Piedmont Air Line System – origins of the Southern Crescent

Piedmont Air Line System

Richmond & Danville Railroad locomotive photographed in Atlanta, 1891

Piedmont Air Line System

Before the Southern Railway, there was the Richmond and Danville Railroad (R&D). The railroad operated from 1847 to 1894. It became part of the Southern Railway system in 1894. The R&D offered service from New York to New Orleans, starting in the 1870s. They named the train the “Piedmont Air-Line System.”

piedmont air line system

Advertisement in the Chataigne’s Directory of Richmond, Virginia 1882—83.

R&D connected with other railroads, providing through service south-to-north. The full connection involved:

  • Richmond & Danville RR
  • North Carolina RR
  • Northwestern North Carolina RR
  • Charlotte, Columbia & Agusta RR
  • Atlanta & Charlotte Airline Railway
  • Columbia & Greenville RR

The route carried mail. So, fast trains profited from US Mail service.

Travel to New York


R&D promoted the Piedmont Air-Line System through advertisements in New Orleans newspapers. So, this was an ad in the Daily Picayune on Friday 6-May-1881. It boasts of a 61 1/2 hour travel time, New Orleans to New York.

southern crescent origins

Comings and goings of travelers using the Piedmont Air Line, 15-Jul-1886

The system was used regularly by locals and visitors to New Orleans. This was part of the “Personal and General Notes” in the Daily Picayune, Thursday, 15-July-1886. It mentions several individuals traveling the Piedmont Air Line, heading north.

Pullman Cars

The sleeping cars operated by the Pullman Car Company bound the Piedmont Air Line together. While the track and locomotives were owned by the individual railroads, the sleeper cars that journeyed from New Orleans to New York belonged to Pullman. The railroads attached the sleeping cars to their trains. This enabled smaller railroads to connect into a system. So, as the trains went north, they picked up additional cars, particularly at Atlanta. Pullman hired African-American men as porters, cooks, and waiters for the sleeping and dining cars. The porters stayed with their assigned cars as they passed from one railroad to another. This arrangement continued through World War II.

Merger into Southern Railway

Financial problems plagued the R&D by the 1890s. The railroad and its 3300 miles of track went into receivership in 1892. In 1894, the R&D merged together with four other railroads to form the Southern Railway system. Southern Railway renamed the Piedmont Air Line System, calling the northbound train the New York Limited. The southbound train became the Washington & Southwestern Limited.