The history of the Southern Railway begins in the second half of the 19th century when in late February 1868 the project was submitted for consideration, and in early March the Kharkiv mayor M. Shatunov received a telegram from St. Petersburg: "Our petition was a success. The High Behest to build the Kursk-Kharkiv-Azov railway betided. Work is expected to begin simultaneously all across the way. Congratulations to the city!” Thus, the decision was made to build a trunk line, which began in May 1868 from the Belgorod-Kharkiv section. In May 1869, the people of Kharkiv met the first train. Regular traffic in the direction of Kursk-Belgorod-Kharkiv with a length of 229 versts (244,297 kilometres) was opened in July 1869, and by the end of the same year 1869 the route from Kharkiv to Rostov with a length of 538 versts (573,938 kilometres) was put into operation.
The Kursk-Kharkiv-Azov Railway Administration was located in Kharkiv. Its structure was as follows: the railway was headed by a manager, the work of services was managed by offices of traffic, traction, chief engineer, shop bureaus, telegraph. The chancellery and the payroll department were of great significance. In 1875, track assembly and track repair control services were added to the initial services.
The second part and especially the end of the 19th century was marked by a real boom in railway construction in Slobozhanshchina: the Kharkiv-Mykolaiv and Lozova-Sevastopil railways appeared after the construction of the Kursk-Kharkiv-Azov railway. In 1896 the railway was renamed as the Kursk-Kharkiv-Sevastopil, and since January 1, 1907 on the basis of the relevant government decree the Kursk-Kharkiv-Sevastopil and Kharkiv-Mykolaiv railways were united into one network under the common name of the Southern Railways. In 1913, the length of the railways laid on the Ukrainian lands, which at that time were part of the Russian Empire, was more than ten thousand kilometres, and almost half of them belonged to the Southern Railways.
At that time, the technical supply of the railway, as well as the volume of operational and freight work reached the highest level for the entire pre-revolutionary period. Operational performance improvement was achieved through the introduction of new equipment and advanced technologies in all industries.
During the years of imperialist and civil wars, the infrastructure of the Southern Railways suffered significant damage. There was practically no rolling stock left, as well as highly qualified, technically competent staff. A lot of effort and time was spent on restoring the destroyed railway industry, which was able to serve the country's transportation needs. The volume of freight traffic reached the pre-war level only in the early thirties.
In February 1934, in accordance with the order of the People's Commissar of Communication Routs of the USSR, the Southern Railways were branched into two independent ones - the Southern and the Donetsk.
During the first five years of the railway exploitation new stations and railway stations were built, second tracks were laid, railway junctions were reconstructed, and the technology of transportation and loading and unloading processes were improved. New locomotives and wagons came on the line, and permanent way was replaced with heavier types of rails during the repair work. Autoblocking, autocoupling and Centralized Traffic Control were widely introduced.
During World War II, the Southern Railway provided timely the delivery of weapons, ammunition, fuel and food. New forms of rolling stock maintenance were used including the organization of locomotive columns from the NKVD special reserve, which carried out mass transportation to the front. Armoured trains created on the trunk line were staffed by railway crews. That is why the transitional Red Flag of the State Defense Committee was transferred to the railway for permanent storage.
Thousands of railway workers also took a direct part in warfare on the fronts during the war. 26 railroad workers of the Southern Railway were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union for courage and bravery shown in battles. During the years of Nazi occupation, the railway suffered great damage - up to 80% of tracks, 75% of bridges were brought out of operation, locomotive and car depots, signaling and communication facilities, water and energy supply systems, and service buildings were completely destroyed. Despite all the difficulties, the reconstruction work on the railway was in full swing, and three years after the end of the war, the Southern Railway reached its pre-war level. During the post-war years, trunk lines were used to rebuild destroyed facilities, to reconstruct and build new stations and railway stations, to build railways, to introduce new technical means of communication and signaling, and to replace locomotive traction with electric and diesel traction.
In 1957, the first commuter electric trains went from Kharkiv to Merefa. The Kharkiv electric train was the beginning of the implementation of the Southern Railway electrification plan. In 1960–1961, the suburban sections Liubotyn – Kharkiv, Kharkiv – Losieve, Osnova – Krasnyi Lyman (Donetsk Railway) were electrified.
Starting from the 1960s, steam locomotive and electric tractions were introduced on the railway, heavy type tracks were laid. The main production capability was introduced to increase the carrying and freight capacity of the railway sections, stations and railway junctions. Social infrastructure was also developed.
In recognition of the staff services and in connection with the 100th anniversary of the trunk line in 1969, the Southern Railway was awarded the highest honor of the USSR - the Order of Lenin. During the seventies and eighties of the last century, the selfless work of its staff who consisted of thousands of people was repeatedly marked by the transitional Red Flag of the winner of the of the Ministry and the Council of Trade Unions social competition.
After the dissolution of the USSR, overcoming the severe economic challenges of the 1990s, the railway managed to embark on a path of development and today it remains at the forefront of the introduction of modern technologies.