Elk River Railroad

The Elk River Railroad (reporting mark ELKR) is a short line that runs for 61 miles (98 km) between Gilmer and Gassaway, West Virginia and has existed since July 1989, although it was originally built in the late 19th century and was once part of the Coal and Coke Railway that ran from Charleston to Elkins, and later the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The railroad originally consisted of more trackage south of Gassaway, but this track quickly became unusable and remained in a severe state of neglect. There were two different rail lines in this section of track, the ex-B&O Elk Subdivision, from Gassaway to Dundon, which was ripped up in December 2020, and a section of the former Buffalo Creek and Gauley Railroad, which was sold to the West Virginia Rail Authority in November 2020. The Elk Sub was purchased from CSX by Bill Bright in 1989, and if he had not stepped in, this section of railroad would have most certainly been abandoned.

In the 1990s, the railroad seemed to have a very high promise of profitability. Bill Bright, the owner of the railroad, invested a considerable amount of money to rehabilitate over 100 miles of ex-B&O track, and 3 miles of ex-BC&G track to Class-II standards, with max speeds of 15 miles per hour. There was a steady stream of coal coming from a mining loadout on the old BC&G, and talk of potential expansion to other mines, other business shipped by rail, and connections to Conrail. Unfortunately, all of this changed in 1999, when the line's single source of traffic, the mine loadout in Avoca, ceased operations, due to the customer American Electric Power (AEP) deeming the quality of coal produced there to be "too poor", effectively destroying the line's only source of traffic.

Today, there is certainly still potential for shipment of coal from Clay County, but there has been no talk of this since the shutdown in Avoca. If another source of traffic is found, trains would most likely run again, as the entire line is still under the ownership of ELKR and Bill Bright. Today, the only source of traffic for the ELKR is car repair and storage, in the small yard in Gassaway.

Currently, the railroad rosters secondhand "Geep" locomotives; GP10s, #1-2, GP8 #3, and GP9s #4-5, although, according to employees of the railroad, not every locomotive is operational. As of about 2020 Jim Smith is in charge of the Car Repair Crew in the Gassaway Rail Yard.

On November 14, 2020, the West Virginia Rail Authority filed with the Surface Transportation Board to acquire and operate 18 miles of former Buffalo Creek & Gauley trackage between Wilden and Dundon, West Virginia. The WVRA plans to operate the line as a Class III common carrier after December 14, 2020. The line suffered a significant washout in 2016, and has not seen a train since 1999.[1] In December 2020, the ELKR began the process of ripping up the line south of Gassaway.

The February 2021 issue of Railpace magazine (page 20) stated that the announcement in the Federal Register is misleading and clarified that the West Virginia State Rail Authority did not take over the entire Elk River Railroad, but rather that it acquired the 18 miles of abandoned and flood-damaged track of the former Buffalo Creek and Gauley Railroad, a branch of the Elk River Railroad. According to the article, "Clay County residents formed a non-profit, the Clay County Business Development Authority, and began to work with the State of West Virginia to buy the right-of-way of the former BC&G. The organization procured rail bikes from RailRiders of Leadville, Colorado, as well as a small fleet of track speeders and open-air passenger trailers to be pulled by the speeders. After restoring and re-laying six miles of flood-damaged tack, the group began offering motorized and pedal-powered rail excursions along Buffalo Creek from a base next to the Bardley Campground and Lodge. The authority has also received a grant to rehabilitate 15 miles of BC&G trackage, and has plans to eventually acquire a rail bus.[2]

Locomotive Number Model Designation Status Notes
#1 EMD GP10 Operational Built 1957 as GP9 IC 9337, rebuilt as GP10 8337
#2 EMD GP10 Non-Operational Built 1954 as GP9 IC 9060, rebuilt as GP10 8060
#3 EMD GP8 Operational Built 1952 as GP7 WAB 475, rebuilt as IT 1750
#4 EMD GP9 Non-Operational Built 1959 as NW 872
#5 EMD GP9 Non-Operational Built 1959 as NW 885

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "WEST VIRGINIA STATE RAIL AUTHORITY - ACQUISITION AND OPERATION EXEMPTION - THE ELK RIVER RAILROAD, INC" (PDF). Surface Transportation Board. November 14, 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. ^ "West Virginia rail agency buys former Buffalo Creek & Gauley".

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