Rails to Trails in Virginia

the Norfolk and Western Railroad crossed the Appomattox River via High Bridge
the Norfolk and Western Railroad crossed the Appomattox River via High Bridge
Source: US Geological Survey (USGS), Farmville VA 1:125,000 topographic quadrangle (1893)

Some former railroads that have been abandoned have been converted into rails-to-trails projects. When the Norfolk Southern ceased hauling coal along the Guest River in 1988, it donated the right-of-way and the George Washington National Forest created the Guest River Gorge Trail.1

The Appalachian Trail crosses the James River on a bridge that uses the piers of an abandoned Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Railroad bridge, upstream af Snowden Dam (Cushaw Hydroelectric Project). When a new bridge was built in 1954 to reduce a curve in the track, the railroad removed its old bridge and sold the piers. An enthusiastic hiking couple, Bill and Laurie Foot, figured out that the Appalachian Trail could be re-routed away from the busy US 501 bridge if a new pedestrian bridge was constructed on the old piers.

They tracked down the owner, who used the piers to tie up a houseboat, and the Appalachian Trail Club purchased the piers for $1. It took another $1.5 million and about a decade to build a new bridge, including the addition of new concrete on top of the piers to raise them 10 feet higher above floodwater level. The "James River Foot Bridge" became the official route of the Appalachian Trail in 2000. The name is not a typo; it honors Bill Foot, who died just before the new pedestrian bridge was completed.2

the Richmond and Alleghany Railroad built the original bridge over the James River and started using it in 1881
the Richmond and Alleghany Railroad built the original bridge over the James River and started using it in 1881
Source: US Geological Survey (USGS), Lexington VA 1:125,000 topographic quadrangle (1894)

the Appalachian Trail now uses the old railroad piers for the James River Foot Bridge, named after Bill Foot
the Appalachian Trail now uses the old railroad piers for the James River Foot Bridge, named after Bill Foot
Source: US Geological Survey (USGS), Snowden VA 1:24,000 topographic quadrangle (2019)

The New York, Philadelphia and Norfolk Railroad closed the branch line between Cape Charles and Kiptopeke in 1972. The 2004 Eastern Shore Bicycle Plan proposed creating a bicycle trail from Cape Charles to the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge. The first phases of the Southern Tip Bike & Hike Trail were completed in 2011 and 2019, using the abandoned rail route. Two more phases were planned to complete a fully-accessible, paved route linking to Cape Charles.3

a tie from the New York, Philadelphia and Norfolk Railroad branch line to Kiptopeke still remains on the right-of-way
a tie from the New York, Philadelphia and Norfolk Railroad branch line to Kiptopeke still remains on the right-of-way
Source: Accomack-Northampton County Planning District Commission, Southern Tip Phases III and IV Preliminary Engineering Report and Feasibility Study (Figure 4)

In 2019, the Bay Coast Railroad ceased operations on the Eastern Shore. Accomack and Northampton counties could find new Class III shortline railroads to restore service on a portion of the track, but a 49-mile stretch between Cape Charles and Hallwood were abandoned. The 40-foot wide right of way crossed flat ground, making it especially suitable for recreational biking.4

At the time, demographers predicted the population of the Eastern Shore would decline by 20% over the next decade. After the railroad officially requested the track be "rail-banked" to allow for the trail, the executive director of the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce highlighted the economic development that could come from a new tourist attraction:5

People can come and stay in one town and cycle to the next couple of towns to make stops, creating new retail, restaurants, and other attractions. It has great potential to attract new tourists, hikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts as well as improve the quality of life of everyone living on the Eastern Shore.

Alexandria, Loudoun and Hampshire (Washington and Old Dominion)

Atlantic & Danville Railway

Commonwealth Railway

Danville and New River Railroad

New York, Philadelphia and Norfolk Railroad / Delmarva Central Railroad

Fredericksburg and Gordonsville Railroad

Interstate Railroad

New River Plateau Railroad ("Cripple Creek Extension")

Recreational Trails in Virginia

Richmond and Danville Railroad and the Richmond Terminal

South Atlantic and Ohio Railway/Virginia and Southwestern Railroad

Virginia Air Line Railroad

Virginia Blue Ridge Railway

Virginia-Carolina Railroad (Virginia Creeper)

Virginian Railway

the right-of-way of the branch line of the New York, Philadelphia and Norfolk Railroad from Cape Charles to Kiptopeke reforested after abandonment
the right-of-way of the branch line of the New York, Philadelphia and Norfolk Railroad from Cape Charles to Kiptopeke reforested after abandonment
the right-of-way of the branch line of the New York, Philadelphia and Norfolk Railroad from Cape Charles to Kiptopeke reforested after abandonment
Source: Accomack-Northampton County Planning District Commission, Southern Tip Phases III and IV Preliminary Engineering Report and Feasibility Study (Figures 6 and 12)

Links

References

1. "Guest River Gorge Trail," George Washington National Forest, https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/gwj/recarea/?recid=78552 (last checked January 31, 2020)
2. Joe Tennis, Virginia Rail Trails: Crossing the Commonwealth, Arcadia Publishing, 2014, pp.142-143, https://books.google.com/books?id=GyZ3CQAAQBAJ (last checked July 3, 2020)
3. "Cape Charles Claims Rich History As It Celebrates Centennial in 1986," Eastern Shore News, December 10, 1986, pp.6-7, https://capecharles.municipalcms.com//files/documents/CapeCharlesCentennial1886-198612101986EasternShoreNews1468125535020818PM.pdf; "Southern Tip Bike & Hike Trail," Northampton County, https://www.co.northampton.va.us/visitors/tourism/free_things_to_see_and_do/free_recreation/bikes_and_hikes/southern_tip_bike___hike_trail; "Cape Charles To Apply for Funding To Connect to US 13 Bike Trail," Eastern Shore Post, July 23, 2020, https://www.easternshorepost.com/2020/07/23/cape-charles-to-apply-for-funding-to-connect-to-us-13-bike-trail/ (last checked August 15, 2020)
4. "Soon-to-be abandon track in Va. might be turned over to rails-to-trails program," RT&S, July 2, 2019, https://www.rtands.com/freight/soon-to-be-abandon-track-in-va-might-be-turned-over-to-rails-to-trails-program/ (last checked December 6, 2019)
5. "On the Eastern Shore, locals hope a 49-mile rail trail will reinvigorate the economy," Virginia Mercury, August 12, 2020, https://www.virginiamercury.com/2020/08/12/on-the-eastern-shore-locals-hope-a-49-mile-rail-trail-will-reinvigorate-the-economy/ (last checked August 13, 2020)


Railroads of Virginia
Parks, Forests, Tourism in Virginia
Virginia Places