first system dates back to 1833 when the Wilmington & Weldon
was charted to connect its namesake cities, which it completed on March
7th, 1840. By doing so the railroad became the longest railroad
operated in the world at that time, spanning some 161 miles! By the
turn of the century the W&W would become part of the ever-growing
Atlantic Coast Line system. Following the W&W's opening, North
quickly became an important traffic generating and terminating state as
it not only grew much tobacco and cotton but also became heavily
industrialized, particularly in textiles. In time the Tar Heel State
would become home to four of the South's best-remembered railroads.
Today, North Carolina is mostly the realm of CSX and Norfolk Southern Railway with NS's ex-Southern main line running through Charlotte and Greensboro (along with numerous other secondary lines) and CSX's ex-Clinchfield in the mountains and SAL and ACL main lines near the coast. The rest of the Tar Heel State's rails are operated by numerous shortlines and include the historic Aberdeen & Rockfish Railroad, Winston-Salem Southbound Railway, Atlantic & Western railway, Carolina Coastal Railway, Carolina Southern Railroad, Laurinburg & Southern Railroad, Pee Dee River Railway, Wilmington Terminal Railroad, and the Chesapeake & Albemarle Railroad.
Having visited North Carolina on countless occasions throughout my life I
must say that its railroading is very unique and interesting as it
really does offer a little of everything from an operational standpoint.
I have seen both the Laurinburg & Southern and Chesapeake &
Ablemarble Railroads in operation and enjoyed every bit of it. I also
was lucky enough to have a friend give me a quick tour of Raleigh's rail
operations (which includes both NS and CSX) and was as fascinated by
the scenes of history still present, as the trains themselves.
Today, North Carolina is home to just over 3,000 miles of trackage, which is about 59% of its one-time total of more than 5,500 in the 1920s. With a loss of about 41% of its railroad infrastructure since then, North Carolina has fared better than the national average of 45%-50%. Additionally, in recent years the state has been proactive in preserving rail corridors for potential future use. For more information on North Carolina in terms of route mileage over the years please take a look at the chart below.
Passenger and commuter rail in North Carolina are, to put it bluntly,
a step above the rest of the country. The Tar Heel State is being
proactive in recognizing the benefits of rail and has planned
accordingly. Not only does the state own the North Carolina Railroad
(NCRR), which owns a rail corridor running between Charlotte
and Morehead City but also owns significant abandoned rights-of-way in
the state that it deems important for possible future rail service. Today, the NCRR is leased to Norfolk Southern, which handles
freight service over much of the route (between Charlotte and Raleigh)
and oversees the ongoing upgrades being paid for by the State of North
Carolina. The state also subsidizes its own passenger trains over the
line. With the help of Amtrak, North Carolina operates the
Charlotte-New York Carolinian and Raleigh-Charlotte Piedmont (in addition Amtrak also operates its own Crescent
and Silver Service through the state).
The future of North Carolina's
commuter railroad operations looks
very bright. The state has paid for the restoration of numerous
historic railroad depots along its route to be used for daily passenger
service and is currently planning operational extensions as far east as
Wilmington and as far west as Asheville. And, what's more, North
Carolina plans to develop all of this trackage into a high-speed
corridor. North Carolina also features several museums and tourist
railroads such as the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer
which is home to the largest still-standing roundhouse at 37 stalls.
Others include the Great Smoky Mountain Railway in Dillsboro and Bryson
City that offers spectacular views of the Smokies. All in all, the
state offers some fantastic and
unique operations, with spectacular scenery that only a Southern state
could provide. If you are planning a trip you may want to focus on one
specific area that interests you most, such as the mountains, Piedmont
region or coastal plains as there is far too much to see unless you have
lots of time to visit all three parts of the state.
Lastly, for more information about North Carolina railroads in general please click here
to visit my good friend Dan Robie's personal website about trains in
the Tarheel State. The site is still a lengthy work in progress so
please be patient as more material is added. And on that note, here are
few final recommendations you may want to visit; first, although it no
longer sees trains
NS's torturous Saluda Grade (the steepest main line railroad in America
at 4.7%) is a marvel to see; second, CSX's main line to Wilmington
features the longest stretch
of straight, tangent track in the country at nearly 79 continuous
miles; and lastly, both CSX and the Norfolk Southern Railway have
winding loops to gain elevation in the western mountains at Old Fort
(NS) and Spruce Pine (CSX). Whatever you decide, have fun as there is
plenty to see in North Carolina!
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