Georgia Southwestern Railroad

Georgia Southwestern Railroad locomotive

(From: Frankie Grove collection. Some rights reserved.)

Georgia Southwestern, which began operations in 1989, is a short line common carrier railroad operating primarily in the lower Chattahoochee and lower Flint River area of Georgia.

It currently (2012) operates 234 miles of track including a line from Columbus to Americus, a line from Smithville to White Oak, AL; and a line from Cuthbert to Lynn, on the north side of Bainbridge.

In 1989 it was the Georgia Southwestern Division of South Carolina Central Railroad, which itself was owned by RailTex, then a San Antonio-based owner/operator of shortline railroads in several states. At the time, GSWR operated tracks from Columbus to Bainbridge and from Rhine (near McRae) to Mahrt, AL. These two former Seaboard Coast Line routes, which crossed at Richland, totalled 288 miles.

In 1994 the east end of the Rhine-to-Mahrt line was shortened with the abandonment of the section between Rhine and Rochelle. This included a bridge over the Ocmulgee River east of Abbeville.

RailTex had two other Georgia subsidiaries, Georgia & Alabama Railroad and Georgia Great Southern Railroad. In 1995, it consolidated these into Georgia Southwestern. As a result, the GSWR added a 73-mile line from Smithville to White Oak, AL, once a branch of the Central of Georgia, along with a 22-mile line from Dawson to Albany that was once part of SCL's Columbus-Albany line.

The latter addition, however, had been severely damaged in 1994 by Tropical Storm Alberto; it was abandoned in 1996.

Also abandoned, in 1995, was most of the segment of line between Cusseta and Cuthbert. This was the north-south line through Richland, which left that town with only its east-west railroad. The next year it lost that too as the route between Preston and Mahrt was abandoned due to a loss of shipments from the Mahrt paper mill.

To replace the abandoned north-south trackage, GSWR leased from Norfolk Southern most of its route between Columbus and Americus and acquired trackage rights on the remainder. Trackage rights from Smithville to Albany and from Smithville to Americus were gained in separate arrangements.

In 1998, Georgia Southwestern leased from Georgia DOT
67 miles of rail line between Vidalia and Rochelle. Part of this trackage (Rhine to Vidalia) had been previously owned and operated by the Georgia Central Railway.

RailAmerica purchased RailTex in February 2000.

Georgia Southwestern Railroad

GSWR no. 4027. (Emmett Tullos photo. Some rights reserved. Photo cropped to show details.)

In mid-2000, Georgia Southwestern turned over operation of the 178-mile Vidalia-Mahrt line to the new Heart of Georgia Railroad.

In March 2002, RailAmerica sold Georgia Southwestern to a group of local investors. As part of the sale, Georgia DOT bought 102 miles of track and associated real estate, while the local investors purchased the capital stock and eight locomotives. DOT purchased three lines: Cuthbert to Bainbridge (68.3 miles); Columbus to Cusseta (24.6 miles); and Dawson to Sasser (9.3 miles). These were leased to GSWR.

The Dawson-to-Sasser purchase was associated with a plan to reopen the line between Dawson and Albany that had been abandoned by Georgia Great Southern after the 1994 floods. The southern section of that line, 13.62 miles between Sasser and Albany, had been transferrred to a rail-trail group. GSWR sought to reactivate that section for rail use, hoping to avoid some of the trackage-rights expense paid to Norfolk Southern. While GSWR was successful in reclaiming the corridor, the line from Sasser to Albany has not been reopened.

In 2005, GSWR acquired from Norfolk Southern 43 track miles of the former Central of Georgia line between Florida Rock (north of Columbus) and Allie (north of Greenville), along with 12 miles of trackage rights from Florida Rock to south Columbus. This line was abandoned in 2007.

In October 2008, Georgia Southwestern was acquired by Genesee & Wyoming.

Georgia Southwestern Railroad, 1989 map

Georgia Southwestern Railroad and its connections in 1989.
(From: Frankie Grove collection. Some rights reserved.)

Reporting marks: GSWR.


2012 map (32K)

1990 map of north-south (Columbus-Bainbridge) line (241K)

1990 map of east-west (Rhine-to-Mahrt) line (160K)

Georgia Southwestern Railroad website. Georgia's Railroad History & Heritage. © Steve Storey

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