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The Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad (C&O) Dawkins Subdivision extended from West Van Lear to Evanston, Kentucky, and was 36.13 miles in length. The former coal hauling branch featured three grades of 1% to 1.25%, two tunnels and 35 bridges, some of which spanned over 200 feet in length.

The branch name derived from the Dawkins Lumber Company,5 who had incorporated the Big Sandy & Kentucky River Railroad (BS&KR) in 1912 to construct 31 miles of track in Breathitt County.3 6 7 The corporate officers of the BS&KR were W.H. Dawkins as vice president, T.N. Fannin of Ashland and L.N. Davis as treasurer. The first segment of the BS&KR to be completed was from West Van Lear to Riceville, wehre the railroad was headquartered from 1913 to 1920.

The line was extended to Carver in 1919-21, which included the digging of the 662-foot Gun Creek Tunnel at Ivyton.6 The BS&KR boasted four locomotives, one passenger car, a combine, three flatcars and three cabooses.7 In 1929, the railroad added a derrick and dump car, and relocated their office to Royalton 3 6 7 in anticipation of the line’s extension into Breathitt County. A wye, a black oil tank, a steel sanding tower and fuel and water hose mounts were constructed in Royalton to serve the coal fields of Breathitt County, but the stock market crash of 1929 caused the BS&KR to declare bankruptcy. The BS&KR was operated by the C&O under lease beginning on September 22, 1930 and was formally acquired on December 19, 1933.7 The 24.2-mile branch became known as the Dawkins Subdivision.6

In 1940, only two mines were active on the line, producing less than 400 cars per month.8

Planning for an extension into Breathitt County began on September 15, 1943, and work began on September 21, 1948 when the tracks from Carter were lengthened to Vail, a distance of 15.5 miles.7 The route included the construction of a 1,555-foot 3 6/1,840-foot 7 tunnel, and the work was finished on September 15, 1951.7 By 1953, there were seven active mines on the railroad that produced more than 2,000 cars a month.9 Over 75% of the tonnage was coming from two mines in Breathitt County.

In 1972, the C&O merged with the Baltimore & Ohio and Western Maryland railroads to form the Chessie system, and a decade later, Chessie merged with Seaboard and became known as CSX Transportation (CSX).3

In 1975, the Island Creek Coal Company No. 3 Elkhorn tipple at Vail, operated by their subsidiary Pond Creek Pocahontas Coal Company, was closed and the railroad was abandoned past Evanston, a distance of three miles.8 Vail was named after Herman Vail, a director at the coal company.

The R.J. Corman Equipment Company (RJ) sought to acquire the Dawkins Subdivision from CSX in January 2002.1 3 The purchase would extend from milepost .05 at West Van Lear to 36.13 at Evanston, and the transaction was scheduled to be completed on January 24. CSX issued a general bulletin on February 4 that RJ would begin interchange operations with CSX-17 at the Paintsville yard, which would allow RJ to use CSX’s Big Sandy main line between Dawkins and the western end of the Paintsville yard.1 RJ operated GP16s #1829 and #1604 on the line, which were purchased from CSX several years prior. Both were former Seaboard System GP9s.1

One of the primary customers on the line was AEI Resources, formerly known as Addington, that began the Skyline Preparation Plant near Evanston in the summer of 2001. Coal from the mine was transported to the plant by truck. But no revenue runs had operated on the Dawkins Subdivision since 2000 due to repairs that were needed,1 and the last train operated on the line in 2003.4

On November 6, 2004, RJ filed an abandonment petition for the Dawkins Sub.2 3

Rail to Trails

Soon after RJ filed for an abandonment petition, the rail line was railbanked by the Kentucky Rails to Trails Council to preserve the alignment for future trail use.4 In May 2011,6 the Dawkins Subdivision was purchased by the state for $500,000 with funds appropriated by the General Assembly in 2006.5 6 An additional $500,000 was granted from coal severance funds and $2 millon in funding from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. The cost for the Big Lovely Mountain rail to trail project was projected $2.1 million, with another $278,000 annually to maintain and operate the trail.6

In early September 2011, the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, which included the Department of Parks, held a question and answer session in Paintsville.4 Only ten landowners voiced opposition to the project, claiming that crime will increase and property values will decrease from the project, and said that the state had “stolen” their property. Over a dozen spoke out in favor of the project.

The project development accelerated when the state became involved, notably because First Lady Jane Beshear, an avid equestrian trail rider, promoted the benefits of rail to trails in the state as part of the adventure tourism initiative.6

The first 18.5 miles 4 6 of the trail opened on June 15, 2013.9

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