The Southern Belle is a well-known passenger train that famously operated between Kansas City, Missouri, and New Orleans, Louisiana, from 1940 to 1969. The sleek yellow, red, and green streamliner was the pride of the Kansas City Southern Railway and was affectionately named the “Sweetheart of American Trains.” A beauty contest was held to promote the line, selecting Margaret Landry of Baton Rouge as “Miss Southern Belle.” Her attractive image was used on the train’s rear drumhead and to advertise the illustrious streamliner.
The Southern Belle train was made by Pullman-Standard, the world’s largest builder of railroad and equipment in its day. Well-dressed passengers waited at the station to board the aluminum beauty. Whether riding in the 74-seat coach chair car, or in a sleeper, comfort and service were abundant. A contemporary tavern-lounge-observation car boasted delicious food and top-notch hospitality. Ultra-modern air-conditioned cars with magazine racks signaled the epitome of style. A radio allowed broadcasts with music to be heard throughout the train and game facilities were available. Passenger needs were attended to by “stewardess nurses as well as Southern Belle trained porters.”
The coming of World War II, and wartime gas and tire rationing, attracted more riders aboard the Southern Belle. The streamliner benefited, too, by serving military bases between cities along the line. During the mid-1960’s, the Southern Belle experienced a surge in passenger ridership and remained lucrative until the late 60’s. The Belle stopped running in November 69’ due to cutbacks in feeder trains to mainline services and the discontinuance of US Postal Service’s mail contracts. The forced closure of Kansas City Southern Railway’s beloved passenger train marked a sad day in history for many who loved the railroad.
Old photographs of the Southern Belle serve as nostalgic reminders days-gone-by when railroading was a large and dynamic industry, with courteous crews and immaculately kept clean cars. The building of sleek multi-lane interstate highways would eventually transform the landscape of America, offering door to door convenience between destinations. With a loss of passenger and freight traffic, the dynamic American Railroad faced consolidation and bankruptcies. Costs of running passenger trains became untenable, thus government-aided Amtrak was founded in 1971 to take over long-distance train service from nearly all rail carriers. Be sure to share your favorite rail experiences with us in the comment section below.
Experience the Southern Belle by watching the 1940 inaugural journey on the following YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-u8O9rhso3I