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HOW WE GOT HERE...

The Shenandoah Valley is home to Norfolk Southern Railway's "B-Line", a 48-mile freight railroad corridor stretching from milepost 51 in Front Royal to milepost 99 in Broadway. The railroad was chartered as a route from Manassas to Harrisonburg. During the American Civil War the Manassas Gap Railroad played host to major historical events like the Great Train Raid of 1861 and was critical to the outcome of several key battles, including those in the Valley.

 

"[The] rail line once carried wounded and dying soldiers to hospitals in the Valley from the battlefields in eastern Virginia – the same line that was the constant target of Federal and Confederate raids alike, and carried aged veterans back into the Valley to visit the battlefields of their youth." - Keven Walker, Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation

86 years later, Norfolk Southern Railway was created by a merger of the Southern Railway and the famous Norfolk and Western Railway on June 1st, 1982. Consequently, the Shenandoah Valley, which once thrived on competitive freight rates from both railroads was suddenly left with one option for rail service. Now experiencing a redundancy of rail lines, Norfolk Southern evaluated their north-to-south routes and prioritized the ex-N&W mainline from Roanoke through Page Valley, and the ex-Southern mainline from Atlanta, through the Piedmont region.

Given the lesser importance of the B-Line extension compared to other routes, it is assumed that Norfolk Southern decided not to re-deck some of our local high bridges with fresh railroad ties, and placed them out of service. A long-circulated myth about the structural integrity of Stony Creek bridge in Edinburg was a convenient excuse for the railroad to cut back service. Luckily, those myths have been cleared up by an extensive bridge study commissioned and funded privately by the Shenandoah Rail Corridor coalition.

Amidst numerous other business decisions and the advent of the "Precision Scheduled Railroading" industry model of the late 2010's, the "B-line" has slowly seen a decline traffic since the late 1980's in favor of higher traffic routes. The last freight customer, RR Donnelly in Strasburg, announced it's closure in late 2019, and the northern ten miles of the corridor were finally designated "out-of-service" in December 2020.

 

To this day, the corridor is flanked by thriving short line railroads; Winchester & Western Railroad out of Winchester, the Chesapeake & Western Railway out of Harrisonburg, and the Shenandoah Valley Railroad out of Staunton. These railroads move approximately 20,000 rail carloads per year; or 70,000 trucks worth of freight.

Check out our RESOURCES tab to see our supporting data.

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Civil War Reconciliation Train at Tom's Brook, Sept. 19th, 1885

Southern Railway locomotives at Strasburg Depot, 1978

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Bridge at Toms Brook, VA - 2023

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Bridge at Timberville, VA - 2023

WHY IS THIS STILL A PROBLEM?

Despite currently connecting the Shenandoah Valley to America's rail network in Front Royal, Strasburg, and Harrisonburg, our friends at the Shenandoah Rail Trail Exploratory Partnership promote removing our vital infrastructure and converting it to a single-use trail, touting it as a "transportation solution."  While well-intentioned, neither the Rail Trail Exploratory Partnership, the Friends of the Shenandoah Rail Trail, the Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley, nor the Shenandoah Valley Economic Partnership have presented thorough data that comprehensively rules out the viability of freight, tourist, or passenger rail in the Valley (see our data here). They assume that because Norfolk Southern, hasn't reactivated the line, that it must not be viable as a short line railroad. Yet, our organization has eight railroad operators interested in re-introducing service.

Our coalition has spoken to local leaders across of all of these organizations and towns and we're consistently fed the same discouraging message: the railroad won't work because the railroad is dead. That was also the case for the Shenandoah Valley Railroad in Staunton. The 20.2 miles of railroad (then owned by Norfolk Southern) was considered unsavable, but was rehabilitated by specialized track construction and maintenance equipment. In recent years, the SVRR handles approximately 2,100 car loads per year via CSX and Norfolk Southern. One commodity shipped on that line is rock salt for use during our icy winters, resulting in an estimated $1 million annual savings for VDOT in shipping costs over trucking. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How do those savings impact you?

 

The biggest industry benefiting from rail in our valley is indisputably the agricultural industry, specifically poultry and dairy farmers. Outside of harvest season, the Chesapeake & Western Railway (CW) supplies our Valley farmers with unit grain trains into Rockingham County from the Midwest via Norfolk Southern. A unit train is one in which all of the cars in the manifest carry the same commodity. For example, Virginia Poultry Growers Co-operative, Inc. purchases unit grain trains often exceeding 80 cars and many times, these companies receive a bulk discount in shipping costs. These savings are passed down straight to our farmers! We know that having an independent short line railroad with an active connection to CSX Railroad in Strasburg would re-introduce competition to our Valley farmers and further increase their bottom line. With the costs of farming rising higher than ever, these savings will make the difference between win or lose from season to season. It's time to invest in our Valley's future and put farmers first as they work hard to support our local economy year after year.

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Salt transloading at Houff Corporation, Weyers Cave, VA
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Unit grain train at VPGC, GUS, LLC near Broadway, VA

 THE SOLUTION

We believe in the success of trails, but not at the expense of vital railroad infrastructure that is strongly sought after by light industry and business. This is why we promote "Trails Plus", a rails-WITH-trails solution to preserve the historic railroad for continued rail service and connect our battlefields and communities with a recreational trail experience in the existing right-of-way.

 

According to the US Department of Transportation, there are 343 examples of safe, successful trails co-existing with active railroads.[3]

Check out our "Rails-WITH-Trails" tab to learn more! 

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Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) Trail and Western Maryland Scenic Railroad
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