Railroad trail system gains momentum, some resistance

Published 12:19 am Friday, December 17, 2010

The idea of turning the unused railroad track running through the area into a trail system has gained much support, but has also seen some resistance from a couple elected officials.
The Saluda Grade Trail Committee was recently established with hopes of asking railroad owner Norfolk Southern to allow a trail system to be placed from Landrum to Saluda.
The trail committee has received majority support from the Town of Tryon, City of Saluda, City of Landrum and Polk County commissioners. Tryon Councilman Wim Woody, however, abstained from voting a few weeks ago, and Landrum Councilman Billy Inman voted against the resolution of support this week. The Polk County Board of Commissioners and the Saluda City Council both gave unanimous support.
The Saluda Grade Trail Committee hopes to mirror the Virginia Creeper Trail system, which is a 35-mile trail created on a former rail bed used for hiking, biking and horses from Abingdon, Va. through Damscus, Va. to the North Carolina state line. The Saluda Grade Trail would be approximately 14 miles between Landrum and Saluda.
Woody and Inman each said they do not think taking up the tracks is the best idea for the future.
Inman said he has always heard the rail is the only track from the coast up North and it wouldn’t be a good idea to take it up in case of a national emergency, where items could be moved by rail.
“When you pull the tracks, they are never going back in,” Inman said during a Landrum council meeting Tuesday. “This is a scenic line and the possibility for a Great Smoky Mountains scenic line is tremendous.”
Woody said during a recent Tryon meeting that taking up the tracks removes any chance of a scenic route between Charleston, S.C. and Asheville. He also said he doesn’t think the area could afford to restore and maintain the rail bed.
Inman said he would like for the trail system to mirror the Allegheny Highlands Trail of Maryland. The trail in Maryland is a 20.47 mile rail trail system from Cumberland, Maryland to the Mason Dixon line that meets the Allegheny Highlands Trail of Pennsylvania. The Allegheny trail system runs parallel to the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, which operates tourist trains powered by a steam locomotive.
Trail committee members John Vining and Andy Millard have said they do not know what the best option for the trail bed will all depend on what Norfolk Southern will allow, if anything. Options include taking up the tracks and filling the bed with crusher run for the trail or leaving the tracks and putting the trail on top or possibly beside the tracks.
Millard said Tuesday that it is a safe assumption the railroad will never be used again. He also said the tracks do not have to be taken up for a trail system; it will all depend on Norfolk Southern.
The last time the rail was used was early December 2001.
“If Norfolk Southern even thinks they will use (the rail) again, they won’t let us get past first base,” said Millard.
Millard also said the reason the passenger train idea didn’t go anywhere was because of the liability involved in carrying passengers up the Saluda Grade, which is the steepest grade in the United States.
Vining also said the costs of using the line again may be substantial due to a large blowout between Tryon and Saluda and the fact that the tracks have not been used in nine years. The railroad is also cut on the Landrum side.
Vining said in a perfect world, he agrees with Inman on wanting passenger trains, but that idea is probably not feasible.
The trail committee has plans to gain as much support from local governments and organizations, as well as state elected officials prior to approaching Norfolk Southern. Vining said the plan is also to create a master plan of exactly what the committee wants to do and take it and a stack of resolutions to Norfolk Southern between now and next summer.
The committee has already received support from Congressman Heath Shuler and several local organizations, including the Tryon Downtown Development Association, the Foothills Chamber of Commerce and the Tryon Riding and Hunt Club, among others. Vining said the committee is also going to seek support from Spartanburg and Greenville County Commissioners, as well as Congressman Trey Gowdy in South Carolina. The new trail, if created, would stretch across two states and three counties; Greenville and Spartanburg Counties in South Carolina and Polk in North Carolina.
Millard and Vining said Norfolk Southern has made it clear the stretch between Landrum and Saluda is a dangerous slope and now may be a good time to approach the company.
“(Norfolk Southern) gave Tryon the depot about 17 years ago and they worked with the town on the Nina Simone project, so Tryon has a history of working with them,” Millard told county commissioners recently.

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