News & Reviews News Wire Norfolk Southern to sell Saluda Grade for conversion to trail

Norfolk Southern to sell Saluda Grade for conversion to trail

By | March 16, 2023

Agreement signed for purchase of 31-mile, two-state route, once nation’s steepest main line

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Green and white diesels at crest of mountain pass
Green and white diesels at crest of mountain pass
Southern Railway’s Carolina Special arrives in Saluda, N.C., top of famous 4.7-percent Saluda Grade, in the early 1950s. Norfolk Southern has agreed to sell the dormant route for conversion to a trail. Linn H. Westcott

LANDRUM, S.C. — Norfolk Southern has agreed to sell 31 miles of right-of-way for its dormant Saluda Grade — formerly the steepest main line in America — to the Saluda Grade Trail Conservancy for conversion to a trail, the Spartanburg Post and Courier reports.

Three non-profit groups — Conserving Carolina, Upstate Forever, and PAL: Play, Advocate, Live Well — said last year they were negotiating to purchase the line, which last saw a through train in December 2001 [see “Groups seek to buy Saluda Grade …,” Trains News Wire, July 22, 2022]. PAL Executive Director Laura Ringo told the newspaper the conservancy has signed a written agreement that outlines the price and terms of sale, “none of which can be disclosed based on a confidentiality agreement.” The conservancy signed the agreement Feb. 3, while NS signed on Feb. 7.

The 31-mile route includes 16 miles in South Carolina and 15 in North Carolina. The South Carolina legislature has earmarked $5 million for the project. Ringo said next steps include continued fundraising and an economic impact and feasibility study, along with the pursuit of additional state and federal funding. Bob Briggs, mayor of Landrum, S.C., one of the communities on the route, said fundraising will likely take two years, and creation of the trail is still three to five years away.

The Saluda Grade, which included a 4.7% incline with a brief stretch of 5.1% grade, first saw rail service in 1878 and was considered the nation’s most dangerous stretch of mainline railroad. Following its closure, part of the route was sold to Watco, which operates it as part of its Blue Ridge Southern Railroad.

14 thoughts on “Norfolk Southern to sell Saluda Grade for conversion to trail

  1. Great idea!

    The grade that makes Saluda interesting also makes it very, very expensive to operate. Locomotives, fuel, low speed, etc. etc. It has had no future for decades.

    No one will ever “need it again” as a railroad. Way to expensive for freight – better to “go around the long way”. Alignment no good for HrSR passenger. Grade is too dangerous for a tourist line.

    It will be a wonderful “coast downhill for 30 miles” bike trail ala Virginia Creeper. Located in prime tourist country.

  2. Why is it that preservation groups, and others, always want things bought with other peoples money?

  3. Not every right of way converted from rail to trail is conducive or feasible for a tourist rail line. Many a tourist railroad in this country is struggling to make money and keep their equipment in good running order and shape. Many folks talk about a tourist line but when it comes time to ask for or solicit donations or conduct a fund drive to keep the line running or keep the equipment in good running order or repair, those same people are no where to be seen or heard from. It takes money and people to start up and keep those tourist lines operating. Also for a tourist line to attract people and want to ride it, it must have scenic and cultural value for folks to want to ride the train and see snature and scenery .
    Joseph C. Markfelder

  4. So, where’s that big list of all these rail lines that sat dormant for 20 years and were converted to trails that later on some railroad decided, “OMG, what a mistake that was and I so wish I could start running trains on this right of way that is now a trail”? And I’m talking FREIGHT traffic, not tourists. Railfans want every unused rail line to become a tourist line.

  5. It is sad to see this happening but the trains aren’t coming back. And I hate to hear that the paper mill at Canton is shutting down. That will leave little traffic for the Blue Ridge Southern. Possibly that line could be taken over by Smokey Mountains Railroad. Much like Raton Pass NS has made the decision to route trains away from the Loops and it ain’t going to change.

  6. It would be fun to have a shay powered train bring you to the top and then you bike back down the steep grade, or ski down if the weather allows.

  7. It’s time to change the Rails to Trails regulations into Rails AND Trails regulations, the time has come to end the removal of any and all existing rail lines to preserve the future commerce of the U.S.. I don’t think there’s any formerly active rail line that CAN NOT have a trail alongside of it, in the event that sometime in the future the rail line is needed again it’s still there…you just need fencing and signage, then let Darwin take care of the rest.

  8. The line has been out of service for 23 years. Traffic on the Loops is down to a trickle. Coal is gone and the paper mill in Canton, the area’s biggest traffic generator, is shutting down. As much as I hate to see the rails disappear, let’s enjoy the Saluda memories because the trains aren’t coming back.

  9. The future management of Norfolk Southern Railway (if sanity ever returns) may regret the sale of Saluda Grade along with the set of electronically modernised and re-engined EMD F9’s to power NS business trains. {:-(

    1. Couldn’t agree more, would LUV to see a Heritage Railroad (Tourist Line) operate over this grade, in CONJUNCTION with a hiker/biker trail. (a la Western Maryland Scenic ‘tween Cumberland & Frostburg, Maryland) But until/unless an entity steps up to provide this, a trail-only is the nest best thing, I guess…

  10. This is not the outcome I was hoping for. I wanted them to turn it into a tourist line with short trains (because of the grade) running back and forth up and down the line – so we could ride. Oh well, the trail is the second best option. Wish they could do both – have the option to ride or walk.

  11. Hopefully, they are able to create something along the lines of the Virginia Creeper trail. The Creeper uses a canoe livery type model that buses bikers to the top of the grade and allows them to mostly coast down to the bottom of the grade. I am not sure if the Saluda profile will allow this, but the busing makes the Creeper a suitable biking destination for a broader range of bikers. While inspecting some of the Creeper’s massive timber bridges I recall that there was maybe one Tour de France type biking up hill for every 30 down hill recreational coasters…

    The Saluda grade has significant place in American railroading, and while seeing trains continue to roll would be preferred, I think this will allow the route to be preserved and made more accessible to the public. I wish them the best.

  12. Sad to see any right of way completely sold, rather than banked such that it can be reconverted to rail.

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