• How do railroads get their names?

  • This forum is for discussion of "Fallen Flag" roads not otherwise provided with a specific forum. Fallen Flags are roads that no longer operate, went bankrupt, or were acquired or merged out of existence.
This forum is for discussion of "Fallen Flag" roads not otherwise provided with a specific forum. Fallen Flags are roads that no longer operate, went bankrupt, or were acquired or merged out of existence.

Moderator: Nicolai3985

  by lvanorail
So I'm curious. In my research, I've never found anything specific about it, but have any of you out there heard of a standardized way fallen flag companies were named? I mean it's pretty clear what B&O or Erie were named after. Was it always just the big points they connected?

Now one thing I haven't yet encountered (and I'm somewhat new to railfanning, so please bear with me), but are routes (by which I mean the raillines themselves, rather than the overarching company) named simply for their destinations? And can anyone refer me to what were considered classic routes of days past? Thanks.
  by bill haithcoat
No, each railroad was completely separate, no connection as in an overall "theme" for them. For that, there would had to have been an over-all company operatiing them.

Fallen railroads just means railroads which no longer exists. There were well over one hundred at times.

Each a completely separate company and they would not all be named after end points, etc.

Some railroads were mis-named. Example:Frisco, nickname for St. Louis-San Francisco. It never sent to SF, perhaps it was intended to but it never did. Some railroads really were self-descriptive, like Florida East Coast(i.e. JAX to Miami). Others went to places far more than their state names, such as Pennsylvania, and New York Central. Louisville and Nashville went to many cities besides those.

Here are some railroad names, in addition to those above:

Atlantic Coast Line, Seaboard, New York, New Hartford and New Haven, Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe, Union Pacific, Southern Pacific, Northern Pacific, Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, Missouri Pacifc, Texas & Pacific, Southern, Illinois Central, Chicago and Eastern Illinos, Wabash, Gulf Mobile and Ohio, Katy(nickname for Missouri Kansas Texas), Atlanta & West Point, Richmond Fredricksburg & Potomac, Milwaukee, Western Pacific, Nickel Plate, Nashville Chattanooga & St. Louis, Norfolk & Western, Central of Georgia.

To name a few.

Without answerng to each and every one, there is no set rule about how well the names actually fit. Again, completely separate companies, built at different times --no need to form an alliance with each other as to how to name themselves.
  by bill haithcoat
I will probably spend the rest of the day thinkiing of old railroad names.

Here are some more:

Great Northern, Chesapeake & Ohio, Erie-Lackawana, Chicago Rock Island & Pacific, Boston & Maine, the Georgia Railroad,Grand trunk Western, Clinchfield,Kansas City Southern , no telling which ones I am forgetting.

I bet you could look these up on the internet and find good info on all of them includng their many routes. Keep in miind that most railroads had several main lines, then numeorus branches.

  by BR&P
A Hundred? Old railroad companies number in the thousands. Sometimes a given section of track was owned by several companies, as one went bankrupt and a new company was formed to operate it.

I don't have the title, but the late Joe Gross published a book some years back listing every railroad company his research turned up - and I am sure there are even more that have come to light since. Maybe a web search would find that book, or maybe someone here knows the details.
  by bill haithcoat
Thousands of railroads? I can agree---I know the old Official Railway Guides had pages and pages pages of railroads. I never tried to count them.

What I meant (and maybe I was subbconsiously limiting the question) by my answer, I was kind of thinking in terms of major long distance passenger carriers.

But I know there were tons of terminal companies, etc, freight lines all over the place. Also, all kinds of subsidiary names of the larger companies. For example, my hometown Southern had several subsidiary names, such as Alabama Great Southern for one . And if one counts commuter railroads, man o man, how the numbers would bulge out.

  by BR&P
Sometimes a very simple change would be made in the interest of keeping a name people were familiar with. The Podunk Southern Railway might go broke, and someone with new money would decide to buy in. They form a new company named Podunk Southern RailROAD, and away they go - all of the assets, none of the debts. And technically it's a separate railroad, to the confusion of researchers 130 years later

  by Otto Vondrak
Railroad names, division names, nicknams come from a variety of sources. There are no rules.

The Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railway... their nickname was "the Soo Line," based on the phonetic pronunciation of "Sault." They adopted "Soo Line" as a trade name in te 1950s, and formally changed their name in the 1960s.

The Hudson Division of the New York Central was named for the Hudson River it parallels.

The nickname of the NYC was "Water Level Route" to separate itself from rival Pennsylvania Railroad that had to cross mountains to get to the same destinations. The implied meaning was that the NYC was faster and more reliable since it followed the relatively level pathways of rivers and lakes on its way from New York to Chicago.

Sometimes railroad names were misleading or ambitious. The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific certainly served the first two, but never got anywhere near the Pacific Ocean.

The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific certainly did serve all those places. More commonly known as "The Milwaukee Road," it cut back its route miles severely during a 1977 reorganization and no longer reached the Pacific Ocean.

I suggest George Drury's excellent "Historical Guide to North American Railroads."


  by Gilbert B Norman
BR&P wrote:A Hundred? Old railroad companies number in the thousands.
Circa 1950, or when I first started having an interest in railroad industry affairs (yes, I once was a picture taking, train chasing, railfan), AAR Quiz reported there were 635 railroads in the US and 114 of such were Class I.

Needless to say, the threshold to be recognized as a Class wasa "mite lower' back then - annual Railway Operating Revenues of $1M would do the trick.
  by henry6
Geography and dreams, thats what railroad names are made of! From where it started to where it went or wanted to go or "why not add 'Pacific' for the hell of it!" Town names, river names, mountain names, lake names, region names. And to attract money or attention, add somthing like "and Pacific" or "Central" or "Northern". And always use an ampersand!

  by walt
Another thing to keep in mind, which can complicate things even more, is that in many instances, because of old time corporate charters, some railroad companies were merely paper subsidiaries of other companies, sometimes formed solely to build a line. In the traction area there were the Philadelphia , Castle Rock & West Chester Railway, the Ardmore Railroad Company, the Ardmore and Llanerch Street Railway Co, and the Philadelphia & Garrettford Street Railway Co.-- all of which were leased to the Philadelphia & West Chester Traction Company ( predecessor of the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Co.-- or Red Arrow Lines). The P&WCT was the operating company, all of the others were incorporated to build specific lines because the P&WCT could not build or own any lines.
This is just one example of the corporate mess that existed with regards to identifying US railroad companies.

  by CarterB
One of the more interesting rr names is the Quanah, Acme & Pacific, a short line that operated in four counties of northwestern Texas from near the turn of the century into the 1980s. Quanah to Acme to Floydata, TX, never came even close to the TX border, let alone the Pacific!

Named, in part, after, and as an accommodation to, the legendary Comanche Chief Quanah Parker.

  by JimBoylan
When New Hope & Ivyland RR in Pennsylvania was formed in 1966, it bought the Reading Company line between those 2 places. When ConRail was formed and the possibility arose of NH&I acquiring more connecting line, there was a proposal to change the name to New Hope, Ivyland & Gulf to cover any length of Southward purchase.
Tyburn Railroad, across the Delaware River from Trenton, N.J., was named after the nearest cross street, Tyburn Road, as an aid to finding the line. The name of the parallel street, Pennsylvania Avenue, was considered too pretentious.

  by salminkarkku
Most railroad companies, understandably, tried to give some idea to potential investors as to what they dreamed of doing. The USA was full of lines where the reality didn't match. My favorite was a Texas line which aimed at Rio de Janeiro, but got 10m to the first river out of the terminal town (Victoria) and didn't have the money to bridge it. That was the "Pan American RAILWAY" (not Railroad, which was in Central America).
Or the "Gulf & Pacific" in TX, so obscure I haven't found where it was yet.
Or the "Pacific & Eastern" in Arkansas!
The "Buffalo, Thousand Islands & Portland" which owned 50 yards of track in Buffalo NY.
The "Louisiana Pacific" in LA, which hauled logs.
The "Ultima Thule, Arkadelphia & Mississippi River" in AR again (at least it got to the middle place).
The "Midland Continental" which set out to build from Winnipeg in Canada to the Gulf, and never got out of ND.
The "Boston & Albany". Not the one in Massachusetts, but in Georgia. There's a town called Albany there, so a bunch of good ole boys running a logging outfit called the other end of their streak of rust in the swamp "Boston".
Not the same peckerwoods that sent a report to the ICC saying that they owned three locos, 0-4-0 hayburners of the "Missouri" class! I think that last one's a railroad urban legend -I haven't found a company name to go with it.
The "South Florida & Gulf" was bonded to the state legislature to open their line to traffic by a certain time, or lose their bond. They laid some track, and ran mule wagons over the grade of the rest of it. They went bust before the lawyers could decide if a railroad in Florida law needed rails laid on it!

  by umtrr-author
Of course, since railroad speculation was the "dot com" of the time, hyperbolic roadnames were just part of the scheme.

"and Pacific", "and Western", "and Eastern", "and (insert faraway major city)" and "and (insert some other term suggesting a vast, stable, profitable empire)" were all good names that would help entice the public to invest in your line and for towns to provide land and other goodies to get the project.

Of course, this didn't help the "New York, Ontario and Western" (previously the "New York and Oswego Midland," much less sexier) which was too late to take advantage. They wound up routing to anyplace that would fund them, and let's just say their system map with a straight line run required a fair bit of artists' and marketers' license.

  by salminkarkku
Sometimes the big city in the name turns out not to be:
ME or OR? Well, no; the first is AR, the second PA and they're both clearings in the woods.
FL? No, OK. Not a pretty little town.

We get states that are not:
MINNESOTA & SOUTHEASTERN, in California! Took me a while to find that one.
OREGON & TEXAS. Loggers again, these in PA.

Sometimes loggers are honest:
and industrialists pretend to run a main line:
2m to a mill near Castleton on Hudson, NY.

How about
Makes you think of pick-up-trucks with gun racks and friendly girls in Daisy Hazzards? Well, it was in Long Island NY!

Some names are clueless:
So, like which manufacturing town in the USA will you find that? (Erie PA)
BRIDGE. That's all -"Bridge Railroad". Presumably it had one. I haven't found out where this outfit was (try it on Google and you'll see why), and if anyone does know, please tell me! It ran 1901-1908.