The Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad (C&O) Middle Creek Subdivision is a former 9.6-mile branch line from the C&O’s Big Sandy at Prestonsburg to David, Kentucky.
The Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad (C&O) constructed the 9.2-mile Middle Creek Subdivision between West Prestonsburg and David in 1940-42 to service two coal mines operated by the Princess Elkhorn Coal Company. 5 9
The town of David was created by the Princess Elkhorn Coal Company in 1941 and named for David L. Francis, general manager of the company. 6 The model company town featured a company store, school, church, and amenities not typical for the region, such as a swimming pool, central water and sewer service, and cable television. The company also supported a children’s choir that toured nationally.
After the mine closed circa 1968, many of those amenities fell into disrepair. 6 The town was purchased by the residents as the David Community Development Corporation in 1975, which secured funding for a new water and sewer system, a fire station, a park, and several dozen new homes.
On July 20, 1977, a trestle on the Middle Creek Subdivision was burned by striking miners of the United Mine Workers of America. 7 10 By October, with the trestle replaced, the line produced between 25 and 35 fifty-ton cars daily. 8 Another bridge was damaged by an explosion on May 5, 1981. 11 By 1992, the branch line, controlled by C&O’s successor CSX Transportation (CSXT), was inactive beyond Prestonsburg as the original Princess Elkhorn Coal mines and Branham & Baker’s Beverly Ann tipple had all closed. 2 3 9 12 The Beverly Ann tipple had been acquired by American Electric Power’s (AEP) Kentucky Coal which never activated it. 12 AEP later sold their coal operations in eastern Kentucky and thee was speculation that Beverly Ann might load coal again because of extensive reserves, but nothing came about it.
In February 2004, CSXT filed a notice of exemption with the federal Surface Transportation Board to abandon on all but the first mile of track on the Middle Creek Subdivision, 1 12 citing a lack of traffic on the line in over a decade. 2 3 12 But due to an increase in demand and price for coal, many inactive branches and operations were reactivated. 13 In 2006, Appalachian Fuels, which was the successor of several Horizon Natural Resources properties that had been sold under bankruptcy, leased the unused Middle Creek Subdivision with plans to reopen the Beverly Ann tipple. By 2007, the tipple was owned by Frasure Creek Mining, a subsidiary of Trinity Coal, which was reportedly capable of loading a 100-car unit train within 24 hours. 14 The surface mining site became the largest coal producer in the state. 15
In 2010, several environmental organizations, including Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper, and Waterkeeper Alliance, accused Frasure Creek Mining and International Coal Group (ICG) of falsifying reports and violating permit limits. 16 They specifically accused the coal company of having almost 20,000 violations of the Clean Water Act. 15 The company was suspected of falsifying pollution discharges by reporting the same numbers but changing the dates. 17
The Kentucky Energy and Environmental Cabinet attempted to settle the matter before a federal lawsuit was filed in Franklin Circuit Court in December 2010. 18 However, the judge denied those settlements, agreeing with the environmental organizations that fines would not prevent future violations from companies that had already failed to comply previously. On April 26, 2012, the Kentucky Supreme Court also agreed with lower court rulings that the environmental organizations were supported by the Clean Water Act to intervene in the lawsuit.
After a five-year legal battle, Frasure Creek Mining and ICG agreed to a settlement on December 7, 2015. 19 The company agreed to pay $500,000, which included a potential $6 million fine if they failed to follow the guidelines of the deal. Frasure Creek Mining had years of Clean Water Act violations and was issued the largest fine ever entered by the state for environmental violations against any company. 20 Following the settlement, if Frasure Creek mining company or any of its owners, including Trinity Coal, New Trinity Coal, and ICG, wanted to apply for new permits, a fine of $2.75 million had to be paid. 19 Frasure Creek Mining transferred its mining permit to another company, which led to the company leaving the state. 19 20
Related, CSX filed a notice of exemption with the Surface Transportation Board to abandon the entire Middle Creek Subdivision in November 2015. 21 This prompted Prestonsburg Mayor Les Stapleton to request that the graveled rail bed be left intact so that it could be transferred into a rail trail to spur economic development via recreational tourism. Floyd County Judge-Executive Ben Hale filed documents opposing the rail line’s closure because of economic development efforts at the former Beverly Ann tipple site, although he could not provide specifics. The Surface Transportation Board permitted CSX to abandon the branch line on December 1, giving the city of Prestonsburg time to coordinate the purchase of the right-of-way and develop plans for the rail trail.
In August 2020, the 8.6-mile Prestonsburg Passage Rail Trail was opened, extending the existing Garfield Trail and connecting Prestonsburg, the Middle Creek National Battlefield, and David. 22 The project was funded with $1.95 million in Abandoned Mine Lands Pilot Program Grant.
- Prestonsburg Passage Rail Trail at TrailLink
- “Middle Creek Subdivision-MZ.” TrainWeb 15 June 2002. 3 Nov. 2009 Article.
- Seay, Tom. “Kentucky Abandonments.” Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Magazine July/August 2004. 3 Nov. 2009 Article.
- Surface Transportation Board. CSX Transportation, Inc.–abandonment exemption–in Floyd County, KY. N.p., 9 Feb. 2004. Web. 3 Nov. 2009. Article.
- Surface Transportation Board. CSX Transportation, Inc.–abandonment exemption–in Floyd County, KY. N.p., 6 Sept. 2004. Web. 3 Nov. 2009. Article.
- Young, Everett. “Caboose Notes.” The Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Newsletter, Mar. 1975, p. 10.
- Elbon, David C. “David, Kentucky.” Kentucky Atlas & Gazetteer, 2023.
- Shaver, Carl W. The Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Newsletter, Oct. 1977, p. 3.
- Young, Everett N. “An Operational Look at the Big Sandy.” The Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Newsletter, Oct. 1977, p. 9.
- Young, Everett N. “The Big Sandy Subdivision.” Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Magazine, Oct 1993: 10. Print.
- Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Newsletter, Aug. 1977, p. 5.
- Lewis, Lloyd D. “Strike Violence in the Eastern Kentucky Coalfields.” Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Newsletter, Jul. 1981, p. 11.
- “Kentucky Abandonments.” Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Magazine, Jul.-Aug. 2004, pp. 14-15.
- Young, Everett N. “Big Sandy Coal Developments.” Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Magazine, Apr. 2006, p. 3.
- Shuster, Phillip A. “Big Sandy Coal Developments.” Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Magazine, Mar. 2007, p. 3.
- “Groups Sue Frasure Creek Mining.” Waterkeeper Alliance, 16 Mar. 2015.
- “Clean Water Act case against ICG and Frasure Creek Mining.” Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.
- Withrow, Ted. “Landmark settlement in Clean Water Act case.” Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, 5 Oct. 2012.
- “Hearing begins in Clear Water enforcement case.” Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, 30 Aug. 2011.
- Estep, Bill. “Coal company acknowledges violations, agrees to $6 million fine.” Lexington Herald-Leader, 8 Dec. 2015.
- Chance, Eric. “KY Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Citizens and Water.” Appalachian Voices, 27 Apr. 2012.
- Meadows, Mary. “Future of Eastern Ky. rail line debated.” Advocate-Messenger, 12 Jan. 2016, p. 6.
- “Prestonsburg Passage Rail Trail.” TrailLink.