The Nicholas, Fayette & Greenbrier Railway (NF&G) was a paper railroad named after the three counties it served in the New River coal field in West Virginia. The ICC created the NF&G on June 25, 1929 6 to resolve claims by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad (C&O) and the New York Central (NYC) to serve newly developing mines in the Sewall seam in a remote mountainous area north of the New River and along the Meadow River.1

The predecessor to the NF&G was C&O’s Gauley Branch, which was constructed from 1893 to 1894 and extended for 14.2 miles from Gauley Junction north along the Gauley River and Twentymile Creek to Greendale and served a coal mine.8 In 1905, the Flynn Lumber Company was established at Swiss, several miles east of Twentymile’s junction with the Gauley.

In 1906, the Meadow River Lumber Company was founded in what became Rainelle, eventually becoming the largest hardwood sawmill in the world.8 The Sewell Valley Railroad was constructed from June 1908 to September 1, 1910 from to the C&O mainline at Meadow Creek, a distance of 21 miles, to serve the new mill.9 The Loop & Lookout Railroad was constructed by the company from Rainelle northwestward to Nallen, a distance of 19 miles. The section from Dyer and Burdetts Creek, 12 miles, was built from December 1908 to 1911, and the section from Burdetts Creek to Nallen was built from October 1915 to March 6, 1916, a distance of 7 miles.

Further west, the Kanawha & West Virginia Railroad, through the Rinehart-Wyatt & Company, constructed a detached 10.7-mile line for Flynn Lumber from Belva at Twentymile Creek to Swiss.8 10

In 1917, the Sewell Valley and Loop & Lookout were transferred by lease to the Sewell Valley and Ohio Railway (SV&OR).7 In 1929, the Nicholas, Fayette & Greenbrier Railway was formed and the SV&OR was conveyed by deed to the newly formed paper company in 1931.

The NF&G constructed 28 miles of track, including two tunnels, from Swiss to Nallen between 1929 and 1931.8 The Koontz Bridge and 3,164-foot Koontz Tunnel was completed between 1929 and 1930.12

The NF&G did not own any locomotive or revenue cars, but did own some non-revenue equipment, such as a NF&G wrecker.1 A coal assembly yard was located at Rainelle, then-home of the largest triple-band sawmill in the world. From the town, the C&O took coal southward towards the mainline at Meadow Creek, while the NF&G ran westward from Rainelle along the Meadow and Gauley rivers to Swiss, where it connected with the NYC.

In 1973, the Chessie System was formed from the C&O, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Western Maryland Railroad, and later merged with the Seaboard Coast Line to become CSX in 1987.7 The NYC merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad, which became Penn Central in 1967 and then Conrail a decade later.

In 1973 and early 1974, the three-mile Glade Creek branch was constructed at Russ Station (four miles west of Nallen) at milepost 43.7.14 The branch served Pittston Coal Company’s Meadow River mine, a deep mine operation that produced over one million of tons of coal annually. The branch was constructed by the Codell Construction Company and handled about 80 cars per day with two crews.

An application to dissolve the 143-mile NF&G was filed by Conrail and CSX to the Surface Transportation Board on January 16, 1996.6 Under the application, Conrail would acquire the NF&G from Swiss to Peters Junction, a distance of eight miles, while CSX would acquire the NF&G from Peters Junction east to Meadow Creek, and branch lines bteween Rainelle Junction and Raders Run, Rupert Junction and Clearco, and C&E Junction and Brush Junction, and operate under the Sewell Valley Subdivision.

The last train operated over CSX’s Sewell Valley Subdivision from milepost 59 at Peters Junction and Russ Station at milepost 43.7, a distance of 15.27 miles, in July 1996 after the Pittston mine closed.13 CSX filed for abandonment on January 30, 1997. In 2006, a coal mine along Glade Creek at milepost 43.7 was shuttered and on April 8, 2008, CSX filed a notice to abandon a section of its Sewell Subdivision from milepost 27 near Rainelle to milepost 43.7 at Russ Station, a distance of 16.7 miles.7 The abandonment would include two stations at Babcock at milepost 38 and Nallen at milepost 39. Both requests were approved.

Meadow River Rail to Trail

In July 2008, commissioners from Greenbrier and Fayette counties requested the assistance of the National Park Service (NPS) Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program for the proposed Meadow River Rail to Trail through the Gauley River National Recreation Area.2 The 16.7-mile trail would include the NF&G, passing through Russellville and Nallen, as well as two trestles over the Meadow River and the Carnifex and Koontz tunnels.2 Further east, the Meadow River trail would connect to Rainelle, with a long-term goal of connecting to the Greenbrier River Trail, the former C&O Greenbrier Branch.

The counties committed $66,000 towards the purchase of the corridor, and the trail was approved of a $100,000 West Virginia Division of Highways (WVDOH) Recreational Trail Grant.2 An independent appraisal performed by a NPS Challenge Cost-Share grant pegged the cost of the property at $92,000.

In 2012, the counties purchased the NF&G rail bed from CSX with the assistance of Transportation Enhancement Grant money, the WVDOH and the NPS.4 11 Over $435,000 was secured for the project, with an additional $300,000 in grant applications under review, including $50,000 from the Recreational Trails Program and $250,000 from WVDOH’s SAFETEA-21 program.

In October, Xinergy Corporation completed acquisition over 10,000 acres of coal seams along the Meadow River in Fayette, Nicholas and Greenbrier counties, along with the former Songer Whitewater Rafting site along US 19 in Fayette County.3 The secretive project, pegged between $10 to $12 million, included,

  • 425 acres of surface and mineral property along Glade and Little Glade creek in Fayette County.
  • 10,899 acres of mineral property along the Meadow River Fayette, Nicholas and Greenbrier counties.
  • 104 acres of surface and mineral rights in Fayette County.

The land was acquired from Heartwood Forestland Fund IV through a subsidiary, Whitewater Resources.3 A deep mine could be constructed by 2015, and could interfere with the development of the Meadow River trail.

At a June 29 meeting, an employee Xinergy approached WVDOH and expressed interest in moving coal out of a newly acquired surface mine northwest of Lookout by rail, possibly by the NF&G right-of-way.4 The company shared maps of the rail options under consideration. When the counties acquired the NF&G right-of-way, it came with the notion that the track was railbanked, a method by which rail corridors that would otherwise be abandoned could be preserved for future future rail use through interim conversion to a trail.

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