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Clinchfield Railroad
Reporting mark CCO; CRR
Locale Spartanburg, South Carolina to Elkhorn City, Kentucky
Dates of operation 1902–1983
Successor Seaboard System (later CSX)
Track gauge 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)
Headquarters Johnson City, Tennessee / Erwin, Tennessee

The Clinchfield Railroad (reporting mark CRR) was an operating and holding company for the Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railway (reporting mark CCO). The line ran from the coalfields of Virginia and Elkhorn City, Kentucky, to the textile mills of South Carolina. The 35-mile segment from Dante, Virginia, to Elkhorn City, opening up the coal lands north of Sandy Ridge Mountains and forming a connection with the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway at Elkhorn City, was completed in 1915.

The Clinchfield was the last Class I railroad built in the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains. The 266-mile railroad provided access to numerous scenic wonders of the Appalachian region and is probably best-known for the state-of-the-art railroad engineering techniques applied in its construction, as exemplified by the Clinchfield Loops climbing the Blue Ridge Mountains north of Marion, North Carolina.

The Clinchfield Railroad began operating the line December 1, 1924, and for many years it was leased jointly by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and Louisville and Nashville Railroad. When the L&N merged with the ACL's successor, the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad, effective January 1, 1983, forming the Seaboard System Railroad, the separate operating company was unnecessary and was merged into the Seaboard. The line is now owned and operated by CSX Transportation as their Blue Ridge Subdivision (Spartanburg to Erwin, Tennessee) and Kingsport Subdivision (Erwin to Elkhorn City).


In 1886, Ex-Union General John T. Wilder received a charter for Charleston, Cincinnati and Chicago Railroad, commonly referred to as the "3-C" Railroad. This was the beginning of the modern Clinchfield. The promoters of this ambitious project proposed a 625-mile line from Ironton, Ohio, to Charleston, South Carolina, with an extension down the Ohio River to Cincinnati. It would serve the rich agricultural lands of the Piedmont, the summer resorts of the North Carolina mountains, the rich timber and mineral deposits and coal fields of Virginia and Kentucky, with terminals on both the Ohio River and the Atlantic seacoast. The estimated cost was $21 million. Johnson City, Tennessee was established as the headquarters for the 3-C railroad and that city became a railway boom town.

Construction progressed from Johnson City to both the north and south. Tracks reached Erwin, Tennessee in 1890. The roadway grading was 90% complete from Johnson City to Dante, Virginia, in 1893, when the 3-C began to experience financial problems and then failed in the national depression of that year. In July 1893, the assets of the 3-C railroad were sold at a foreclosure for $550,000. The new owners renamed it the "Ohio River and Charleston Railroad." The construction continued in a halfhearted manner and in 1897 owners began to sell off the railroad in segments.

At this time, an enterprising entrepreneur, George L. Carter, was involved in developing the coal lands of southwestern Virginia. He needed a railroad to transport his coal to a south Atlantic seaport. In 1902, he purchased the Ohio River and Charleston Railroad, renamed it the Clinchfield Railroad, and organized a gigantic construction program to get it completed. Between 1905 and 1909 the road was completed from Dante, Virginia, to Spartanburg, South Carolina. Carter was successful in getting adequate financing for the construction and built the railroad to construction standards far beyond the norms of the times. Consequently, Clinchfield has not had to reduce grades, lighten curves, straighten bridges, and enlarge tunnels to handle heavier and larger equipment as other railroads have had to do. Carter originally established the Clinchfield headquarters in Johnson City, Tennessee but later moved the headquarters to Erwin, Tennessee when he could not get required land for the main shops and classification yards.

The Clinchfield lost its identity in the mid-1970s when it came under the Family Lines System banner, which was a marketing arrangement of allying roads Seaboard Coast Line, L&N, and several smaller railroads. Perhaps what the Clinchfield is best remembered for, aside from its primary traffic source of coal, is its famous Santa Claus Special. The train debuted in 1943 and ran the length of the Clinchfield's main line between Elkhorn City and Spartanburg handing out gifts to kids living along the route. Today, it is still operated by CSX Transportation in conjunction with the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce and is now known as the Santa Train.

Freight Schedules

The majority of their traffic was a surprising number of unit coal trains. However, the Clinchfield did operate a small number of regularly scheduled Freight Trains. In addition, Clinchfield had an interesting numerology of their Freight Trains: Northbound Trains ran using Odd numbers whereas the Southbound Trains ran using even numbers. This is opposed to most railroads using Even numbers for Northbound trains and Odd numbers for Southbound trains. This was done so that their trains would mesh in with connecting trains from the SCL (Seaboard Coast Line) on the south end at Spartanburg and the C&O (Chesapeake & Ohio) on the north end at Elkhorn City. Listed below is a representative sample of the Freight Trains that ran between Spartanburg SC and Erwin TN:

Northbound Trains & Schedule Type Class Freq Notes
93—Spartanburg-09:30am, Bostic-10:25am, Erwin-02:30pm Time Freight 2nd Class Daily
97—Spartanburg-02:20pm, Bostic-03:05pm, Erwin-06:50pm Time Freight 2nd Class Daily Known as "Florida Perishable"
95—Spartanburg-10:00pm, Bostic-11:15pm, Erwin-04:00am Time Freight 2nd Class Daily
19—Marion-01:00pm, Spruce Pine-03:00pm. Erwin-5:30pm Local Freight 4th Class Ex Sun.
7—Spartanburg-10:30am, Bostic Yard-12:30pm Shifter 4th Class Ex Sun.
Southbound Trains & Schedules Type Class Freq Notes
6—Bostic Yard-02:00pm, Spartanburg-05:00pm Shifter 4th Class Ex Sun.
18—Erwin-7:15am, Marion-12:15pm Local Freight 4th Class Ex Sun.
22—Erwin 11:00am, Bostic-04:30pm, Spartanburg-06:30pm Local Freight 4th Class Daily Regularly scheduled Coal Train!
26—Erwin-11:00pm, Bostic-04:30am, Spartanburg-06:30am Through Freight 4th Class Daily
92—Erwin-08:30am, Bostic-12:15pm, Spartanburg-01:15pm Time Freight 2nd Class Daily
94—Erwin-08:00pm, Bostic-10:20pm, Spartanburg-11:50pm Time Freight 2nd Class Daily




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