During one of the most uncertain times in the history of our nation, America’s great railroads worked around the clock for Uncle Sam to transport troops, weapons, and other resources to ports where they could be taken to the front lines. Each and every train carrying military assets was vital to victory. The Louisville and Nashville Railroad, (L&N), was one of the elite performers of the World War II era. However, the demand exacted on them by the government combined with their unwavering commitment to prioritizing equipment and right-of-way for military trains came with many inconveniences. Among those bearing these inconveniences was the general public, who still heavily relied on passenger trains for transportation. Those attempting to travel during this wartime period could expect crowded cars, hefty delays, and limited supplies. Again, it was necessary for the L&N to prioritize the movement of military personnel and war materials over regular passenger trains. Uncle Sam truly had the right-of-way and, ultimately, it was a very small sacrifice to ensure victory.
While the L&N was successful in maintaining reliable and efficient operations during WWII, there was one very tragic incident that is still well-known to this day. On July 6, 1944 an L&N Troop Train carrying over 1,000 U.S. soldiers derailed and plunged into the water of the Clear Fork River. This section of railroad, now owned and used by CSX Transportation, is familiar to many as “The Narrows” and is located near Jellico, TN. Unfortunately, 34 people lost their lives, including an engineer based out of Etowah, and over 100 others sustained injuries. Reportedly, the last words of the fireman, also based out of Etowah, at the Jellico hospital was “she jumped the track.” (Information courtesy of Etowah Historical Commission)
Below are some scans of World War II era L&N time tables and employee magazines. Note that they all maintained a common theme which was stressing the importance of prioritizing military trains over others and emphasizing the crucial role of the railroads in wartime transportation. They also sought to unify everyone behind a common cause and to assure that victory would soon come.