The Railroad first entered Lauderdale County in 1855 when the Mobile & Ohio Railroad was built through the area from Mobile, AL, along the right-of-way that is now operated by the Meridian Southern Railway. At the time the City of Marion was the intended stop on their route north. The first train arrived at this point, then known as the McLemore “Old Field” in Oct. 1855.
Mr. Ball at the same time erected a plain plank station house, at his personal expense, aided by such individual subscription of material as could be obtained, the M&O railroad naming the station “Sowashee”, and agreeing as a special favor to grant depot privilege, provided the house, according to their specifications, was furnished free, but for nearly two years afterwards, we were treated as a mere flag station, and denied ordinary flag station accommodations, while the expense of keeping up the station was borne by Mr. Ball.
When the Southern Railway of Mississippi built the line east from Jackson they originally intended to cross the M&O in Enterprise, MS, and solicited the officials of that area for assistance in land acquisition matters only to meet a dead end. The ever eager businessmen in the Lauderdale county area came to the rescue and ensured that the main railroad crossroads would be in Lauderdale County. The Southern Railway of Mississippi finished the line into the Meridian area in 1861. On May 29, 1861 the first train over the “Southern” arrived at Meridian at 6:45 p.m., drawn by a handsome little engine, the 'Mazzeppa”. The train brought as passengers, the volunteer company, Vicksburg Southerners, 111 strong and other passengers.
June 3rd the first train left Meridian for Vicksburg at 8:45 a.m.
Hon. W.C. Smedes, the president and “father of the Southern Railroad,” when he reached here with his track adopted the name given by Mr. Ball and accepted by the citizens and suggested its adoption by the M&O Railroad, which they gracefully yielded to, and from that date, it has borne the name “Meridian”.
This line out of the west has had a colored history with many different owners up until the days of the Illinois Central Railroad, first off the "Southern Railway” was reorganized as the Vicksburg & Meridian Railroad in 1867 after the devastation of the Civil War. The Alabama & Vicksburg Railroad succeeded the V&M in May 1889, which in turn came under the control of the Erlanger Syndicate as part of the "Queen & Crescent System". In 1916 the control of the Queen & Crescent System came under the control of the Southern Railway (not the same “Southern Railway” mentioned previously).
In 1926 control of the A&V was passed to the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad, a subsidiary of the Illinois Central.
In 1853 a land grant was secured by the North East & South West Alabama Railroad (NE&SW) for the purpose of connecting Meridian with Chattanooga, Tennessee. The company did not take possession of the land grant properties until 1860, and at the outbreak of the civil war only 27 miles of the line from Meridian to York, Alabama were completed. But most of the heavy grading had been done between York and Tuscaloosa, and the war only brought a temporary delay to the completion of this important road.
As the war progressed the Confederate Government in Richmond became considerably aware of the gap in the rail lines at the Alabama - Mississippi border, and as a result on February 15, 1862 loaned the Alabama & Mississippi Rivers Railroad (A&MR) $150,000 to complete the line from Selma to Meridian. Difficulties ensued, however, because the A&MR only planned to build to Reagan, AL where it would connect with the NE&SW. The NE&SW was to construct the remainder of the line into Meridian. The wartime shortage of iron caused critical delay in the construction of both lines. Work proceeded till December 10, 1862 when workers finally completed the line between Selma and Meridian, where all shipments were handed over to other railroads. Therefore the Alabama line assumed the name of its terminal towns to become known as the Selma & Meridian Railroad (S&M).
The NE&SW was merged with the Wills Valley Railroad and renamed the Alabama & Chattanooga Railroad (A&C).
The S&M was to be no exception when the Federal troops ravaged the railroads of the south. The bridges over Valley Creek and the Cahaba River were burnt, essentially shutting down all operations on the railroad. The S&M was back in operation by May 18, 1865 and eventually due to the cost of the reconstruction was sold in bankruptcy and renamed the Alabama Central Railroad, still relying on the A&C for its connection to Meridian.
And in 1877 the A&C was to be renamed the Alabama Great Southern Railroad, soon to be purchased by the Erlanger Syndicate as part of the growing Queen & Crescent System.
In the 1880's there was a growing need for a connection from Meridian to the Port city of New Orleans, William Harris Hardy, selected the route for the construction of this route and on November 14, 1883, the last spike was driven connecting the line of the New Orleans & Northeastern Railroad between New Orleans and Meridian. This ceremony took place at a gravel pit Derby, Miss. Completion of this line added another link to the famous Queen & Crescent Route, The gauge of the line was five feet and it was laid with new rail brought over from England. Having no steam shovels, the line was built with plows, scrapers, mule and manpower.
November 18, 1883 marked the passage of the first passenger train over the rails between Meridian and New Orleans. Engine #203, a baggage car, two coaches, and a sleeper, with Conductor Guiteau in charge and Engineer G.E. Reid at the controls. There was one trunk in the baggage car and a passenger in each coach. The trip was made in seven hours flat.
Motive power and equipment for the new railroad was secured through transfer from the Cincinnati Southern. Twenty-five engines were transferred, numbered 201 thru 225. In 1916 the AGS, and in 1917 the NO&NE were absorbed into the Southern Railway System (Norfolk Southern Railroad).
In 1906 while S.A. Neville was president of the board of trade of the City of Meridian he gave a great deal of study to the transportation situation in Mississippi and after discussing the matter with the different executives of the trunk line railroads in Mississippi he saw that it was useless to interest them in any further rail development in Mississippi on account of the unfavorable attitude, as they saw it, of the law makers of Mississippi. And while this was a situation to be regretted very much, at the same time it was useless, as he saw it, to sit idly by and let the state suffer on account of the attitude of either the law makers or the railway executives: he at once begun to enlist local sentiment to provide for certain undeveloped areas in Mississippi's rail transportation.
On April 5, 1911 a charter was granted to the Meridian & Deep Water Railway Company to “build a railroad from Meridian, Mississippi to some point at or near the Tombigbee River in the State of Alabama.”
During the years 1911 and 1912 a considerable amount of work was done on clearing and grubbing right of way out of the City of Meridian, this route as surveyed was very near the city water work lakes (today's Bonita Lake Park), after much of this work was done it was decided that the railroad would be too near the water works and as a health precaution operations were abandoned at that time.
Still determined that Meridian should have another railroad, the Meridian & Memphis Railway was granted a charter in 1912 to “construct a railroad from Meridian, Mississippi, to Union, Mississippi” and on June 25, 1912 construction was begun with the road completed and put in operation to Union, Mississippi.
To further this link to the West, the Jackson & Easter Railway was granted a charter in 1916 to “construct a railroad from Union, Mississippi, to Jackson, Mississippi”, and shortly thereafter the first thirteen miles was constructed from Union to Sebastopol, Mississippi. When the United States entered in World War one naturally all construction work of every character was abandoned. Directly after the war the railroads were returned to their owners. The Transportation Act was passed in 1920 and after trials and tribulations under this new law and four years overcoming these difficulties, construction on this road was continued. And ten miles were constructed from Sebastopol to Walnut Grove, Mississippi. Then ten miles from Walnut Grove to Lena, Mississippi, making a total of thirty-three miles from Union. About 1926 the Meridian & Memphis and Jackson & Eastern Railroads were sold to the Gulf, Mobile & Northern Railroad and they completed the Jackson & Eastern railway to Jackson, Mississippi (both line are now abandoned).
This having been done, Mr. Neville went back to his original plan to build a railroad from Meridian to the Tombigbee River, and the Meridian & Bigbee River Railway having been granted a charter on January 23, 1917 to “construct a railroad from Meridian, Mississippi to the Tombigbee River” let a contract on December 24, 1926 to construct this railroad. Work was begun and on April 16, 1928 the road was put in operation from Meridian to Cromwell, Alabama, a distance of 29.87 miles to a connection with the Alabama, Tennessee & Northern Railroad. After many years of trials and further tribulations this road was completed from Cromwell to Myrtlewood, Alabama, crossing the Tombigbee River and connecting with the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, and put into full operation on October 15, 1935.
During all these years the citizens of Meridian were most helpful and co-operative in every way, financially especially; however all credit for the construction, operation and completion of these railroads is due to the dreams, courage and tenacity of Mr. S.A. Neville.
Later just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1940 the Mobile & Ohio Railroad and Gulf Mobile & Northern Railroads merged to form the Gulf Mobile & Ohio Railroad with three separate routes into Meridian. All remained constant for the next three decades till the GM&O and the Illinois Central Merged to form the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad.
In the ICG's effort to trim off some of its excess mileage the old M&O lines north and south of Meridian were sold to the Gulf & Mississippi railroad a short line of about 713 miles. This line was in turn later sold off to the Midsouth Railroad who had purchased the old ICG main line west to Shreveport, LA.
In 1994 the veteran Kansas City Southern Railroad in the hope of promoting it as an alternate route for transcontinental rail traffic, thus forming the KCS's “Meridian Speedway” from here to Shreveport, LA, purchased this line in whole.
On April 1, 2000 the KCS sold off the line from Meridian to Waynesboro (54.5) miles to the Meridian Southern Railway, a short line operator utilizing old Midsouth Locomotives.