The Clinchfield Railroad

The Clinchfield Railroad is one of the less notable fallen flags, most likely due to its very small size, only a tad over 300 miles at its peak! However, the railroad does hold an important place in railroading history and is best remembered as another of the Appalachian coal haulers, lugging millions of tons of black diamonds from the mountains of Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Along with the railroad’s association with coal it also served as a very effective north-south bridge line for traffic of railroads such as the Southern and Chesapeake & Ohio.  The CRR's earliest history dated to the 1800s although its modern form was not realized until the 20th century.  Early on the railroad became a subsidiary of two larger southern systems although it remained mostly independent until the 1970s when its identity slowly disappeared.

During the late Clinchfield era SD45-2 #3608 lays over at the yard in Shelbiana, Kentucky on May 30, 1982.

The CRR has its roots as early as that of the Baltimore & Ohio itself, 1827, but its more modern form occurred in early spring 1908 when George Carter merged a number of started, but never finished, railroads in the southeastern Appalachia region into the Carolina, Clinchfield & Ohio Railway. From here Carter set about completing and linking the railroads along with building new as well. This in itself was quite a task due to the very rugged topography. However, Carter would go on to complete the lines and by 1915 had finished the railroad into much of its final form which was a strategic north-south link connecting Elkhorn City, Kentucky with Spartanburg, South Carolina.

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The Famous "Clinchfield Loops"

Other Fabled Southern Lines

Louisville & Nashville, "The Old Reliable"

A History Of The Family Lines System 

Seaboard Air Line, "Through The Heart Of The South"

Interstate Railroad, Southwestern Virginia's Coal-Hauler 

Seaboard Coast Line, "We're Pulling For You"

Central of Georgia, Serving The Deep South

Atlantic Coast Line, "Standard Railroad Of The South"

Florida East Coast, "Speedway To Sunshine"

Lancaster & Chester, "The Springmaid Line" 

Aberdeen & Rockfish, Serving North Carolina Since 1892

The Original Norfolk Southern, Before Today's NS

Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac: Staying True To Its Slogan, "Linking North & South" 

Durham & Southern, "Service With Courtesy"

East Tennessee & Western North Carolina, "The Tweetsie" 

Norfolk & Western, From Tipple To Tidewater

Southern Railway, "Look Ahead - Look South"

Barely recognizable beneath all of that grime, Clinchfield GP38 #2006 and cabless covered wagon are seen here at the engine terminal in Erwin, Tennessee on April 3, 1971. The heavy grime eventually forced the railroad to replace its grey livery with a solid black scheme.

Not only did Carter finish what would become the railroad’s principle main line, he did so in magnificent engineering fashion managing to keep the ruling grade at under 2%! The railroad was so well constructed that it has changed little over the decades and continues to see many CSX freights daily hauling, you guessed it, coal!  The Clinchfield name itself is actually a paper railroad created by the Louisville & Nashville and Atlantic Coast Line railroads to lease the Carolina, Clinchfield & Ohio Railway in 1924 (an agreement that was inked for 999 years). For the rest of the railroad’s existence it would carry the Clinchfield name and its status changed little over that time, hauling coal and bridge traffic for the Louisville & Nashville, Atlantic Coast Line, Chesapeake & Ohio, and Southern.

The biggest change for the Clinchfield occurred in the mid-1970s when it came under the Family Lines System banner with the L&N, the new Seaboard Coast Line (a merger between the ACL and Seaboard Air Line), and a number of other smaller lines. With this came a new livery applied to all of the railroads (with sub-lettering stenciled under locomotive cabs identifying each company) and gone was the Clinchfield’s familiar black and yellow paint scheme (prior to this the CRR had a gray and yellow livery with black lettering).   As the 1970s gave way to the 1980s the Clinchfield Railroad would officially be merged out of existence. When the Family Lines System became the Seaboard System Railroad in 1982 under the CSX Transportation banner with the Chessie System there was little need for so many different company names and the Clinchfield along with its other allied roads were merged out of existence.

A special Clinchfield excursion, led by a pair of shined-up F7A's, sparkles along the Loops as it stops for a moment near Rocky, North Carolina during September of 1974.

Until 2015 the former Clinchfield route served as a vital coal artery as part of CSX.  However, the Class I announced on October 15th of that year significant reductions along the old CRR network as a result of more than $1 billion in losses in coal tonnage since 2012.  The moved resulted in roughly 300 employees either losing their jobs or being transferred to other areas of the CSX system.  In addition the railroad has plans to mothball or close section of the entire Clinchfield main line between Elkhorn City, Kentucky and Spartanburg, South Carolina.  Officially, the corridors affected included the Kingsport Subdivision between Shelby Yard in Pikeville, Kentucky and Erwin, Tennessee along with the Blue Ridge Subdivision between Erwin and Spartanburg. 

Big Clinchfield power, led by a quartet of SD45-2's, is ahead of an empty Louisville & Nashville coal train headed westbound towards the Kentucky coalfields at Appalachia, Virginia during July of 1973.

Diesel Locomotive Roster

American Locomotive Company (Alco)

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
S43034, 3039, 3049Leased3

Clinchfield's famous "One Spot," 4-6-0 #1 is dwarfed by the pair of B units acting as head-end power during an excursion passing through Apex, North Carolina in June of 1977. The ten-wheeler was built for the railroad in 1882 and is currently on display at the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore.

Electro-Motive Corporation/Electro-Motive Division

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
GP164600-4613Ex-SCL and rebuilt GP7s14
SD403000-3008, 3015-30241966-197119
GP38-26000-6006, 60451978-19798
SD40-28127-8129, 8131-81321980-19815

General Electric (GE)

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity

A rare Elecro-Motive NW3, Clinchfield #361, is seen here in Erwin, Tennessee on March 30, 1971. This unit began its career as Great Northern #5405 in 1942.

Steam Locomotive Roster

For more information on the Clinchfield's steam roster please click here.

Class Type Wheel Arrangement
E-1, E-3Challenger4-6-6-4
G-1, G-2Ten-Wheeler4-6-0
H-1, H-2, H-4Consolidation2-8-0
K-1 Through K-4Mikado2-8-2
L-1 Through L-3Articulated2-8-8-2
M-1 Through M-3Articulated2-6-6-2
P-1, P-2Pacific4-6-2

Clinchfield covered wagons rest at the engine terminal in Erwin, Tennessee on the evening of October 16, 1966. Nearest the photographer is F7A #802 while in the background can be seen F7A #821.

The results of this move will almost certainly affect the famous Santa Claus Special, originally started during the Christmas of 1943 and has operated every year since. Over the past 60+ years of its annual holiday trek the train has operated over roughly the very same Clinchfield main line since its first year of operation. Today it is co-sponsored by both the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce and of course, CSX. Since its first year the train was an instant hit and has only become more popular through the years.     But alas, with its route being affect the train may be discontinued or at least transferred to another region.  For much more reading about the history of the Clinchfield please click here to read this PDF document by noted rail historian Ron Flanary.

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