Pickens Railway

The Pickens Railway (reporting marks, PICK) is a Class III, shortline carrier operating primarily between Easley and Pickens, a distance of just under 10 miles (this was the railroad's original main line). However, in total the Pickens owns about 28 miles of track between Belton, Anderson, and Honea Path. The railroad is not a spin-off and dates back to 1890 when the South Carolina General Assembly chartered the line to connect Pickens and Easley (originally calling it the Pickens Railroad). The Pickens has a very interesting history of the last 100+ years and during that time has gone through a number of different owners. Currently the railroad has outside connections with both Norfolk Southern Railway (at Easley and Anderson) and CSX Transportation at Belton.

A pair of Pickens Railway U18B's, led by #9500 (built as Seaboard Coast Line #386 in 1974), appear to be switching customers at Gluck, South Carolina during September of 2015. Warren Calloway photo.

The origins of the Pickens Railway date back to December 24, 1890 when it was chartered by the state, which had stepped in to see the line finally completed between Pickens and Easley after two earlier attempts to do so had failed due to lack of investor interest. The distance between the two towns was not very far and when the Pickens Railroad completed the line in 1898 its timetable registered the route to be exactly 9.3 miles in length. At Easley, the Pickens connected with the Atlanta & Charlotte Air Line Railroad, a system which would become part of the massive Southern Railway (the route would actually become part of the Southern's Atlanta to Columbus, Mississippi corridor).

Pickens Railway U18B #9508 (ex-Seaboard Coast Line #334), leads a short freight near Anderson, South Carolina on September 17, 2015. This unit still retains its "Pumpkin" orange maintenance-of-way livery which CSX applied. Warren Calloway photo.

The Pickens Railroad did have a foreboding start, however. On its very first revenue run to Easley in 1898 the train derailed due to a local kids wanting to see if placing spikes on top of the rails would actually cause something to happen. That it did and the railroad, already in a precarious financial situation would not turn a profit for another seven years in 1905. A few years later, in 1910 the railroad was briefly taken over the Southern although by the 1920s it returned to private ownership. The biggest change for the Pickens Railroad at the time occurred in 1939 when the Singer Manufacturing Company purchased the railroad to ship its product. What resulted in the purchase began as early as the 1920s when the sewing giant decided to build a large plant near Pickens. Over the years the company used the railroad increasingly to ship its finished products (as well as receive materials) and eventually decided it would be a very important asset.

The same train as seen above near Gluck, South Carolina. Warren Calloway photo.

Singer grew its presence in the region when it purchased the Poinsett Lumber & Manufacturing Company that same year (1939), an operation which had just recently set up in the area in 1927 (it had also commenced with its own logging railroad to move timber to its mill near Pickens). In the coming years Singer would consolidate some of its divisions, including its cabinet business and power-tool company, and relocate them near Pickens. It also moved the railroad under the ownership of the Poinsett Lumber & Manufacturing Company, which continued to operate the shortline until 1963 when it was sold to a private individual from North Carolina.

A head-one view of Pickens Railway U18B #9508. Warren Calloway photo.

At this point the Pickens Railroad truly become a first class operation. Under new ownership the shortline expanded by building an engine house and carshops to increase its business opportunities by offering freight car repairs and rebuilds. In 1973 the railroad was again sold, this time to the National Railway Utilization Company of Philadelphia (NRUC) which expanded the carshops to also offer full freight car manufacturing.  After owning the company for 23 years the NRUC sold it to the CLC-Chattahoochee Locomotive Corporation in the spring of 1996, which renamed the line as the Pickens Railway. The shortline gained its additional 28.5 miles of track when, in the early 1990s, Norfolk Southern leased its branch between Anderson, Belton and Honea Path). 

Pickens Railway Diesel Locomotive Roster

Builder Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
AlcoS261943 (Stored Inoperable)1
GEU18B9500-95081973-1974 (Ex-SCL)9


The same train as seen previously at Anderson, South Carolina. Warren Calloway photo.

Following years of declining traffic on its original main line the railroad abandoned its route between Easley and Pickens, 9.9 miles, in 2013 and removed the tracks.  Today, the Pickens operates the former Southern property it acquired from NS along with a few short segments from CSX near Anderson that trace back to the ACL and Piedmont & Northern.  Its current traffic base consists of kaolin, limestone, synthetic rubber, rubber processing oil, plastics, silica, scrap metal, paper, scrap paper, bird feed ingredients, farm supplies, and electrical equipment. While the Pickens Railway has had a locomotive roster ranging from its largest steam locomotive type, the 2-6-2 Prairie, to Alco, EMD, and Baldwin diesel switchers. Its current active roster includes only General Electric U18Bs.  




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Header Photo: Drew Jacksich




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