I recently took a $ 900 minivan junker during a road trip through Tennessee. While driving on the all-terrain van, I came across a mysterious abandoned train in the woods. The dented and vandalized locomotive and its wagons have a sad story to tell.
Located about an hour northwest of Knoxville and parked in a siding is a weathered 1951 green Alco RS-3 locomotive. combines freight and passengers) and a commuter car. Under the vegetation and faded paint, you can barely make out the name of a railway: New River.
Once I got home, I had to find out why the train was there.
The train is idling on the Oneida Line, a 41 mile spur of Norfolk Southern’s Cincinnati-Southern Line that winds through some of Tennessee’s best scenery. As reported by the Independent Herald, the Oneida line began in 1889 for the purpose of transporting charcoal and wood to the region. The line begins at Oneida and winds its way to Fork Mountain, Tennessee, where it ends near a former mining camp.
Tennessee Railroad used the line for decades to transport lumber and coal through the Cumberland Mountains before it was purchased by the Southern Railway Company in 1973. Operations continued until 2004, when the Southern Railway Company ( now Norfolk Southern) has abandoned the line. It was revived in 2006 when the National Coal Company bought it for $ 2 million to move coal from its mining operations.
But in 2008, the railway line would not only be used to transport coal. As reported Per Knox News, lifelong friends Scotty Phillips and Jimmy Byrge came up with the idea of bringing tourism to the struggling area using the rails. The couple launched the New River Scenic Railroad with a 1951 Alco RS-3 diesel locomotive from Arizona, a commuter car from Canada, and a combine car from New York.
The idea was to introduce passengers to the history of Tennessee railways with the mountains and forests of Tennessee as a backdrop.
According to at the Reading Railroad Heritage Museum, the locomotive first served on the Reading Railroad in Pennsylvania before being shipped to Arizona. This beast is powered by an Alco 244 1600 HP V12 turbodiesel main engine.
These locomotives are known as highway switches; locomotives designed to move cars through rail yards and also to travel at higher speeds.
To add to the vintage railroad theme, the locomotive has been painted in classic Southern Railway colors with cars in Norfolk & Western colors.
Phillips and Byrge reported taking some 3,000 people on their 62-mile journey from an abandoned elementary school converted to a train depot.
But the railroad did not last long as the Great Recession arrived and once again put the future of the line in jeopardy. National Coal liquidated its assets and sold the 41 miles of track to Kentucky’s RJ Corman Railroad Group for $ 3 million. Unfortunately, RJ Corman was not interested in authorizing the New River Scenic Railway to use its tracks, and at the end of 2009, the train was parked in a siding.
Phillips and Byrge tried to work with RJ Corman to keep their railroad running, but their efforts failed. Then in 2013, even RJ Corman stopped using the line.
The Alco RS-3 and its cars remained on the siding and in decent shape until quite recently. Thieves and vandals have found the train and its condition is deteriorating rapidly. The windows are completely missing and the locomotive is stripped of anything that could be easily stolen. I mean, people even stole the speedometer from the thing!
Phillips Noted to Courier News that it would cost a lot of money to rebuild the train and at least $ 600,000 to fix the line itself, money it doesn’t have.
While I was there, two people were trying to steal a turbocharger and a railroad spike, but only got away with an airbox. It sounds like something you would find in a nuclear exclusion zone, but it really isn’t abandoned at all.
RJ Corman filed a notice of abandonment with the US Surface Transportation Board in 2020. Locals, the North East Tennessee Rail Authority and the Arkansas-Oklahoma Railroad tried to save line by appealing to the STB. It saved time online, but the STB ultimately rejected calls for abandonment.
Little has been reported on the train since, with a recent Footnote saying the train’s owners will remove it from its current location for “off-rail tourist” use. We don’t know what that means, but it’s an unfortunate fate for a vintage locomotive.