A Glance Back at Kansas City’s Southern Belle

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:

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4 years ago

I fondly remember traveling by train. My father worked for one of the railroads, so once each year he could get a “pass,” i.e. a free ticket, for himself and his dependents to travel by train to almost anywhere because the railroads had reciprocity agreements. So, each summer we took a vacation, traveling by train to New York City, Washington, D.C., Niagara Falls, various places in Texas, and many other places. Now these passes were only for day-coach fare, so we didn’t usually have compartments or sleeper berths, but we did have access to the dining car and the observation car (if so equipped). But, I can also remember the train stopping in small cities and having vendors come aboard to sell sandwiches and other small food items. Sometimes, we would prepare food to take with us that would last the first day or two. I can also remember during the period when diesel engines were being introduced but they would still, sometimes, connect a steam locomotive for some portions of the run, such as mountains. It was a great way to travel, just sitting by the window and looking at the American scenery as we rode along. It was much different from driving because when you are driving you are watching the speed limit and other road signs, looking at the car ahead of you to make sure he doesn’t slow or stop suddenly, or for a place where you can pass him, and, sure, you can get some glimpses of the scenery, but it is far different than relaxing on the train and not having to worry about such matters. I wish there were more train trips that I could take, but today they are as expensive as a cruise.

4 years ago

We need trains today that link up with just the major cities so you can drive your car up on the train and get off at the nearest large city closest to your final destination.

Gloria P. Sterling
4 years ago

Very nice; however, there were other lines that had nice ones, also. My Daddy worked for L&N and I remember some super ones that came through our town of Bay St. Louis. It was in the deal by those from whom the right-of-way was acquired that ALL trains would stop in our little town, so even the lushest stopped. I remember troops being transported, also. It was really the best of times for the railroads.

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