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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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