Southern Pacific Railroad History Center


The Cotton Belt (St. Louis and Southwestern Railroad)(SSW)

Southern Pacific became the owner of the Cotton Belt in 1932.  It operated from northeastern Texas through Arkansas and Missouri, terminating in St. Louis, Missouri and East St. Louis, Illinois.  After the bankruptcy of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad (commonly referred to as the Rock Island Railroad), the Cotton Belt became owner of the line of railroad between Brinkley, Arkansas and Memphis, Tennessee.  Prior to that ownership, the Cotton Belt had been a tenant of the Rock Island, operating over the Rock Island’s trackage.

 For many years the day-to-day operations of the Cotton Belt were managed from Tyler, Texas.  Into the 1960s, the Cotton Belt aggressively competed with Southern Pacific for freight traffic originating to and destined from common Southern Pacific/Cotton Belt points.  In June 1965, Ralph Kirk, Southern Pacific’s general manager at Houston, assumed operational control of the Cotton Belt.  It was a separate Southern Pacific controlled entity until 1992, and was a consistent money-maker for Southern Pacific.


Map of the Cotton Belt dating from the 1950s or earlier.  Courtesy of the City of Tyler, Texas.
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