The Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Gauley Branch connected the C&O’s mainline at Gauley Junction, West Virginia to a coal mine at Greendale. Connections were later made to the Kanawha & Michigan Railroad, Kanawha & West Virginia Railroad, and the Nicholas, Fayette & Greenbrier Railway, transforming the obscure line into a busy spur for much of the 20th century.
The Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad (C&O), which was extended from Covington, Virginia to Huntington in 1873, was of immense importance to the development of early industries in the state. 8 Between 1893-94, the C&O constructed the 14.2-mile Greendale Branch between Gauley (now Gauley Junction) along the New River northward along the Gauley River and the waters of Twenty Mile Creek to Greendale. 1 8 The route included a six-span bridge with a 160-foot-long Fink deck truss main span, two other Fink deck trusses, and three steel plate girder trusses over the New River, and a 1,126-foot, seven-span Warren deck truss and pile trestle bridge over the Gauley River. 7
Although the line was a timber hauler in its early years, coal mines and coking ovens soon developed along the route. 8 The line’s utility increased when the Flynn Lumber Company was established at Swiss in 1905 which was served by the Kanawha & West Virginia Railroad that interchanged with the Greendale Branch at Belva. 1 Other coal mines and coking ovens soon opened along the Greendale Branch on Twentymile Creek and along the Carterboro Branch on Open Fork.
The Greendale Branch connected to the Kanawha & Michigan Railroad (K&M) via a crossing over the Gauley River at Gauley Bridge which provided the K&M a connection to the C&O mainline and vice versa. 2 3 4 9 Another connection was later made with the K&M at Belva.
Between 1929-31, the Nicholas, Fayette & Greenbrier Railway (NF&G), controlled by the C&O and the New York Central Railroad (NYC), constructed a line between Swiss and Nallen. The NF&G allowed the C&O to route coal traffic south to its mainline at Meadow Creek and the NYC to route coal traffic to the K&M which it now operated as the West Virginia Secondary. At one point, the C&O operated a test run of a manifest across the NF&G, diverting from the mainline at Meadow Creek and rejoining at Gauley Junction, which could be used in the event of a line blockage along the New River.
The Greendale Branch later became known as the Gauley Branch and was used by the C&O’s successors Chessie and CSX Transportation (CSXT). Coal traffic along the line steadily declined throughout much of the 20th century as many of the early underground coal mines were exhausted. Additionally, a source of traffic along the branch was eliminated circa 2010 when CSXT stopped servicing a few remaining industrial customers along the north bank of the Kanawha River via trackage rights with K&M’s successor Norfolk Southern.
In mid-2011, CSXT closed the Gauley Branch to all traffic while it replaced three 106-year-old Fink deck trusses over the New River with modern Corten steel plate girders. 7 The project was overseen by the Brahman Construction Corporation while Advantage Steel fabricated the new spans. The rehabilitated bridge was used just for two short years before CONSOL Energy idled its Fola surface coal mining site and its two associated preparation plants in July 2012 because of the depressed market demand for bituminous coal for power generation, coking and steel making, regulatory pressures by the Environmental Protection Agency, and costs associated with litigation by the various environmental groups. 6 The mine was the last customer along the Gauley Branch.
In October 2016, CONSOL sold its Fola surface coal mining operations and associated preparation plants to Booth Energy. 5 The company expected to restart operations but the collapse of bituminous coal usage for power generation in lieu of natural gas has stalled the project.
[su_spoiler title=”Sources” icon=”caret”]
- “A Timeline of Gauley River History.” Gauley River National Recreation Area. National Park Service, 3 June 2013. Article.
- Interstate Commerce Commission Reports: Decisions of the Interstate Commerce Commission of the United States. Government Printing Office, 1930.
- “Railroad Town: Nitro, West Virginia.” The Trackside Photographer, 11 Aug. 2016.
- Bess, Doug. “Nitro, WV.” WVRails.net, 2 Jan. 2011.
- “Booth Energy to Acquire CONSOL Energy’s Miller Creek and Fola Thermal Coal Complexes, West Virginia.” Mining Connection, 27 Jul. 2016.
- Olson, Thomas. “Consol idling W.Va. mine, laying off 318 workers.” TribLive, 29 Jun. 2012.
- Hunter, William M. Cultural Resource Analysts, 2013, pp. 59–62, A Cultural Historic Survey for the Hawks Nest-Glen Ferris Hydroelectric Project.
- Rice, Otis K., and Lyle M. Blackwell. West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office, 1986, Gauley Bridge Historic District Survey.
- GAI Consultants. West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office, 2003. K&M Railroad Right of Way.