Even an a business that grew out of innovation in transportation, Southern Railway System can be called, with considerable justice, "the road of the innovators."
Southern's earliest predecessor line operated the first steam locomotives in regular service in America more than a century and a half ago. Its Cincinnati-Chattanooga line had the first automatic block signals in U. S. railroading. From dieselization and shop and yard modernization to computers and the development of special cars and unit coal trains, Southern has usually been on the cutting edge of change.
Today Southern operated more than 10,000 miles of railroad in 13 states, serving most major cities south of the Potomac and Ohio rivers and east of the Mississippi. At the end o f1981, the railway had 20,584 people, 16,125 miles of track, 1,459 locomotives, 74,159 freight cars and was operating about 616 freight trains a day.
Southern's principal routes cross like a huge "X" at the hub city of Atlanta. One heavily used line runs from Cincinnati through Chattanooga and Atlanta to Jacksonville, Fla. The other connects Washington, D.C. and New Orleans via Virginia, the Carolinas, Atlanta and Birmingham.
Other major routes reach out to the Mississippi River and western connections at Memphis and East St. Louis, Ill. A network of lines carries the railway's service to virtually every corner of its territory, including eight Atlantic and Gulf ports.
Probably the railway's greatest strength is the caliber of its people. They are carefully selected, highly trained, and adept at using a modern physical plant to create useful transportation service.
A modern technical training center at McDonough, Ga. near Atlanta, provides skills training for those who will actually operate and maintain the railroad. It also conducts familiarization courses for those who will supervise and manage the work.
Graduates of this institution of higher railroad learning work with equipment and facilities that are among the industry's most modern. The railway has seven modern electronic classification yards strategically located across the system. Yards at Atlanta and Macon, Ga.; Knoxville and Chattanooga, Teen.; Birmingham and Sheffield, Ala; and Linwood, N.C. work together to speed freight throughout the system.
Major locomotive shops at Atlanta and Chattaooga provide Southern's diesels scheduled maintenance at 30-day intervals. Both have shop sections for heavier repairs and replacements as needed. Hayne Car Shop at Spartanburg, S.C., conducts heavy repair programs for box cars. Coster Shops at Knoxville does the same for open top hoppers and gondolas. But there are spot car repair points and locomotive fueling and servicing facilities at virtually every yard and terminal.
Two rail welding plants in Atlanta (one for reclaimed rail) plus an adjoining track panel assembly plant help provide many of the large items Southern uses in track maintenance. The roadway machinery shop in Charlotte, N.C. keeps modern track maintenance machines in good working order.
Research and test installations at Alexandria, Va., and Chattanooga are part of a system wide emphasis on research into equipment, methods and operating procedures. Everything from the stability of a freight car's underpinning to the quality of diesel oil comes under the watchful gaze of the researchers.
Computers and microwave communication link Southern's yards, terminals and line of road operation into a smooth functioning whole. Information about freight car location and movement is constantly available to railroaders and customers.
To handle a growing volume of rail highway traffic, Southern has 39 intermodal transfers, 30 of them equipped with overhead cranes for rapid shifting of trailers and containers between road and rail
Another of Southern's basic strengths lies in the diversity of its business. A dozen commodities and product lines contribute in varying degrees to its revenues. Last year's top revenue producer, coal, accounted for only 17.7% of Southern's 41.75 billion in freight revenue.
Southern's diversified business base reflects the effect of two important factors.
One is the strong accent on marketing that has characterized Southern's approach to transportation in the past two decades. The constant search for answers to customers' problems has tended to increase the variety of Southern's business.
The other commitment of even longer standing to the industrial and agricultural development of areas the railway serves. Southern's Industrial Development department works with the state and local development groups and with commercial developers to encourage location of new industry and expansion of existing industry. Over the past decade, investment in new plants and plant expansion along Southern's lines has averaged well over a bullion dollars a year.
Looking at Southern in financial terms. The railway at the end of 1981 had assets $3,452,306,000 and operating revenues for the year of $1,709,669,000. Of those revenues, Southern brought down $12,80-8,000 to net income.
During the same 12-month period, Southern plowed back more that $91 million into the property in capital investments. That was hardly surprising for a railroad that for almost a century has been earning the right to the slogan "Southern - the Railway System That Gives a Green Light to Innovations."