The Georgia Northeastern Railroad (reporting marks, GNRR) is a Class III shortline based in Marietta, Georgia
that owns and operates roughly 72 miles of the Louisville &
Nashville Railroad's famed "Hook and Eye" line between Marietta and
Ellijay (the railroad also provides freight service northward as far
north as Blue Ridge on track owned by the state of Georgia). The
current Georgia Northeastern Railroad has been in operation since 1987
and has gone through a few ownership changes since the company
originally purchased the track from CSX. After the state purchased the
line north of Ellijay the railroad started the now-popular Blue Ridge
Scenic Railway in 1998, which operates excursion trains
between Ellijay to McCayesville, Georgia/Copperhill, Tennessee.
history of the L&N's famed "Hook and Eye" line dates back to before
the start of the Civil War with the chartering of the Ellijay Railroad
in 1854. This railroad, however, never built any actual track despite
its creators' hopes of constructing a railroad from Marietta, Georgia to
Ducktown, Tennessee. In 1859 it was renamed the Marietta, Canton &
Ellijay Railroad in hopes of gaining investor
interest in the new company which never materialized. Finally, in
1867 after again being renamed as the Marietta & North Georgia
Railroad construction began although it took help from the state to
complete the line northward to Canton in 1879, another twelve years
later. Unfortunately, the original grade was built with steep grades
and sharp curves to reduce construction costs further setting back the line.
A year later in 1880, the railroad received new leadership under General Phillips who successfully convinced investors to begin funding the line further northward completing the route to Mineral Bluff by 1886. With enough railroad to begin earning noticeable profits the owners of the M&NG started the Knoxville Southern Railroad to construct a line south to meet their railroad. By the summer of 1890, the two companies met at Copperhill, Tennessee right along the state lines allowing for a complete but poorly engineered line between Marietta and Knoxville (around this time the Knoxville Southern was merged into the M&NG).
The railroad would extend branches to Murphy, North Carolina and in Tennessee along its main line. However, with the route laden with switchbacks, step grades, and sharp curves and already in heavy debt the railroad declared bankruptcy by 1896. While it was reorganized as the Atlanta, Knoxville & Northern Railway in June of that same year the Louisville & Nashville gained control of the company in April of 1902 eventually merging into its system. What gave the railroad its "Hook & Eye" name came from two locations; the "hook" was near Talking Rock, Georgia where the railroad hugged a small mountain resulting in two very tight reverse curves while the "eye" was created when the L&N helped the AK&N (before it took over the line) regrade its line through the Hiawassee Gorge to remove the many switchbacks.
To remove one of these switchbacks engineers had the new alignment wrap around a small hill and pass over itself via a small, but high, wooden bridge, which remains in use today. The original Georgia Northeastern Railroad began operations in 1987 when CSX was interested in shedding unprofitable branch lines and sold to the GNRR 41 miles between Marietta and Tate and leased another 31 miles between Tate and Ellijay. Eventually, the Georgia Northeastern was sold the track to Ellijay and the state purchase the line from there, northward to Copperhill/McCayesville. In 1990 the GNRR gained new ownership and CSX sold the rest of the line between Copperhill and Etowah to the state.
While in northern Georgia considering stopping by and visiting the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, which operates on the Georgia Northeastern's trackage. Between the scenic beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and experience of riding a train (where you can ride in either open or enclosed cars), you shouldn’t be disappointed. Lastly, if you have the time please consider volunteering to help them with not only restoration work but also maintaining their railroad. I am sure they would very much appreciate the help! If you would like to book your trip ahead you can do so directly through their website by either calling or reserving online (they actually recommend booking in advance as it is not uncommon for trains to sell out).