the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway is now a 7-mile hiking trail that crosses the Tye River east of Roses Mill
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
The Virginia Blue Ridge Railway connected Massies Mill to the Southern Railway line at Tye River, on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge. Today, the route of the railroad is a hiking trail.
The Tye River Timber Company and the Leftwich Timber Company started the rail line in 1914. They shipped lumber cut from chestnut trees from mills at Woodson and Massies Mill to markets on the East Coast. The railroad was built up the Tye and Piney rivers, with a six-mile extension to Massies Mill.
The original plan was to extract the timber before the chestnut blight ruined it, but the US Government force the railroad to suspend operations during World War I. After the loss of the primary commodity hauled by the railroad, it struggled to make a profit from shipping other local products. Orchards shipped apples and materials, and the mill at Massies Mill manufactured barrels for that product. The Great Depression reduced traffic, and the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway stopped passenger service in 1936.
Starting in 1931, the railroad began shipping titanium ore from a quarry on the Piney River. In 1939, the Riverton Lime & Stone Company opened an aplite quarry and began shipping the quartz/feldspar rock to factories that used the raw material to make insulation, roof shingles, and other products. Another company opened a second quarry in 1941, and the traffic helped keep the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway economically viable.
After the American Cyanamid Company acquired control of the titanium mining and processing operations in 1944, titanium traffic expanded. Materials such as sulphuric acid and limestone were transported to the processing plant that converted ilmenite ore into titanium dioxide pigment, increasing the amount of inbound traffic handled by the railroad.
The railroad operated with coal-fired steam engines. The Virginia Blue Ridge Railway was able to purchase used steam locomotives at low prices, first from the War Assets Administration and the US Army after World War II and then from other railroads as they converted to diesel engines. One company executive blocked the switch from steam engines, but after he died the railroad purchased diesel equipment in 1963.
The last day of steam operations was August 1, 1963. The railroad delayed sale of two steam engines and considered operating them for tourist ("ferroequinologist") trips, but then sold the engines in 1964. Four of the last five steam locomotives have ended up being preserved rather than scrapped.
The titanium mine and processing closed in 1971, two years after Hurricane Camille had flooded the area and forced expensive repairs to the railroad tracks and bridges. After the last aplite quarry closed in 1980, the railroad was abandoned. The steel tracks were removed and the diesel locomotives were sold.
a caboose with the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway name is parked at the site of the Piney River depot
Planning to convert the right-of-way into a hiking/biking trail started in 1997. The first part of the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail opened in 2003, and extended later as bridges were rebuilt to its current 7-mile length.1
Amherst and Nelson counties own the right-of-way now, and have obtained grants from the Commonwealth Transportation Board to create a gravel path for hikers and bikers. The counties advertise the trail to attract tourists.2
the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway trail includes a covered bridge over Naked Creek, flowing into the Piney River
The trail goes near the old American Cyanamid Company processing plant, which EPA added to the National Priorities List (NPL) in 1983 and managed as a Superfund cleanup site. Hikers on the trail are advised not to touch the water in the drainage ditch along the trail there. It may be brown in color due to ferrous iron from historical mining operations, with a pH as low as 3.5.3
the Superfund cleanup plan at the American Cyanamid Company facility identifies the most-contaminated areas on either side of the trail
Source: US District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Consent Decree Third Modification
the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway trail at the Roses Mill trailhead