The Little Kanawha River Railroad (LKRR) is one of those many inconspicuous little shortlines across the country as it operates only a few short miles of railroad (less than three miles) and today serves a river-rail transload facility that is affiliated with its owner, Marietta Industrial Enterprises. For power the railroad today uses one SW1200 switcher, a former Norfolk & Western Railway unit. At one time the short stretch of trackage, now operated by the Little Kanawha River Railroad and located in the southern area of Parkersburg, WV was in real danger of being abandoned by CSX Transportation in the late 1980s but was luckily saved by the Elliot family of Marietta, OH who stepped in and purchased the line, and continues to own it today. From the Parkersburg News’ September 14th, 1989 edition:
Marietta Family Buys Old CSX Line
Elliots’ Deal a Sweet One for Rail, Workers
A South Parkersburg rail line that was destined to be abandoned has been purchased from CSX Transportation by a Marietta family. The Elliot family, which owns the Dock Side River Terminal, has purchased the 3.1 mile line that runs from the old American Viscose factory on Camden Avenue to the Ohio River Junction near the Juliana Street Bridge, where it interchanges with CSX’s main lines.
The line, which will be known as the Little Kanawha River Railroad, serves four customers: Ames Co., Badger Lumber, A.B. Chasce, and Dock Side. It possesses a 1955 model 1,200 horsepower GM diesel locomotive, acquired from the Norfolk & Western Railway. The locomotive will be used to transport rail cars provided by CSX between the plants and the Ohio River Junction.
James L. Warsher, a consultant who helped the Elliots complete the purchase, says the deal marks the first time in 69 years the South Parkersburg line has been under local ownership. “The original Little Kanawha River Railroad was incorporated in 1896 out of the Ann Street station,” Warsher explained. “When the B&O purchased the line in 1920, Wood County lost control of the rail line. Now, it has got it back.”
Warsher called the Elliots’ deal with CSX a win-win situation.
“CSX will enjoy the business from the line without having to provide it full service,” Warsher said. “The Elliots will be able to turn a profit by keeping the line’s existing customers. Where servicing four customers wouldn’t be profitable for CSX, it should be for a short line railroad.”
But the two railroad companies aren’t the only ones who win. The Little Kanawha River Railroad already has employed four former CSX workers who had been furloughed. Plus there are the plants who depend on the railroad as their economic lifeline. Warsher said there will be a definite advantage to having the line under local ownership. An advantage that could lead to further economic development along the line. “CSX doesn’t have a local person who can sit down and help you if you are interested in starting up the old Viscose plant,” Warsher said. “We would be more than happy to work with anyone interested in doing that.”
The rail line’s new owners also would be interested in discussing the possibility of establishing a local port authority. That was a hot issue here two years ago, but seems to have died since then.
The Elliots have been working closely with the City of Parkersburg’s engineering office and the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council. They have managed to acquire a Federal Railroad Administration grant that will allow work to be done at several south Parkersburg crossings. Plans call for the railroad crossings to be moved so that they cause less disruption to vehicular traffic.
Wednesday’s announcement of the purchase culminated negotiations that began in May 1987. On two previous occasions, CSX had applied to the Interstate Commerce Commission for permission to abandon the line. Although its efforts were rebuffed, CSX had been encouraged again to apply for abandonment. Indications were it would be granted the third time around.
The Elliot family business was started in the 1930s by William Elliot, who began a cement business and a towboat enterprise. When he died about a dozen years ago, the firm was placed in the hands of his sons; Scott, Burt, and Grant. Grant will serve as president of the Little Kanawha River Railroad.
~ Many thanks to the late John G. King for much of the information provided on this page.
As much optimism as once surrounded the line when it first began operations is, unfortunately, no more. Despite this, the railroad has continued to survive for nearly 18 years now so who knows, perhaps industry will one day return to the South Parkersburg area lured by the prospect of available rail transport to ship its goods. For more reading on shortlines like the Little Kanawha River Railroad consider the book American Shortline Railway Guide from author Ed Lewis. The book has gone through several updated editions to keep up with the ever-changing world of the shortline industry. Today, the publication highlights almost 600 shortlines across the country with general background information about each. If you have any interest in shortlines you will very likely enjoy this book. If you're interested in perhaps purchasing this book please visit the link below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.