The Delta Route - The All Weather Route - Through the Heart of Dixie
The origins of the venerable Columbus & Greenville Railway can be traced back to 1878 and a 3-foot narrow gauge operation based in Greenville, along the banks of the mighty Mississippi River. Sold to Georgia Pacific interests in 1881, the original line eventually came under the control of the expanding Richmond & Danville railroad company. Reorganized, reset to standard gauge, and then expanded, by 1894 the Greenville to Columbus line was known as the Southern Railway in Mississippi. The Southern Railway operated this 175 mile stretch of railroad as a westward extension of its vast and growing southeastern system until 1924, when local Mississippi interests acquired the line -- the first of two such local acquisitions in the road's long and fascinating story.
Connecting Columbus in the east with Greenville in the west with both passenger and freight service, the newly-formed Columbus & Greenville, now dubbed the "Delta Route," survived World World II on aging steam power. It entered the diesel era with a historic 1945 order for five Baldwin road switchers. These six-axle diesel-electrics would be Baldwin's first domestic diesel order, and the first of its road units to be put into commerical service anywhere in the world. With an expanding and eclectic mix of power, operating over an ever-deteriorating right-of-way, the scrappy Delta Route plowed on in indepedent existence until 1972, when the beleaguered company was purchased by the newly-formed Illinois Central Gulf system.
The ICG takeover of the shortline brought little benefit to the property, and much of its better equipment left the Delta for service elsewhere on the ICG system. Only two years later, conditions on the former C&G line had deteriorated to such a degree that local business interests came togehter -- for the second time in the road's history -- to purchase the line back, this time not from the Southern but from the ICG. The Class 1 agreed to sell, and in 1975 the Delta Route began operating again as a local concern, now known as CAGY. Two batches of subsequent locomotive purchases -- Geeps and CF7s -- together with federal loans for much-needed track work helped the new CAGY successfully operate through the late 1970s into the 1980s. At its peak length, the road controlled 230 miles of Mississippi trackage: 175 miles of mainline between its namesake communities; a 14-mile branch connecting Metcalf; a 50-mile branch connecting Cleveland with Hollandale -- remnants of a Yazoo & Mississippi Valley line.
In recent years, since 2000, decreased freight traffic and deteriorinting roadway on the eastern end of the line prompted the CAGY to cease through-freight operations between West Point and Greenwood, Mississppi. Interchange and switching continue in the Columbus area in the east, and new customers have been developed in the west between Greenwood and Greenville. In 2008, control of the remaining bifurcated Delta Route was purchased by the Genessee & Wyoming shortline group, which has incorporated the two segments of the shortline into its Southern Region. Currently, the G&W-owned C&G interchanges with the Norfolk Southern, Kansas City Southern, and BNSF (as well the Luxapalila Valley, another G&W property) in the Columbus area, and the Canadian National at Greenwood.
To a great extent the little railroad known to Henry T. Ireys, John Brown Gordon, and A.T. Stovall is gone. No longer does ten-wheeler No. 178 try to get two cars of passengers and a car of mail from Columbus to Greenville in five hours on a train called the Deltan. Still, the classic roundhouse in Columbus is active as it has been since 1908, and C&G's first diesel locomotive, wearing a new paint scheme, still regularly switches Columbus yard. C&G boxcars no longer proclaim the slogan "Thru the Heart of Dixie." There is a new slogan for the company now, which may explain its survival: "The Railroad that Cares."
Louis R. Saillard, Delta Route - A History of the C&G, 1981
Route map during the 1980s
My first visit to the Columbus & Greenville was in 1957. I took a few pictures of 4-6-0 #178 as it looked pretty good, even through the main rods were off. The thing that always struck me about the C&G was that they never got rid of anything! In 1957 there were five or six passenger cars in the Columbus yard, even though passenger service had been dropped in 1946.
A peak inside the machine shop at Columbus revealed a fully-working 1900's-era shop, complete with flat belts, shafts, and pulleys. The last time I got to look into the shop was about 2000, and its was still intact! Guards had been installed over the pulles and belts to meet OSHA standards, but it was still the same 100-year old shop.
I enjoyed the experience of watching C&G's train #51 - the daily westbound frieght - as it left Columbus. Many days it had one of the new SD-28s on the front and one of the 50 or 60 year old wooden cabooses on the tail end. Quite a contrast! Sometimes a pair of the Baldwins would handle the train, but never a SD28 and a Baldwin as they would not MU together. Even though the two SD28s would MU together and they were occassionally used that way, I never got to see it in person.