Exploring the Historic Railroads of Fairmont, West Virginia

In early 2023, I ventured into the heart of West Virginia’s north-central region to capture the remnants of its once-thriving railroad industry.

In early 2023, I ventured into the heart of West Virginia’s north-central region to capture the remnants of its once-thriving railroad industry. My journey along the Monongahela River led me to discover notable structures, including a robust concrete frame bridge that once supported the Fairmont & Clarksburg Electric Railroad. This interurban railway, crossing over Hawkinberry Run near Rivesville, was part of the state’s network of electric streetcar systems. These systems, often navigating challenging terrains, connected cities, rural communities, and coal camps.

The Fairmont and Clarksburg areas boasted an extensive passenger rail network, branching out to Bridgeport, Fairview, Mannington, and Weston. Operational since 1901, with extensions completed by 1913, these interurban lines initially offered both passenger and local freight services, connecting with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. However, the advent of automobiles gradually reduced the demand for these services. The Fairmont to Mannington and Fairmont to Fairview lines ceased operations in 1933, followed by the end of all freight services in 1938. By 1947, the interurban system transitioned to bus operations.

In proximity, I encountered a unique skewed Pratt through truss bridge, a relic of the Fairmont, Morgantown & Pittsburgh Railroad (FM&P). Spanning 56 miles, this railroad once connected Fairmont, West Virginia, to Uniontown, Pennsylvania, fully operational shortly after its 1894 inception. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad acquired the FM&P in 1915, integrating it into its Pittsburgh Division as the FM&P Branch. The 1972 creation of the Chessie System conglomerate and the subsequent 1980 formation of CSX Corporation marked significant developments in the railroad’s history.

Despite its early importance, the FM&P’s prominence waned as coal mines along its route closed. This decline was highlighted by the end of passenger services in 1953 and the parallel construction of Interstate 79. In 1983, a section south of Morgantown was taken out of service following a washout, leading to the eventual abandonment of most of the line between Fairmont and Uniontown by 1991.

Today, only fragments of the FM&P line remain active. A 21.5-mile stretch in Pennsylvania, operated by the Southwest Pennsylvania Railroad, and a 2.3-mile section near Fairmont, known as the American Fibers Industrial Track, are still in use. Other parts of the line have been repurposed as recreational trails.

Another intriguing discovery was a skewed Pratt through truss bridge associated with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad’s Monongahela River Branch. This 33-mile branch, originally the Monongahela River Railroad established in 1890, was vital for coal and zinc transportation. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad’s 1900 acquisition of this line marked its integration into the railroad’s network.

However, the line faced a gradual decline, accelerated by the 1960 closure of a zinc smelter at Spelter and the eventual shutdown of coal mines along its path. The 1980s saw a further reduction in rail traffic, leading to partial abandonment of the line. Today, parts of this historic line have been transformed into the West Fork River Trail and the Harrison North Rail Trail, with plans underway to connect these segments, creating a continuous trail linking Parkersburg, Clarksburg, Morgantown, and Uniontown.

My journey through West Virginia’s north-central region unveiled a significant railroad history, now partly dormant yet preserved in its remnants. From the sturdy frameworks of interurban railroads to the skeletal bridges of once-bustling lines, these relics stand as silent witnesses to an era when rail was the lifeblood of Appalachian communities. Today, while only fragments of these highlighted networks remain operational, their legacy endures, some repurposed into trails that stitch together the scenic beauty and historical significance of this rugged landscape, offering a tangible link to the past and a pathway for future explorations.

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My grandmother and I ride one of the last passenger trains from Grafton to Fairmont. I was six or seven, and I remember it well.

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