Elkins to Spruce

CSX's former Tygart Subdivision is a scenic section of railroad constructed in the early decades of the 20th century. Originally built in sections by two different railroads, the line passes through some of the most rugged terrain in the Allegheny Mountains. The events that would lead to the construction of the Tygart Subdivision began in 1889, when the West Virginia Central and Pittsburgh Railroad arrived in Elkins. WVC&P chartered the Coal and Iron Railroad, with it's planned route heading east from Elkins to Durbin, WV, where it would connect with the C&O's new Greenbrier Branch from Ronceverte. The construction of this line was a major project, not to mention expensive, which began in 1900 and lasted until 1903. To reach the C&O in Durbin, the Coal and Iron had to build over two major obstacles, the Cheat and Shavers Mountains. Eastbound trains out of Elkins faced a five-mile grade of 2.35% up Cheat Mountain to Tunnel #1, where the railroad bored through the crest of the ridge. From the town of Tunnel, the railroad dropped down the eastern side of Cheat Mountain into the Shavers Fork Valley on an eight-mile long grade of 1.75%. At the bottom, the railroad followed the Shavers Fork River upstream on grades approaching 1.55% for twenty-one miles until it reached the current site of Elk River Junction. Here, the C&I made a 180-degree turnabout across the valley and headed east leaving the Shavers Fork River by tunneling through Shavers Mountain at Tunnel #2 near Glady, WV. From Glady, the railroad followed the Greenbrier River the rest of the way to Durbin - this section between Elkins and Durbin would be called the Durbin Subdivision until the Chessie Era in the 1970s.

CSX issued a bulletin stating that the entire Tygart Subdivision between MP BUK 28.4 and MP BUK 101.7 would be abandoned, effective at 00:01 January 25th, 1997. Fortunately, the track was left down and during the same year, the Tygart Subdivision, along with the entire length of CSX track between Tygart Jct. and Bergoo, was handed over to the state of West Virginia's newest railroad, the West Virginia Central. The West Virginia Central Railroad was inaugurated on May 16th, 1998, during the annual railfan weekend on the Cass Scenic Railroad at a ceremony in Spruce, West Virginia. This event marked the formation of the new shortline from 132 miles of ex-CSX track between Tygart Jct, West Virginia, and Bergoo, WV. The town of Belington, MP 11 on the railroad, was selected as the main base of operations for the railroad with a single stall roundhouse constructed in the small yard. On November 10th, 1998, CSX officially ended service over its Belington Subdivision to Elkins, turning operations over to the West Virginia Central, which ran its first train between Belington and Elkins the same day. This traffic is interchanged with CSX at Tygart Junction.

The line heads east out of town, up hill, past the former location of Huttonsville Junction, where the Western Maryland from Westernport and Frostburg intersected the B&O Branch from New Tygart Junction,  and Canfield, and on the east side of Elkins enters a tunnel. On exiting the tunnel, at Tunnel, it has passed from the New Tygart Valley into the Cheat River Valley, passing Lumber, Meadow, Faulkner and Bowden, and turns south along the west bank of the Cheat River, past Weese, Woodrow, Flint, Walker, Bemis,  the high bridge where the track crosses over the Cheat River to gain its east bank, and the disused bridge at Elk River Junction that once carried another line (the C&I RR) across that river to cross the line we’re on at grade, Greenbrier Junction, where the erstwhile line over the mountain to Durbin once left to the east, turning curvily south-southwest to High Falls. There are, indeed, some scenic waterfalls on the Cheat River, just down a muddy path from this location.

The construction of the section of line south of Greenbrier Junction began in 1910 when the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company (later WestVACo) built a narrow gauge logging railroad from Cass, West Virginia, to a location on the other side of Shavers Mountain, known as Spruce, West Virginia. The town of Spruce would become the mecca of the early 20th century lumbering and mining communities, resulting in it serving as a regional focal point for the Western Maryland Railway's operations between the 1920s and the 1950s. During 1910, the newly chartered Greenbrier, Cheat and Elk Railroad began construction of two lines out of Spruce, one heading east and one heading west. The western section was the first to be completed, reaching the town of Bergoo, West Virginia, in 1914. This section of the line was particularly steep, with a two mile grade of 3.0% heading out of Spruce to a summit of 4066 feet. This summit is located in a deep cut and is the highest standard gauge mainline rail east of the Mississippi River. Following the completion of the western end of the Greenbrier, Cheat and Elk Railroad, work shifted to the section east of Spruce, which was finished by 1917. This 38-mile section followed the Shavers Fork downstream to a connection with the former C&I's Durbin Line, now under Western Maryland control since 1905, at Cheat Junction. In 1927, the same fate befell the Greenbrier, Cheat and Elk Railroad when it was also acquired by the growing Western Maryland, who renamed the portion from Cheat Junction to Bergoo as the GC&E subdivision - north of Cheat Junction the railroad was the WM's Durbin Subdivision.

With the exception of a coal loader near Cheat Bridge, WV, the CSX Tygart Sub, as the line had become by the 1980s, relied on the coal coming from the mines west of Laurel Bank on the Laurel Subdivision and the small amount of traffic coming off of the Durbin line until it's abandonment in 1985. In the early 1980s, several of the mines on the Laurel Subdivision began to close up or decrease shipments, resulting in the number of trains using the subdivision to also decrease. As early as 1978, the Chessie System had been studying the Tygart Subdivision south of Cheat Bridge for abandonment, but enough traffic was being moved at that time to keep the railroad in service. Unfortunately, this changed in the early 1990's, resulting in CSX deciding that it was too expensive to maintain over 75 miles of rail just to service the only remaining mine west of Laurel Bank, the Elk Head operation. CSX issued an order removing the entire subdivision from service between MP BUK30.0 and MP BUK101.7 at 2am on February 13th, 1995.

The line heads very curvily south-southwest, alongside the Cheat River, following the river closely for the entire distance through pretty, thickly-wooded countryside, past two locations where spurs once headed west, the sidings at Linan Mine, two locations where spurs once headed east, and four more locations where spurs once headed west, to the road crossing at Cheat Bridge, where a spur once headed east. From Cheat Bridge, the line heads southwest, past the former location of spurs in either direction, turns southeast to a location where a spur once headed east, and southwest again past Hopkins, where a spur once headed west, turning curvily south, and climbing the river valley, past the location of another spur than once headed east and another that once headed west, to the location of the former logging town of Spruce and beyond to the end of the line in a mountain pass just southwest of Spruce. The line reaches a maximum altitude of about 4200 feet, about two miles west of Spruce, passing the connection to the Cass Scenic Railroad just south of Spruce. The former location of Spruce is now quite empty, with only the small train platform and a couple of privies.