• Future of the Clinchfield?

  • Discussion of the operations of CSX Transportation, from 1980 to the present. Official site can be found here: CSXT.COM.
Discussion of the operations of CSX Transportation, from 1980 to the present. Official site can be found here: CSXT.COM.

Moderator: MBTA F40PH-2C 1050

  by Bob Roberts
With the recent announcement that CSX is closing the locomotive, car shops and switching yard in Erwin (see below) combined with huge declines in the demand for thermal coal I gotta ask the question: Is CSX likely to continue operating the Clinchfield?

I am certainly not an expert on the line, but based on my limited knowledge it does not appear to carry much other than coal, does not appear to offer critical network connectivity and is probably very expensive to maintain. Do you guys (who know way more about freight opps than me) have any insight you can share about the line?

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  by riffian
I do know, based on my one visit down there, that there is (or was) one manifest train each way daily. It appears from this article that it may be rerouted after these cuts.
  by JayBee
The Clinchfield RR as a through route is over as of today. The through manifest has been cutback to just Kingsport to serve the chemical plant. The McClure coal loadout will be served from Shelby with the coal moving north. The seasonal grain trains and the Ethanol traffic rerouted via the former L&N through Atlanta.
  by century430
So what exactly has happened since all through traffic has been removed? Has part of the line been mothballed or is the entire line still in service?

Jim Rowland
  by JayBee
century430 wrote:So what exactly has happened since all through traffic has been removed? Has part of the line been mothballed or is the entire line still in service?

Jim Rowland
Elkhorn City to McClure, Va is being serviced out of Shelby, KY. The section from the connection to the branch to McClure through Dante to St. Paul, VA is mothballed. The section from St. Paul south to where the NS trackage rights end is being used by NS. From Kingsport, TN south the line is still in service to serve Tennessee Eastman at Kingsport.
  by Noel Weaver
Corbin, KY. is losing its locomotive shop although it is only the mechanical department that will be affected in this case and there is concern in Russell, KY as well. They probably figure they have more physical plant than they need for today's business.
Noel Weaver
  by century430
How often do they run to McClure?
  by mmi16
CSX Gateway wrote:Following last week’s announcement regarding reduced operations at the Erwin, Tenn., terminal, CSX Engineer Joe Barr documented his last run on the Clinchfield Route.

Written by Joe Barr

Last night and into this early morning has been bittersweet. I want to keep this moment, this memory, for as long as I can, so I have chosen to document it here. It’s 4am and I have just completed my last run out of Erwin on APBR A202 pool turn on CSX's former Clinchfield Route.

When all this came about with the closure of Erwin Yard, I was heading into my off days Wednesday and Thursday. The last trains out of Erwin had pretty much come and gone by the time I marked back up Friday at 00:01. It seemed my run was over on my beloved southend pool turn. I even noted on another post that, "If only I had known my last trip was my last trip, I would have savored it a bit more”... I called the Yard Office yesterday afternoon to see if there was anything else to go, maybe I could get just one more. The Yardmaster told me, "I'm sorry Joe, but there is not.” So that’s it. I am 1st out, and it’s over. I picked up my daughters from school, head home and resort back to staring into the void... My natural state for the last few days.

Then the phone rang at 15:30, it was the crew caller calling me for a relief job to relieve Q69615 at 17:30. I was to taxi to Marion and take the train to Bostic. This was it, this is my last run. I got it. A short run, but a good one. Thank God. I show up at the yard office where there were a few guys coming in from their last run, others just came in to see who was there. The general conversation was asking what the others were thinking about doing, “Where you going, Nashville? Birmingham? Etowah? Tampa?”. Followed by the “It’s been good working with you”, then the handshakes, the hugs, the misty eyes, the turns and walks away. Same as it has been down here for the last few days.

My Conductor and I finally loaded up our taxi with our grips and orders and headed to Marion. He's a fine man, a guy I went to school with who is also an Engineer that has been cut back to Conductor in recent months. He jumped in the front seat, and I got in the back. That’s the way it is. I am sure there is a story as to why, but if I have been told the story, I have since forgotten it. The Conductor sits in the front seat, the Engineer in the back, always, that’s just the way it is... There was some small talk, about where he might go, the kids, where would be the best place for the kids, and schools. But mostly quiet, a bit somber.

We arrived at Marion where we relieved a seasoned crew, both were Engineer’s, one a few spots behind me in seniority the other cut back to Conductor. There was the typical chit chat you get when you relieve a crew, but this time it lingered a little more with finally, handshakes, firm hugs, keep in touch, and the it will be alrights...

My Conductor and I loaded up, contacted the Dispatcher and started on our way. It was extremely sentimental to me. Not knowing what the future holds, this is my chance to savor the run. I ignored the Automatic mode (Trip Optimizer) and chose to run this train Manual, like I was trained to do years ago by men who were considered giants of the Clinchfield. We tore out of Marion with 4 locomotives (2 of them dead in tow) and 7400 tons of mixed time freight. I pulled them through “Jacktown" then I started to throttle off and set up the dynamics to hold us back down the hill to Prison Curve. Come back on the throttle a couple of notches, then back off to dynamic to get us through the dip at Muddy Creek, where you come off of them again and get back in the throttle. All while maintaining 45 mph. This is where he shared with me, “The fastest I have ever been on a train was right here". He told me what the speed was, it was pretty impressive, but he was a bit reluctant to tell me who the Engineer was. We laughed and he said, “I thought we was going to send it all out in to the cornfield when we hit the curve!”. That’s how most good stories go out here, they are always the kind that in the moment it’s pure terror, "we could die here", kind of stories, but after some time has passed, you can share them with that nervous laugh that comes out when you reflect on the fear, but cover it with the laugh.

After the dip at Muddy Creek we started up the hill to “Fero", where you top it, then proceed down Vein Mountain. I set my dynamics up and proceed to bunch the train up against me gently like I have done so many times in the past. Like I was taught, when the slack comes in lightly. “You have to feel it in the seat of your pants” kind of lightly. He said, "this train is all messed up, empty's on the headend and rear, with loads through the middle". I told him, it felt fine. I could feel the loads in the middle of the train slightly come in on us and press us up to 40 mph where I held them with dynamic. Once we got by the 40 mph speed board I put 1st service train brake on and eased up the dynamics. The train responded perfectly, and we cruised down the mountain at 40 and hit the 35 mph speed board at “Sandfill" right on target. Now, this isn’t bragging. This is pride. We still have that on the Clinchfield. Some choose to do it, some choose to do it right.

As we glided down Vein Mountain he says, "It's been a honor to work with such a great engineer like you." I buckled, it’s been an emotional week, and to get such a compliment at that moment was unexpected and moved me to tears in the darkness of the cab. I didn't say anything for a moment, then I told him he was one of the best out here, I never heard an ill word about him. My compliment was weak compared to his, but it was all I could muster. We went a couple of miles in silence when he said, "hey man, if you don't care, can I take 'em a couple of miles". This broke me down. Knowing that there may never be another chance again for him to run a train down the Clinchfield, I knew this trip was just as important to him as it was to me. I said, "I got what I wanted, I nailed both speed boards, you take 'em down the big rail. (Meaning, run them through Thermal and on to Logan, the 50 mph track.) He got in the seat, and said "I just don't think I'll ever get to do this again." I said, "take 'em as far as you want".

We sat in silence both of us trying miserably to hold back tears as he ran them at 50 mph through Thermal and on to Tate where you hit a pretty good size dip called "Panic Dip” I finally spoke and said “When I started running I always feared this spot", He said, “ yea, I think they named it appropriately”, with a little bit of a chuckle, I had to lightly give a laugh too. He ran them like a champ through the dip right on 50, like he has done numerous times in his tenure on the Clinchfield. He finally spoke up once we were by “Dairy Farm” and said, “Thanks man, you can take them back now." I patted him on the back. We both sat down and continued in silence, I couldn’t dare look at him, the emotions were just too much.

We got the train to Bostic, switched it for the outbound, and by the time we were done, the outbound crew showed up to take over and on to Hamlet, NC. We had to hang around there a little while waiting on our final taxi ride home, so we just kind of stood out there and watched our train pull out of the yard. The yard office sits right next to the track so when a train comes in or out, the noise is pretty loud, joints cracking, flanges rubbing the rail. Metal on metal noise… But then the rear comes by, the noise fades, and all you see is a blinking red light silently going the distance up the hill, then disappears in the darkness.

After a little while, my Conductor says “I wish I had taken a picture of that engine. I have a picture of the first engine I ran, I would have liked to have one of this one too.” I had thought the same thing earlier, we should do a selfie, our last run on the Clinchfield with engine 233 in the background, but I blew it off. I regret that now…

Our taxi finally showed up, and with it was the best driver Bostic has to offer. Just the man we needed for the quiet ride home. A quiet ride where memories play out in your mind knowing this is it, it will all be different now. The ride none of us wanted to take ended two and a half hours later, in the parking lot of the Erwin Yard Office around 3am. Just in time to see the last train of 20 some cars and 8 engines head out of Erwin.

This is it. The yard is empty now, no crews, no engines, only a couple of cars for the industry we have left in Erwin, and lonely switch target lights. It’s over.

God has been with me all day, I have felt it. Everything has been placed perfectly for this day. The pride held by every man doing the job today, that they have done for years has been immeasurable. Faced with what we have been given, every one of them continues to carry the Pride and Responsibility they have had placed on them by becoming Engineers, Conductors, Carmen, Electricians, Mechanics, Signalmen, Yardmasters, Clerks and so many other titles on the Clinchfield. I pray that where ever they go they have the respect they deserve, because they are simply the greatest people I have ever met. To put it in better words, my brothers and sisters of Erwin Terminal, we are the CLINCHFIELD.
  by Noel Weaver
This is a very touching narrative and although I had a very good career of 41 years still I can appreciate what the good railroaders of Erwin and all of the Clinchfield are going through at today with the merger agreements at least with expanded rosters and expanded territory at least they will be able to continue to do what they do best and that is railroad, I know disruption can be difficult but they have lots of good experience and I think most if not all of them will end up OK. Best of luck to all of them.
Noel Weaver
  by NorthWest
Beautiful. Thanks for sharing. This really brings out the human connections that the railroad creates.
It is a sad time for all who love the Clinchfield.
  by Ocala Mike
Kudos to Joe Barr. I didn't know a thing about what it must feel like to be at the throttle of a freight train before I read that, but I think I do now. This piece was eloquent, evocative, and emotional prose (and I've run out of "e" words now). Wish him and all the people of the old Clinchfield the best of luck.
  by Bob Roberts
Anyone have a sense for how the loss of the Clinchfield will imapact traffic going through Charlotte?
  by Fritz
I'll be visiting my Mom in East Tennessee next month and wondered if anyone knew what was running on the Clinchfield these days between Erwin and Kingsport. My understanding is that they were going to run a manifest two times per week to Kingsport and there is still some local business between Erwin and Kingsport. Also I assume they still run one or more switchers in Kingsport but maybe none in Erwin anymore. Any help is much appreciated. It will be sad visiting Erwin.