Perhaps the most popular tourist railroad in Georgia is the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. The railroad is located in the northern mountainous regions of Georgia and operates over 13 miles (a 26-mile round trip) of a former Louisville & Nashville branch line (built by the Marietta & North Georgia Railroad), once part of the railroad's famous "Hook & Eye" route. The line has become quite a popular tourist destination in general since 1998. Much of the railroad’s success is thanks to its breathtaking scenery afforded though the Blue Ridge Mountains, located in the northern regions of Georgia.
The history of the famous "Hook & Eye" begins long before any rails were actually laid when the Ellijay Railroad was chartered in 1854. Its intent was to construct a route north from Atlanta into the northern mountains of Georgia. It was then renamed as the Marietta, Canton & Ellijay Railroad in 1859 with hopes of gaining investors, a prospect which never materialized. Finally, in 1867 new investors, headed by William Phillips of Marietta, acquired the chartered and renamed it as the Marietta & North Georgia Railroad (M&NG) with hopes of pushing rails to Murphy, North Carolina and serving marble quarries in Georgia as well as iron and copper mines in the Tarheel State.
After another decade had passed the line was opened from Marietta and a connection there with the Western & Atlantic Railroad to Canton (23 miles) on May 1, 1879. In an attempt to keep costs down the line was constructed to three-foot, narrow-gauge standards. Unfortunately, once again money troubles were encountered and the property came under new ownership in 1881, which looked to take the route in a different direction by constructing the right-of-way north of Canton to standard-gauge albeit laid to narrow-gauge specifications. By 1884 rails had reached Ellijay, roughly at the half-way point, a distance of 67 miles. Two years later the line was completed to Murphy, a distance of 107 miles and officially opened in 1887, which offered a connection with that later became the Southern Railway.
By then the M&NG was again under new management, this time headed by R.M. Pulsifer of Boston, which wanted to use the railroad as part of a through route to Knoxville, Tennessee. According to George Hilton's authoritative book on the subject, "American Narrow-Gauge Railroads," the original plan was to extend the line north from Murphy. However, the topography proved too challenging and expensive resulting in a new surveyed via Blue Ridge, Georgia, 25 miles to the south. Built by a new subsidiary known as the Knoxville Southern Railroad, which began construction in 1889 and completed to Knoxville on August 9, 1890 and brought up to standard-gauge in the process (the now-branch line to Murphy was converted in 1897).
In January of 1891 the company suffered another receivership and was not reorganized until 1896 as the Atlanta, Knoxville & Northern Railway. During construction of the M&NG, the line was never built to particularly high standards and so to eliminate expensive feats of engineering, switchbacks were used in various locations. Under AK&N management these cumbersome switchbacks were largely removed. Once such area improved created the "Eye" of the famous "Hook & Eye Line" was constructed near Farner, Tennessee where the nearly 8,000 foot Hiwassee Loop was built up Bald Mountain. It then crossed back over upon itself using a 60-foot-high wooden trestle that offered relatively manageable 1.5% grade.
The "Hook" had long been in place during the original construction of the narrow-gauge line north of Talking Rock, Georgia (near Tate) which featured a tight, double-reverse curve. It remained in use until the 1950s when then owner Louisville & Nashville, which acquired the AK&N in 1902, eliminated the "Hook" by building straight through the mountain for easier grades and softer curves. Soon after acquiring the AK&N the L&N, which used its new asset to originally reach Atlanta, constructed a better engineered line to the west. This bumped the "Hook & Eye" into a secondary role (where it became known as the "Old Line") where it forever remained.
Still, the line offered enough traffic that it remained use through the CSX merger of 1980. That year the section of the Murphy Branch from Murphy to Mineral Bluff was removed. The rest, however, remains in use to this day, operated by the Georgia Northeastern Railroad since 198. While the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway is an independently operated tourist line it is a subsidiary of the Georgia Northeastern. This railroad, based in Marietta, Georgia hauls a variety of freight ranging from timber to marble and its tourist line operates a route branching off from its main line at Blue Ridge. Aside from the Blue Ridge Scenic’s standard excursions it also plays host to specials such as river rafting/biking adventures and The Santa Express, which runs during November and December. The former activity is provided in conjunction with the Rolling Thunder River Company, where you are dropped off by train. From there they take you to either the nearby Toccoa River or Ocoee River to enjoy a day of either floating downriver or challenge the rapids.
Additionally, you can be taken to nearby biking trails or the appropriately-named Lake Kayak. All of these activities are rather popular during the warmer months of the year drawing a lot of folks to the railroad. While the Blue Ridge Scenic does not operate any steam locomotives, at least at this time, they do use a small collection of older diesel locomotives, all of which are early Geep (General Purpose, or GP) models. When not being used in passenger service these locomotives typically pull freight on as-needed basis. As for the railroad's equipment, they currently feature a roster totaling eleven cars. Three of these are covered, open-air designs, one has been modified for handicap access (it can load/unload scooters and wheelchairs), a concession car that features light snacks and beverages (along with a small gift shop), and the rest are standard coaches.
So, if you’re even in northern Georgia considering stopping by and visiting the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. Between the scenic beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and experience of riding a train (where you can ride in either open or enclosed cars), you shouldn’t be disappointed. To learn more about the Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad please visit their website. There you can learn more about all of the train rides they have to offer, their calendar schedule, and special trips. Also, if you would like to book your trip ahead you can do so directly through their website by either calling or reserving online (they actually recommend booking in advance as it is not uncommon for trains to sell out).