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Great Smoky Mountains Railroad secures Short Line Railroad Grant

RALEIGH – The North Carolina Ports Authority and 13 short line railroads will be improving their rail infrastructure thanks to approximately $10.9 million in matching grant funds being awarded as part of the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Freight Rail and Rail Crossing Safety Improvement program (FRRCSI).

Among the 13 short line railroads to receive a grant allocation, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad was awarded $921,950 for bridge improvements as well as track, rail, and crosstie upgrades.

 FRRCSI supports rail infrastructure health, safety and performance throughout the state, enabling NCDOT to partner with rail companies on improvement projects to effectively move freight. This partnership helps railroads efficiently meet customer needs in cost-effective ways while preparing them for growing service demands and partnerships with new businesses and industries.

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (formerly Railway) owns 53 miles (85 kilometers) of the Murphy Branch, a former branch line of the Southern Railway between Dillsboro and Andrews, North Carolina. The line features two tunnels, and 25 bridges, and was completed to Dillsboro in 1883 and reached Andrews in 1890.

GSMR began operations in 1988, through a lease agreement between the NCDOT and Malcom and Joan MacNeil. With help of a team of investors, the MacNeils secured the lease within 48 hours of the Norfolk Southern Railway dispatching work trains to the Murphy Branch to begin dismantling the track. The GSMR route uses a route which passes through “fertile valleys, a tunnel and across river gorges” in the Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina. In December 1999, MacNeil sold the GSMR to American Heritage Railways, owners of the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (D&SNG) in Colorado. In 2000, with a new Tuscan red and gold stripe livery, retiring the bright and colorful blue, yellow and red “circus train” livery, the GSMR debuted as the newly formed Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.

The awarded grants are matched with railroad investments to contribute more than $21.7 million in rail infrastructure improvements statewide. Together, these projects will upgrade more than 12 miles of railroad track and 35 bridges in North Carolina. The funds awarded are as follows:

Aberdeen Carolina and Western Railway: $3,563,324 for bridge improvements, siding construction and mainline track upgrades (Cabarrus, Montgomery, Moore, Stanley, Mecklenburg counties)

Aberdeen and Rockfish Railroad: $419,175 for rail upgrades on the mainline (Hoke County)

Alexander Railroad Company: $218,660 for mainline crosstie upgrades and other track improvements (Alexander, Iredell counties)

Atlantic and Western Railway: $625,572 for switch upgrades, rail improvements and bridge improvements (Lee County)

Caldwell County Railroad: $73,125 for track alignment improvements, and track and crosstie upgrades (Catawba, Burke, Caldwell counties)

Carolina Coastal Railway: $1,113,500 for mainline bridge and track improvements (Beaufort, Greene, Johnston, Martin, Nash, Pitt, Wake, Washington, and Wilson counties)

Chesapeake and Albemarle Railroad: $457,400 for bridge and structure improvements, plus track and crosstie upgrades (Currituck, Camden, Pasquotank counties)

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad: $921,950 for bridge improvements, track, rail and crosstie upgrades (Swain, Jackson, Macon, Cherokee counties)

North Carolina State Ports Authority: $825,000 for dock rail improvements at the Port of Wilmington (New Hanover County)

North Carolina and Virginia Railroad: $974,434 for rail upgrades, bridge improvements and crosstie upgrades (Bertie, Northampton counties)

RJ Corman Railroad Company: $219,349 for track and crosstie upgrades, and bridge improvements (Columbus County)

Thermal Belt Railway: $102,050 for rail and crossties upgrades and track alignment improvements (Rutherford County)

Wilmington Terminal Railroad: $575,172 for yard switch upgrades and related track improvements (New Hanover County)

Yadkin Valley Railroad: $762,538 for bridge improvements, switch upgrades and mainline track improvements (Surry, Stokes, Forsyth, Wilkes counties)

The Freight Rail and Rail Crossing Safety Improvement Program was established in 2013 by the General Assembly.

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