I live near Birmingham, AL and am a member of the National Model Railroad Association - Southeastern Region - Steel City Division. I have been a model railroader since 1999 and have built, torn down and/or modified several HO scale layouts during this time. For my latest effort, started in early 2011, I wanted a railroad that could be easily identified locally and be built with operations in mind (more on that later).
A logical choice for the railroad was the Birmingham Southern Railroad (BSRR). It was an industrial short line serving the steel industries in the western areas of Birmingham and Jefferson County. I say “was” because although the rail line is still in operations, it was purchased by Watco, Inc. in January 2012 and is now operated as the Birmingham Terminal Railroad (BHRR). My layout is focused on operations of the BSRR during the 5 or so years before it's sale to Watco. I have nothing against Watco, but at the time of their takeover I had just finished painting, decaling and weathering my locomotive fleet to match the BSRR prototypes. I didn't want to start over to reproduce any Watco paint and/or logo schemes or to add any locomotives they might bring in (which they did).
Much of the track that would ultimately become part of the BSRR started out belonging to other companies and railroads, primarily those that produced and/or hauled the raw materials for the growing Birmingham steel industry. These would include Pratt Coal and Coke Co., Bessemer Iron and Steel Co., Cahaba Coal Mining Co., Birmingham Mineral Railroad, Ensley Southern Railroad and the Southern Railway Company. From 1877 to 1898 these coal companies and track owned by the various railroads were acquired by the Tennessee Coal, Iron and R.R. Company (TCI). All this track, and more constructed by TCI, became the BSRR in 1899 to, according to its charter, allow TCI to “build, own and operate all such railroads as might be necessary to enable it to properly develop its mining and manufacturing industries”.
Over the next 100 years TCI became part of US Steel, and the BSRR expanded from just operating at USS locations to serving numerous other companies engaged in mining and steel related activities. In 1988 the railroad became part of Transtar, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of USS, and was sold to Watco in 2012. The current railroad owns 76 miles of track, has over 30 diesel locomotives and over 900 freight cars. It also interchanges with three Class I railroads - Norfolk Southern, BNSF and CSX.
This is a map showing the BSRR track in the Birmingham area as it was in 2008. Click on it to make it larger.
For a complete history of the railroad and the related mining and steel industry, please take a look at the following:
Birmingham Southern Railroad Company -The First Century - an excellent book by Ron Mele.
www.bhamrails.info - an extremely informative web site by John Stewart.
Now that I picked out my railroad to model, it's on to the design and construction............. see next page.