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.  Today, it remains an important part of the CSX system.

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.

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 vast collection of Louisville & Nashville/Family Lines power sits in the yard at Ravenna, Kentucky on May 25, 1981.

Today, the CRR continues to serve CSX well and one part of the company continues to live on through its successor, its 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.

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Diesel Locomotive Roster

American Locomotive Company (Alco)

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

The 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

Steam Locomotive Roster

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 SD40 #3015 rests in the yard at Shelbiana on May 30, 1982. Today, the entire CRR main line remains in use by successor CSX.

Although not as striking as the steam era when such proteges as "One Spot" was up front, when the train is scheduled to make its annual journey delivering presents and goodies to little ones literally thousands of folks along the route will come out to see it and even meet the special guest that now accompanies the train (usually a singer[s] or other famous person). So if you are ever in eastern Kentucky, western Virginia, or eastern Tennessee along the Clinchfield’s main line during the holiday season in mid-November you may want to keep an eye out for Santa because who knows, he may make a special early appearance by train!

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