The following is a general timeline for the operation of the Birmingham Mineral Railroad. Some dates are not specific due to the fact that history has not recorded the specific month and day for some items. This is a work-in-progress, and additional information may be added later, or refinements may be made to the information presented here. NOTE: Generally, when a railroad segment (such as a Branch of the BMRR) ceased operations, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) would issue a “Certificate and Decision” authorizing the railroad company to abandon the line (Branch). The abandonment date was set by the involved railroad which would notify the ICC as to the date on which it would exercise the abandonment authority. Sometimes, the abandoned line would remain in place for an extended period before it was removed, but the removal generally occurred relatively soon after the abandonment. The dates below for the ending of some of the BMRR segments often are referenced as the segment having been abandoned. SOURCE: Much of the information presented here has been provided by Lyle Key, and some of it is from documents provided by Tom Denney. Thank you both.
SEE ALSO section in main menu entitled “HISTORY OF THE BMRR.”
March 19, 1884 — The Birmingham Mineral Railroad (BMRR) received its certificate of incorporation to begin operations. [In 2017, this was 133 years ago.]
1884 — The first rails of the BMRR were laid for the South Branch in what is now Red Mountain Park. The park’s “South Trail” is built on the roadbed of the BMRR South Branch. (Part of the construction of the South Branch and the North Branch had begun January 12, 1884.)
June 1, 1884 — South Branch initial segment completed. (Continued operating until November 1942.)
1887 — North Branch completed. (Can be thought of as “continuing operations to the present” because active freight rails have been built on, and are using, the original BMRR roadbed. Today, it is referred to as the “Duncan Block.”)
1887 — L & N passenger depot (sometimes referred to as “Union Station”) was completed in downtown Birmingham at the intersection of Morris Avenue and 20th Street North. The total cost of $134,163.95 included expenditures for the station itself as well as for passenger tracks, a trainshed, etc. (Source: The L & N Employees’ Magazine, February 1940. Provided by Tom Denney.)
1887 — Gate City Branch completed. (Continued “operating” until 1984, and a 1.3 mile segment continued to handle limited industrial material until 1988.)
1888 and 1889 — Gate City Branch was extended from “Red Gap” near downtown Irondale to the Ruffner Mountain ore mines, to Vanes, and to Trussville.
1888 — Huntsville Branch No. 1 completed. (Can be thought of as “continuing operations to the present” because active freight rails have been built on, and are using, portions of the original BMRR roadbed.)
1889 — Huntsville Branch No. 2 completed from Boyles Yard in Birmingham to Champion Mines in the Oneonta area. Rails were extended to the Altoona area in 1900, 1901, and 1903. Much of this branch was later sold to Cheney Railroad.
1889 — Red Gap Branch bridge over street from Birmingham into Homewood (near current Vulcan Park) was completed.
Mid-1889 — Helena and Blocton Branch completed between Helena (Tacoa) and Gurnee Junction. (L&N subsequently gained access to Blocton by acquiring trackage rights over the Brierfield Blocton and Birmingham which later became part of Southern Railway.)
January 11, 1890 — Red Gap Branch completed. “Saturday morning at Graces, four miles south of Birmingham, the last spike went in the Red Gap branch of the Birmingham Mineral road.” (Source: The Atlanta Constitution, January 14, 1890, Page 5. Provided by Tom Denney) The Red Gap Branch continued operating until 1954 when the tracks were removed from English Village to Irondale. Previously, the tracks had been removed from the Vulcan Park area to West Homewood — see November 14, 1933, below.)
1890 or 1891 — Dudley Branch completed (5.52 miles). (Source: Eleventh Annual Report of the Railroad Commissioners of Alabama for the Year Ending June 30th, 1891, Page 127. Provided by Tom Denney)
1890, 1892, 1896, 1905, and 1907 — BMRR is shown on older maps as serving mines on the north side of Red Mountain in the area that is now Red Mountain Park. Some of those maps spanning from 1890 to 1907 are USGS maps, and one of the maps (dated 1896) is of the Spring Gap Mine (aka TCI Ishkooda No. 11 Mine). Later USGS maps (starting in 1953) show those tracks as no longer being connected to the BMRR but instead being connected to Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad (TCI) tracks via the High Line to Fairfield. (Sources: 1890, 1892, 1905, 1907, and 1953 USGS maps; 1896 map of Spring Gap Mine in Report on the Valley Regions of Alabama, Part II, Geological Survey of Alabama, 1897.) (Spring Gap Mine map provided by Tom Denney.)
1891 and continuing into future years (see 1904) — In addition to passenger service, the BMRR was providing mail service and railway express service. (“Railway Express” was the parcel delivery system that can be roughly equated to today’s UPS or FedEx.) In addition to the mining and iron industry materials it was hauling, the BMRR also was hauling significant tonnages of products of agriculture, animals (livestock), forests, and manufacturing. (Source: Eleventh Annual Report of the Railroad Commissioners of Alabama for the Year Ending June 30th, 1891, Pages 123 and 127. Provided by Tom Denney.)
March 12, 1898 — Biggest day’s freight business ever done to date on the BMRR. According to the Montgomery Advertiser, the Birmingham News reported that the biggest day’s freight business ever done on the Birmingham Mineral Railroad was transacted on March 12, 1898. The Birmingham News indicated that “There were 2,525 cars handled, of which number 1,475 were loads. There were no delays and no accidents. The figures of course include work done on the several branches of the Mineral. There were nearly a hundred trains handled.” (Source: The Montgomery Advertiser, March 15, 1898, Page 3. Provided by Tom Denney)
1900, 1901, 1904, and 1905 — Huntsville Branch No. 2 was extended from Oneonta to Altoona and beyond. (See also 1904/1905, 1905, and May 28, 1905, below.)
January 11, 1904 — Birmingham Mineral Railroad (which originally had been incorporated as a separate entity) property, rights, and franchises were deeded to L&N. Thus, Birmingham Mineral ceased to exist as a separate corporate entity, but L&N continued to group the old Birmingham Mineral lines in its “Birmingham Mineral Division.”
1904 — Records show that the BMRR was continuing to provide mail service and railway express service. (“Railway Express” was the parcel delivery system that can be roughly equated to today’s UPS or FedEx.) In addition to the mining and iron industry materials it was hauling, the BMRR continued hauling significant tonnages of products of agriculture, animals (livestock), forests, and manufacturing. (Source: Twenty Fourth Annual Report of the Railroad Commissioners of Alabama for the Year Ending June 30, 1904, Pages 270 and 278-279. Provided by Tom Denney.)
1904/1905 — In 1904, the portion of the BMRR from Altoona to Moragne (1.5 miles north of Attalla) was completed except for the Tumlin Gap tunnel through Blount Mountain which was completed in 1905. (Source: Railroad Gazette, Thirty-seventh Quarto Volume, From June 17, 1904 to December 31, 1905. Provided by Tom Denney.)
1905 — Tumlin Gap tunnel through Blount Mountain was finished, and this completed the extensive Huntsville Branch No. 2 running from Boyle’s Yard in North Birmingham all the way to Moragne where it connected to tracks running to Attalla (where it was able to connect to L&N’s Alabama Mineral Railroad). (Source: Railroad Gazette, Thirty-seventh Quarto Volume, From June 17, 1904 to December 31, 1905. Provided by Tom Denney.)
May 28, 1905 — Missing link was completed between Birmingham Mineral Railroad in Oneonta/Altoona and Alabama Mineral Railroad (also an L&N railroad) in Attalla. This provided a complete loop through the central part of Alabama from Birmingham northeast through Attalla then south and southwest through east central Alabama cities to Calera and then north back to Birmingham. (Source: The L & N Employees’ Magazine, February 1940. Provided by Tom Denney.)
August 8, 1912 — Opening of the L&N Tuscaloosa Mineral Division (aka Tuscaloosa Mineral Railroad) and opening of the L&N Train Station (Depot) in downtown Tuscaloosa. The Tuscaloosa Mineral Division/Railroad later became known as the L&N’s “Birmingham & Tuscaloosa Railroad” which was a major branch of the L&N Birmingham Mineral Railroad. (The depot has been beautifully restored by Bill and Bebe Lloyd and currently houses their “301 Bistro, Bar, and Beer Garden.”)
Early 1930’s — New raised platform at L&N “Union Station” in downtown Birmingham went into use after completion of the grade separation project to elevate the tracks above street level. That original platform with its butterfly shed (overhead roof structure and support pillars) is still in use today as the platform for the Amtrak station.
April or May 1933 — Gate City Branch from Ruffner Mountain Ore Mine No. 2 to Trussville was abandoned.
November 14, 1933 — Red Gap Branch from the Vulcan Park area to West Homewood was abandoned.
May 1, 1934 — South Branch segment between Reeder’s Gap (aka “Readers Gap”) and Redding was abandoned.
November 1942 — South Branch segment between Redding and Graces Gap was abandoned.
January 6, 1943 — Red Gap Branch from the Vulcan Park area to the English Village area was “abandoned” but continued to be used for periodic storage of train cars.
July 29, 1954 — Red Gap Branch from the English Village area to Irondale was abandoned. This constituted the end of operations of the Red Gap Branch, but it had remained active up until it was abandoned in 1954.
1954 — Around 1954, the local railroads were switching from steam-powered locomotives to diesel-powered locomotives, and this also was true for the Birmingham Mineral Railroad (and its companion L&N Alabama Mineral Railroad).
Late 1970’s or early 1980’s — A portion of the Birmingham & Tuscaloosa Railroad in Tuscaloosa was abandoned. The former roadbed of the Blue Creek Extension, the Dudley Branch, and part of the Birmingham & Tuscaloosa Railroad continues in use as active CSX tracks. According to Lyle Key (June 15, 2016): “Sometime toward the end of the 1970’s or during the 1980’s, the portion of that line in the City of Tuscaloosa was abandoned. As I remember what happened, a big rainstorm washed out one or more big fills in Tuscaloosa. By then, L&N didn’t have much traffic moving through Tuscaloosa and GM&O had merged with Illinois Central and had given up its trackage rights between Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. The line remained in service to a point just outside of Tuscaloosa (Holt Junction), but L&N eventually abandoned the line between Holt Junction and Brookwood. [More recent information: The BMRR roadbed of the Blue Creek Extension, the Dudley Branch, and the Birmingham & Tuscaloosa Railroad from downtown Bessemer to Holt Junction (just east of the edge of Tuscaloosa) remains in use as active CSX tracks. At Holt Junction (at Kicker Road NE), CSX leaves the BMRR roadbed and uses other roadbed to get to the south end of the yard in downtown Tuscaloosa.] The relatively new four lane highway that connects McFarland Boulevard with Highway 82 crosses the old railroad right-of-way between Highway 11 (University Boulevard) and the Black Warrior River, but now the old railroad bed has pretty much gone back to nature [but still can be seen in several locations].”
December 29, 1982 — L&N and Seaboard systems “merged” to form the Seaboard System Railroad Company, thus ending the L&N as a separate entity. The Seaboard System Railroad Company would undergo several name changes through the years (for example, “Chessie System”) before taking its current name, CSX Transportation.
June 4, 1984 — L&N’s successor Seaboard System Railroad Company abandoned a 4.2 mile long segment of the Gate City Branch near Airport Road. (Continuing to operate was a 1.3 mile long segment that served some industries south of the Birmingham Airport. This segment has now been abandoned.)
1988 — One segment of the BMRR continued in use until 1988 to handle the movement of train cars.
Present — North Branch remains in operation in the form of active freight rails that are using the original BMRR roadbed. Today, it is referred to as the “Duncan Block” and carries CSX trains.
Present — On the North Branch, the BMRR Brickyard Junction (wye) a few blocks from downtown Bessemer is partly active tracks — one side of the wye is active tracks of the North Branch (today’s Duncan Block as mentioned above), and one-half of another side of the wye is used as a siding and for train car storage with the old BMRR switch still controlling it.
Present — The end of the North Branch arrives at the BMRR Blue Creek Junction (wye) — all sides of the wye are still active tracks. That entire wye can be seen easily from behind the Lowe’s Home Improvement store in Bessemer. At the Blue Creek Junction, the BMRR Blue Creek Extension begins and heads as active tracks toward Tuscaloosa, but no longer goes all the way to Tuscaloosa.
Present — Also starting at the Blue Creek Junction, Huntsville Branch No. 1 remains “in operation” in the form of active freight tracks that are using the original BMRR roadbed from Bessemer to Boyles Yard in North Birmingham. A couple of blocks before it enters Boyles Yard, there is an original BMRR switch still in use for a siding.
Present — Both ends of the BMRR Huntsville Branch No. 2 are active tracks — (1) the southwest end is active coming out of Boyles Yard at Tarrant and active until Carson Road and (2) the northeast end is active coming out of its end north of Attalla and active until a Tyson chicken plant several miles along.
Present — In Woodstock, Alabama, southwest of Birmingham, there is a BMRR sort of wye with one side of it still in use for a siding/storage of cars. I say it is “sort of a wye” because when the entire location was in use, one side of it (a BMRR track) provided a connection to the Alabama Great Southern rail line (which became the second side of the “wye”), and the third side of the “wye” was BMRR track, but that third side went underneath the other railroad line (AGS). Maps and track charts indicate that, through the years, a true wye intersection was created several times (sometimes right at the AGS tracks and sometimes with the east-most side farther east along the AGS tracks). Later maps showed that both eastern sides were removed at different times. It appears that the eastern-most side of the wye (that was later abandoned) is reflected in several present-day property boundaries in that area.
Present — The former South & North Alabama Railroad whose roadbed still has active tracks on some of its roadbed provided some of the connections for BMRR branches to connect to each other.
Present — Yards still in use today like Boyles Yard and the yard in downtown Tuscaloosa were yards serving the BMRR from its beginning.
Present — Many original concrete BMRR mile posts and concrete whistle posts as well as siding switches are still in use alongside some of the active tracks that use the BMRR roadbed.
Present — Many BMRR trestles, bridges, and culverts still carry active tracks.
Present — The current Amtrak station platform and roof structure overhead in downtown Birmingham dates from the early 1930’s when it was the platform for the L&N passenger station which also was used by the BMRR passenger trains.
Present — The former L&N Train Station (Depot) in downtown Tuscaloosa that was located on L&N’s “Birmingham & Tuscaloosa Railroad” (a major branch of the Birmingham Mineral Railroad) has been beautifully restored by Bill and Bebe Lloyd and currently houses their “301 Bistro, Bar, and Beer Garden” at 301 Greensboro Avenue.