The WVN's earliest beginnings date back as
the narrow-gauge Kingwood Railway Company, an operation which began in
1884. The railroad began operations three years later in 1887 when it
complete about a half-mile of line between Kingwood and Kingwood
Junction. Soon after this the railroad was renamed the Tunnelton,
Kingwood & Fairchance although this reorganization did little to see
the company reaching much further past Kingwood. In 1894 the railroad
was brought up to standard gauge and five years later the company was
renamed the West Virginia Northern in 1899. Not long after the new
owners took over the operation they began building the railroad
southward to tap Preston County's rich coal reserves. It finally did
reach Tunnelton, 11 miles away and a connection with the large Class I,
the Baltimore & Ohio.
Along the way the railroad began to move massive amounts of coal from the
more than the dozen mines that popped up along its route. Along with
the coal mines that were served
directly on its main line it also operated seven spurs to serve nearby
mines including (from north to south); Miller Mine #1, Miller Mine #3,
B&C #5, Mary Lee #1, Ream #1, Brooke #10, and Bellfield. During the
passenger era the West Virginia Northern served eleven stops along its
route (all of which were merely small hamlets) including Kingwood
Junction, Snider, Irona, Mattingly, Howesville, Mountain View, Jessop,
Towson, Marion, and finally Tunnelton where the railroad operated a
small staging yard with the B&O to transfer its coal traffic and
take back empties.
For power, during the steam locomotive era the railroad mostly used a small fleet of 2-8-0 Consolidations. As diesels came of age it primarily used EMD switchers,
particularly NW2s and SW1200s, which worked well given the tonnage
levels the railroad experienced. Over the years the system's annual
profits and traffic patterns ebbed and flowed as coal demand did
likewise. Unfortunately, this total dependence on coal ultimately was
the railroad's downfall. As the recession of the 1980s dragged on it
particularly hit the coal industry hard and the WVN saw its traffic
slowly dry up. By 1991 it was no longer profitable for the railroad to
remain in business and it shuttered operations that year.
Three years later a group of rail enthusiasts who wished to see the railroad preserved and known as Kingwood Northern, Inc. reopened the operation as a tourist/excursion train using EMD diesels #50 and #52 for power, along with a small fleet of equipment to host passengers. The "new" West Virginia Northern Railroad became quite successful in this capacity and continued to see increasing ridership year after year. Ironically, however, mounting debt unforeseen to the public just could not be overcome. With no other alternative and facing more than $1 million of red ink (part of which was the result of a legal battle with the city of Kingwood) Kingwood Northern, Inc. was also forced to shutdown.
To pay off its debt the
organization sold the remaining railroad equipment on the property and sold
the rails for scrap. Three years later in 2002 scrappers removed the
remaining rails and today nothing remains of the railroad. On a happier note, however, two its former 2-8-0
Consolidation steam locomotives, #8 and #9, were saved from the
Pennsylvania woods and purchased by the West Virginia Railroad Museum.
The museum eventually hopes to return one to a fully operational status
if funds can be secured and operated on the West Virginia Central based
in Elkins, West Virginia.
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West Virginia Northern