South Branch Valley Railroad

The little South Branch Valley Railroad (SBVR) is a shortline operating on a former B&O branch line in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia and is headquartered in Petersburg. If you are familiar with the Potomac Eagle Scenic Railraoad tourist line it operates over the same trackage and both railroads are owned by the State of West Virginia. The SBVR was started in the late 1970s when the Chessie System (predecessor to today’s CSX Transportation) was interested in selling off the line. Realizing the potential the branch still carried in terms of business as well as its economic impact on the region, West Virginia stepped in and purchased it. The railroad is currently operated by the West Virginia State Rail Authority.

Baltimore & Ohio GP9 #6604 leads a southbound photo freight across the South Branch of the Potomac River near Ridgedale, West Virginia on March 23, 2013. Loyd Lowry photo.

While the South Branch Valley Railroad purchased its trackage directly from the Chessie System, the history of the routes dates back quite a bit further to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. And, even before the B&O took ownership of the line in 1913 an interest in wanting to connect Petersburg and Romney with the B&O's main line at Green Spring dates back to the 1880 when the towns looked to charter a new railroad. By 1884 the 52-mile line had been completed as the South Branch Railroad, and about 20 years later was turned over to the B&O.

Baltimore & Ohio GP9 #6604 leads the "Santa Special" along the Potomac Eagle Scenic/South Branch Valley Railroad at Hanging Rocks, West Virginia on December 19, 1992. Wade Massie photo.

The SBVR is perhaps most famous for the excursion trains that operate over the line (although excursion service on the route did not begin until 1989, more than 10 years since the SBVR had begun operations) it has actually become quite a successful little shortline as well, predominantly shipping grain and chemicals but also is diversified in other traffic ranging from feed to wood products and plastic pellets (in total the railroad sees around 4,000 carloads annually). The South Branch Valley Railroad currently rosters a number of Electro-Motive Division Geeps and SDs of various heritage, which totals 12 units in all. Currently SBVR freight trains are typically operated during the workweek with no service on Saturdays and Sundays.

Interestingly, when the state of West Virginia purchased the ex-B&O trackage, in doing so it became the first state to ever own and operate a private, for-profit railroad. The line has had setbacks since its ownership by the state. Perhaps the worst incident occurred in the fall of 1985 when severe flooding by the South Branch Potomac River in eastern West Virginia destroyed much of the railroad's right-of-way (along with railroads to the south including for the former C&O's line near Durbin and Cass). It was feared that this flooding would permanently shutdown the line. However, the state elected to rebuild the route and it was reopened in the late 1980s, around the time that excursion trains began plying the line.

South Branch Valley Railroad GP9R #92 (ex-Norfolk & Western #730) is at the Route 220 crossing in Moorefield, West Virginia with a special excursion on August 20, 2005. Wade Massie photo.

South Branch Valley Railroad Locomotive Roster

Builder Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
GE65-Tonner801943 (Ex-Keystone Ordnance Works)1
EMDGP9r90-921956 (Ex-N&W)3
EMDGP35-31001963 (Ex-SP)1
EMDSD9180-1811957 (Ex-DM&IR)2
EMDSD181821962 (Ex-B&LE)1
EMDF7A722A1952 (Ex-B&LE)1
EMDGP96135, 6240, 66041955-1957 (Ex-C&O and Ex-B&O)3
EMDF3Au80181948 (Ex-Clinchfield)1

Baltimore & Ohio F7A #722 leads a southbound photo freight past the Springfield Hill Cemetery at Springfield, West Virginia on March 23, 2013. Loyd Lowry photo.

The South Branch Valley Railroad's original locomotive roster included classic Alcos, which unfortunately have long since been sold off and are no longer on the property (some of which have also been scrapped, sadly). Today, the railroad operates almost entirely all EMD products and it is still fairly interesting seeing SBVR freight trains that are led by Chessie, B&O, and Chesapeake & Ohio-painted locomotives (which are also used in excursion service).   To learn more about the South Branch Valley Railroad's locomotive roster please have a look at the roster above. For a good general description of the South Branch Valley Railroad please click here to visit the West Virginia Department of Transportation's web page covering the operation.

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Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

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