grandiosely-named Atlantic Ohio & Pacific Railroad (f,chartered in 1859 although construction did not begin until 1877), completing a line from Charleston,WV east to Richmond,VA by 1880. The AO&P built southeast from Midlothian to Portsmouth in 1882 to provide a better outlet for the coal fields that were just beginning to be developed. At the end of that year, the road was reorganized as the Portsmouth & Charleston RR(f) to get out from under some restrictions in the original charter.

The P&C financed the construction of the Roanoke Virginia & Tennessee (f, 1886-89) from Roanoke,VA on the P&C to Knoxville,KY. In 1891 the P&C leased the Roanoke & Danville (f,1889-90; Roanoke - Danville,VA) and the Lynchburg & Durham (1887-90; Lynchburg,VA - Durham,NC). Three years later, P&C leased the Danville & Western (1881-1882; Danville - Stuart,VA) and the Pittsburg & South Western (f,1887-91), which was built to funnel coal from the P&C at Charleston north to Pittsburg,PA. P&C was also looking for a southern outlet and in 1896 bought out a lien on the Chester & Lenoir (1852-1884; Chester,SC - Lenoir,NC) and assumed control of that road. A year later, P&C took over the South Atlantic & Ohio (1880-1890; Bristol,VA - Big Stone Gap,VA) and the Bristol Elizabethton & North Carolina (1889-1892; Bristol,TN - Elizabethton,NC), standard-gauged the L&C, and began construction on a line from Butler,TN along the Watauga River to Blowing Rock, NC and south to Lenoir, completed in 1899. At the end of 1897, all the leased lines were purchased outright and the combined system was named the Portsmouth Charleston & South Western Railway.

The next year, PC&SW purchased the Kanawha & Michigan, forming a Charleston-Columbus,OH route. PC&SW also began a southern extension of the L&C from Chester to Columbia,SC, completed in 1901. In 1899, PC&SW gained control of the Cape Fear & Yadkin Valley, but lost a battle for control of the Atlantic & Danville to the Southern. PC&SW widened the D&W to standard gauge a year later and built a connection from Leaksville on the D&W down to Madison on the CF&YV. PC&SW swapped its CF&YV control to the ACL for a 25% stake in the Louisville & Nashville in 1902 (ACL held 26%), and purchased a 25% stake in the Hocking Valley that same year. In 1903 the road purchased a 1/4 interest in the Toledo & Ohio Central (Columbus - Toledo,OH; LS&MS, Erie, and C&O held the other 3/4), and began a line across southern Ohio near Gallipolis southwest to Portsmouth, then along the north bank of the Ohio River to Ripley, and over the Ohio River & Columbus and Cincinnati Georgetown & Portsmouth to Cincinnati. This line was completed in 1904, as was the purchase of the Tennessee Central and a Knoxville-Harriman,TN line to connect it to the system. That same year, the PC&SW built south from Kingston toward Chattanooga.

The Chattanooga line was completed a year later, as was the purchase of the Central of Georgia. In 1906 the PC&SW returned its attention to the Midwest. The road leased the Cincinnati Hamilton & Dayton, gaining routes to Toledo,OH, and Springfield,IL, and a Dayton - Ironton,OH line; also gaining control of the Pere Marquette and Chicago Cincinnati & Louisville through CH&D. The PC&SW tried to gain control of the Chicago & Alton that year, but ultimately lost out to the Clover Leaf. The PC&SW extended the TC north and west from Hopkinsville,KY to Scottsburg,KY on the Illinois Central, completing that line and a line from Nashville,TN to Memphis,TN in 1907. That year saw the beginning of a route across southern Kentucky from Charleston to Somerset,KY and south to South Carthage,TN on a TC branch. The PC&SW swapped its Hocking Valley interest to C&O for that road's share in T&OC (LS&MS bough out Erie's share) and set up a joint management system; and transferred the PM and CC&L leases to itself from CH&D.

With the recent expansion, the proxy fight over the Alton, and the recession of 1907 looming over the road, the PC&SW sold the CofG to Edward Harriman to remain solvent. The financial difficulty was brief, however, and the PC&SW purchased the Chicago Peoria & St. Louis to gain a Springfield - St. Louis route in 1908. That year also saw the construction of the Lebanon(VA) & Pikeville(KY) between those two towns (and between the old RV&T and the new line through southern Kentucky). That line was extended to a connection with the N&W at Abingdon,VA a year later. 1909 also saw the completion of a line from Somerset north to New Albany,IN. PC&SW was uninterested in operating the Pere Marquette, and sold it off that year.

The next year, the PC&SW leased the Southern Indiana Railway (Chicago - Terre Haute - Westport,IN), the Chicago Milwaukee & Gary (Delmar - Joliet,IL), and the Coal & Coke Railroad (Charleston - Elkins,WV). PC&SW also completed the southern Kentucky line, purchased an 80% interest in the Western Maryland, and bought the Chicago Terminal Tranfer Railroad with B&O. In 1911, the PC&SW completed lines connecting the SI to New Albany, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis; and purchased the Missouri & North Arkansas to provide a connection to Frisco and KCS in southwestern Missouri (Frisco had its own line to Memphis, but PC&SW preferred to keep bridge traffic on lines under its umbrella), building a line from Memphis to Cotton Plant,AR on the M&NA.

1912 saw an ICC investigation into the affairs of the PC&SW. Although nothing came of it, the move killed any thoughts of merging the L&P, WM, or M&NA. Instead, the road settled down and spent the Teens consolidating its system, buying out various leases, upgrading older lines, reducing grades (particularly on the Tennessee Central), and building various bypasses (the longest of these was a southern cutoff around Roanoke). With its own line to Toldeo, the PC&SW was content to let T&OC become a ward of NYC, but retained trackage rights and a half interest.

The 1920s began with PC&SW picking up some pieces of the C&EI system- the old Evansville & Indianapolis (Evansville - Terre Haute,IN) and the old Chicago & Indiana Coal Railway (Wellsboro - Brazil,IN). The C&IC north of West Melcher,IN was sold off in 1922 to become the Chicago Attica & Southern. PC&SW purchased the Tennessee Alabama & Georgia (Chattanooga - Gadsen,AL) in 1921, upgraded it, and financed an extension southwest to the SAL near Birmingham. Still wary of the ICC, PC&SW made no immediate move to consolidate these lines. The road electrified its original line west of Roanoke to Hinton,WV, and rebuilt the east end of the TC in the mid-1920s. The ICC consolidation plan of 1929 put PC&SW with the Wabash-Seaboard system (N&W went with the ACL-L&N system), but management cheerfully ignored the recommendation.

The Indiana operations were integrated except in name by the early 1930s. PC&SW had acquired a respectable fleet of gas-mechanical (and later gas- electric) railcars in the 1910s and 20s, and continued that trend by dieselizing gradually beginning in the 1936. The road worked off its investment in modern steam (last built in 1945) and electrification, officially retiring the last steam power in late 1960 (the electrics were shut down in 1959), just in time for the modern merger era to begin.

The road's second era of expansion began in 1960 with the purchase of the nearly-bankrupt Atlantic & Danville (West Norfolk-Danville,VA), the merger of the M&NA (reorganized as the Missouri & Arkansas in 1935) and purchase of the Interstate in 1961, and official merger of the Indiana lines in 1962. The largest leap came in 1967 with the merger of the SAL and GM&O. PC&S ("South Western" was combined into one word) merged the TAG in 1970, Western Maryland at the beginning of 1972, and Durham & Southern in 1973.

The PC&S picked up parts of the Lehigh Valley, Jersey Central, much of the Reading, a 50% stake in P&LE, and the Erie Lackawanna west of Youngstown,OH in 1976 as part of the creation of Conrail to form a second New-York-Chicago line. The road spent the rest of the 1970s and the early 1980s integrating and streamlining its system, merging P&LE and purchasing the IC's Paducah-Louisville line in 1986. The PC&S began to look at expanding west in the mid-1980s, merging the MKT in 1987 and expressing interest in picking up SP from the failed SPSF merger. The economic and regulatory climate of the late 1980s didn't permit that move, so SP went with Rio Grande while PC&S slimmed down its unproductive lines and bided its time. Conditions had changed by the mid-1990s, and PC&S made its bid for SP in 1994. There was a great deal of initial opposition, but the move also opened the door for other coast-to-coast mergers. PC&S finally won approval to merge SP in late 1997, with UP-CSX, BN-NS, and SF-CR also pairing up. PC&S took its time integrating SP into its operations, finally merging the road on January 1, 2000.

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For more information about the PC&SW, including a historic equipment roster, visit the PC&SW Home Page

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