Railroads & Locomotives Railroad Profiles Short Lines Sandersville Railroad Company profile

Sandersville Railroad Company profile

By Lucas Iverson | January 27, 2023

The Sandersville Railroad Company is a short line railroad operating in east-central Georgia while serving the “kaolin capital of the world.”

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Sandersville Railroad Company logoSandersville Railroad Company summary

The Sandersville Railroad Company (SAN) is a short line railroad that operates in east-central Georgia. It’s been a family-owned business for more than a century with Ben J. Tarbutton III serving as president in recent years. Though only operating a 10-mile main line through its namesake town, the railroad hauls a third of the nation’s commercially used kaolin originates for paint, plastic, and paper coatings.


The Sanderson Railway was established in 1893 by local investors to take part in the region’s growing economy based on cotton. By 1916, the struggling railroad was sold to businessman Ben Tarbutton. Six sawmills along the line began serving the growing timber industry. The kaolin business began to take shape in the 1930s and has since become a forefront commodity to the Sandersville Railroad. The family operation continues today with the leadership of Turbutton’s grandson, Ben III.


In serving the “kaolin capital of the world,” the Sandersville Railroad hauls the commodity with destinations toward the papermills in New England, the Upper Midwest, Eastern Canada, and the Pacific Northwest. About one-third of the kaolin traffic is exported, mostly through the port in Savanah. Though it’s easy to see the railroad as a one-commodity short line on the outside, on the inside the SAN maintains a diverse business with multiple opportunities for sustainability and growth. Service is provided to a Weyerhaeuser woodchipper and a plastic company. Meanwhile, the Sandersville Railroad works with B-H Transfer Company to use the nine-acre bulk transfer yard for handling plastic pellets, turkey feed, and ethanol.

The Sandersville Railroad has a variety of diesel locomotives, including four EMD SW1500s, one MP15, and two booster units. They wear the same color as the clay material that they haul. The railroad also owns nearly 200 covered hoppers and 165 woodchip cars. These railcars can also be leased through the subsidiary Sandersville Lease Incorporated.

Interchange is made with Norfolk Southern at Tennille on the south end of the short line.

Read more about the Sandersville Railroad Company in Trains’ June 2012 issue.

One thought on “Sandersville Railroad Company profile

  1. Great little short line. In later 80’s ex USA #610 2-8-0 ran a fan tripI had the great pleasure to ride with W. Forrest Beckum, Jr. Travelling with him was great history lessons, riding along he would point out a small hump of Georgia red clay and say that is all that’s left of the “XY &Z Railway I would then ask when it last ran and he would respond Oh around 1930!!! He passed awy in the early 90’s and he is missed greatly

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