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Clinchfield Railroad

by Donald W. Kern, 2006

The Clinchfield Railroad is a transmountain line connecting the Chesapeake & Ohio at Elkhorn City, Ky., and the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in Spartanburg, S.C., to serve the bituminous coalfields of Kentucky and Virginia. It represents the last major railroad constructed in the eastern United States and is unusual in that it has been a profitable venture since 1915. The line totals 290 miles of track, with 117 miles located in North Carolina. Traversing the eastern United States' most rugged terrain, the Clinchfield has 54 tunnels representing 3.5 percent of its total length, an amount greater than any other railroad in the country.

The line was built in ten segments between 1890 and 1909, with construction on each end and in the middle occurring simultaneously. The first trip of the (nearly) completed line took place on 22 Aug. 1908. The line merged with the Seaboard Coast Line in 1967 and became part of CSX Corporation on 1 July 1986.

The Clinchfield was famous for the "Santa Claus Special," a special train that ran the Saturday after Thanksgiving to distribute Christmas presents to children of Appalachia who lived along the line. This tradition has continued under CSX.


John Gilbert and Grady Jefferys, Crossties through Carolina: The Story of North Carolina's Early Day Railroads (1969).

Lou Harshaw, Trains, Trestles, and Tunnels: Railroads of the Southern Appalachians (1977).

Additional Resources:

Way, William. The Clinchfield Railroad; The Story of a Trade Route Across the Blue Ridge Mountains. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. 1931.

Chapman, Ashton"Old Clinchfield Railroad Built by Wild Death-Dealing Crews." Charlotte Observer. August 23, 1953. (accessed August 2, 2012).

Lonon, J. L. Tall Tales of the Rails: on the Carolina, Clinchfield & Ohio. Johnson City, Tenn.: Overmountain Press. 1989.

Goforth, James A. Building the Clinchfield: A Construction History of America's Most Unusual Railroad (2nd ed.). Erwin, Tenn.: Gem Publishers. 1989.

Goforth, James A. When Steam Ran the Clinchfield. Erwin, Tenn.: Gem Publishers. 1991.

Gartner, Allan. "Clinchfield!" 2004-2005. (accessed August 2, 2012).




When building the railroad in Tennessee my grandfather allowed the RR to put houses on his land for the families of the railroad workers. A little girl died from one of the families and is buried in our family cemetery. Is there a way to find out about names of children who died during the building of the railroad?


Where can I find the lengths of all 54 old Clinchfield tunnels?


Thank you for taking the time to post your question here. I have forwarded it to Reference Services at the State Library of NC's Government & Heritage Library.

Someone should be in contact with you soon at the email address you supplied.

Good luck in your research!

Michelle Underhill
Government & Heritage Library

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