Blue Ridge Tunnel

the Blue Ridge Tunnel crosses underneath I-64, US 250, and the Blue Ridge Parkway at Rockfish Gap
the Blue Ridge Tunnel crosses underneath I-64, US 250, and the Blue Ridge Parkway at Rockfish Gap
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

The Louisa Railroad wanted to build an extension west of Charlottesville into the Shenandoah Valley, but the company could not afford the cost and risk of building across the Blue Ridge. To solve that problem, the General Assembly had the state build the extension, including the four railroad tunnels.

In 1849 the legislature chartered a new company, the Blue Ridge Railroad. It had the responsibility of constructing 17 miles of track from where the Louisa Railroad ended, 11 west of Charlottesville, to Waynesboro on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. The General Assembly also rechartered the Louisa Railroad as the Virginia Central in 1850, retaining the arrangement where it would have exclusive right to use the Blue Ridge Railroad.1

The first railroad tunnels constructed in Virginia were built in the 1850's on Afton Mountain, between Waynesboro and Charlottesville. Three small tunnels on the east side of the mountain, and the 4,273-foot long Blue Ridge Tunnel at Rockfish Gap, enabled trains to cross the Blue Ridge. At the tunnel's deepest point, trains were 720 feet below the surface of Scott Mountain.2

in 1848, no railroad crossed the Blue Ridge yet
in 1848, no railroad crossed the Blue Ridge yet
Source: Library of Congress, A map of the internal improvements of Virginia (Claudius Crozet, 1848)

During construction, trains traveled on temporary tracks with steep grades and tight curves around Brooksville tunnel, Robinson's Cut, and Rockfish Gap. Workers needed supplies and equipment to excavate tunnels and cuts (trenches through the bedrock) from both their east and west portals.

Claudius Crozet engineered the tunnels at Afton Mountain. He had served twice as the principal engineer for the Virginia Board of Public Works, and was hired in 1849 as the chief engineer for the Blue Ridge Railroad Company. The Blue Ridge Tunnel, the longest in the United States at the time of construction, is also known as the Crozet Tunnel.

Crozet broke the project into eight sections, awarding separate contracts for each one. The long tunnel at the crest of the Blue Ridge was the most challenging of them all.

Crozet awarded a separate contract for constructing a railroad bridge over the Rockfish Gap Turnpike. The bridge required skilled labor to shape stones and build arches. The contractors in that area had bid prices based on simple excavation of railroad cuts and moving dirt to build a flat base for the track, and were unwilling to include the bridge.

since 2001, Nelson County has been actively working to convert the original Blue Ridge Tunnel into a tourist attraction
since 2001, Nelson County has been actively working to convert the original Blue Ridge Tunnel into a tourist attraction
Source: WVPT, The Blue Ridge Tunnel

In addition, though the project was surrounded by Blue Ridge bedrock, finding the appropriate stone was a challenge. Crozet reported:3

The masonry will cost more than I had expected, owing to the singular scarcity of the building stone in this vicinity, which compelled us, after having exhausted a shallow quarry close to the work, to go a distance of several miles for limestone.

Two contractors were hired to build the tunnels. John Rutter was supposed to complete the large Blue Ridge Tunnel, while John Kelly was responsible for the others. Rutter soon demonstrated he could not get the work accomplished and Kelly built all the tunnels.

The contractors building the sections of track, the railroad bridge over the Rockfish Gap Turnpike, and the tunnels hired white Irish immigrants for pay.

Crozet's contractors hired mostly Irish workers who moved to the job site looking for work, since they were more available than local farm laborers. Slaveowners in the area were reluctant to rent their enslaved men for an entire year. Crozet ended up with 800 Irish building track and tunnels in Albemarle County vs. 200 enslaved men. The Irish would not work on the 36 Holy Days in the calendar, and they went on strike in 1853 and earned higher wages, but Crozet could not hire enough enslaved people to replace them.

A cholera epidemic in 1854 killed an unknown number of workers and their families. At least 14 of the Irish died in construction accidents. In the 1850's, there was no workers compensation program and no death benefits for the Irish workers injured or killed on the job.

Social tensions between the Irish and the enslaved workers were reduced by directing them to tasks that kept them separate. Crozet wrote to the Board of Public Works:4

...it will be advantageous to hire as many negroes as practicable for the Tunnel; because the numerous holy days of the Irish and their practice to stop work when any one, even a mere child, dies, causes a considerable loss of time

What is documented is an 1850 fight between Irish workers known as the Fisherville Rebellion. Workers who had emigrated from County Cork in southern Ireland left their housing on the east side of the Blue Ridge, and marched across the mountain to attack the workers from County Connaught living near Fisherville. Those men had come originally from northwestern Ireland to build the western end of the Blue Ridge Tunnel and the railroad track down the western face of the mountain.

A house at Fishersville was burned before militia from Staunton arrived to separate the rival groups. The local newspaper reported:5

Our jail has never confined a merrier set. They seem to have no idea that there was anything wrong in their late proceedings...they only proposed to crack a few skulls of their own countrymen.

the state-owned Blue Ridge Railroad contracted for enslaved workers to construct the trackbed and tunnels
the state-owned Blue Ridge Railroad contracted for enslaved workers to construct the trackbed and tunnels
Source: Railroads and the Making of Modern America, Blue Ridge Railroad Contract for the hire of Negroes

Crozet resented the ability of the Irish to press for higher wages. At the end of 1853, he arranged for 33 enslaved men to work on the tunnel, signing a one-year contract to pay their owners. Crozet had to feed the enslaved men, but they were not pid wages for their work.

They were unable to go on strike, but their owners still ensured a measure of worker protection to protect the value of the "property" being rented for the construction project. The contract prevented Crozet from assigning any of the enslaved men to blasting. They worked instead as "floorers," removing the rock already blasted from the working face of the tunnel.

Despite that precaution, two of the enslaved men were killed. On April 6, 1854, rail cars loaded with dirt separated from the locomotive when an iron pin broke. The cars raced down the track and smashed into a handcar, killing two enslaved workers on it.

The Virginia Attorney General ruled that the Blue Ridge Railroad was responsible for compensating the slaveowner for the loss of his property. No mention was made of compensating the families of the dead men; in the culture of industrial slavery, the need for such payment would have been a foreign concept. Crozet then stopped using slave labor, to avoid the risks of compensation.6

the Blue Ridge Tunnel, engineered by Claudius Crozet, was the first tunnel to be completed in Virginia
the Blue Ridge Tunnel, engineered by Claudius Crozet, was the first tunnel to be completed in Virginia
Source: Library of Congress, Southeast End of Tunnel - Blue Ridge Railroad, Blue Ridge Tunnel, U.S. Route 250 at Rockfish Gap

The tunnels were designed to be 16' wide and 20' high, for one railroad track. Crozet noted the dimensions would be sufficient if the gauge was widened later and would provide:7

...safe room on each side of the cars for persons that may happen to be in the tunnel, and for side ditches [to drain water], sufficient height above the chimney stacks of the engines for draft and ventilation...

the western end of the tunnel was reinforced with a brick lining
the western end of the tunnel was reinforced with a brick lining
Source: Library of Congress, Interior of Blue Ridge (Crozet) Tunnel

The construction process involved hard manual labor to drill a hole in the rock:8

Holes were drilled into the layers of rock using a hand drill and hammer. Holes were then filled with powder and blasted in order to make the rock small enough to remove from the tunnel. The drill was held by a "shaker" who turned it slightly after each blow and gave it a shake to flip the rock dust out of the hole. The "steel driver" swung the hammer as hard and as often as he could, pounding the drill into the rock.

Black powder was pushed into the hole; dynamite had not been developed when the Blue Ridge Railroad cut its four tunnels through the Blue Ridge. Lighting a fuse led to explosion of the powder, and it was dangerous work to approach a hole to relight a fuse which failed. After the black powder explosion cracked the rock, more hard labor was required to pry loose and break up the chunks of rock. Pieces were then lifted, by hand, onto a cart and hauled away.

The 536-foot long tunnel closest to Charlottesville was named the Greenwood Tunnel, and was completed in 1853. The rock was hard enough to require blasting, but with so many fractures that it would slide into the tunnel if not supported. Construction was abandoned twice and the laborers discharged, until a contractor managed to complete it. Roof arches were extended beyond the east and west portals, to protect the tracks from future slides.

the east portal of the Blue Ridge Tunnel
the east portal of the Blue Ridge Tunnel
Source: HathiTrust, Claudius Crozet; his story of the four tunnels in the Blue Ridge

West of the Greenwood Tunnel was the 864-foot long Brooksville Tunnel. The first 150 feet of the eastern portal passed through hard rock that required no support, once the tunnel had been blasted. The rest had to be supported as excavation progressed. Workers installed a frame of strong wooden timbers to provide initial support, until a brick tunnel roof in the shape of an arch could be completed to support the clay and decomposed rock overhead.

The arched tunnel was completed in 1856. West of the first 150 feet, the roof was made with two million bricks. Carving the tunnel through soft rock was not easier than blasting though solid rock, because extra effort was required in the confined space for bracing the roof and constructing the brick arches.

Between the Brooksville Tunnel and the Blue Ridge Tunnel was the 100-foot long Little Rock tunnel.9

the east portal of the Greenwood Tunnel
the east portal of the Greenwood Tunnel
Source: HathiTrust, Claudius Crozet; his story of the four tunnels in the Blue Ridge

three tunnels, constructed initially as part of the Blue Ridge Tunnel project in the 1850's, have been converted into railroad cuts
three tunnels, constructed initially as part of the Blue Ridge Tunnel project in the 1850's, have been converted into railroad cuts
Source: Library of Congress, Historic American Engineering Record, HAER VA,63-AFT.V,1- (sheet 1 of 2) - Blue Ridge Railroad, Blue Ridge Tunnel

The most challenging tunnel was the Blue Ridge Tunnel at the crest of the mountain. It sloped upward gently from the eastern entrance, at 1,430 feet in elevation, to the western entrance at 1,500 feet.

Construction began on February 14, 1850. Workers advanced towards each other from each end; for the first time, no vertical shaft was constructed in the middle. Progress averaged 26 feet per month on each end, using drills to make holes for black powder to blast rock free. Muscle power, not machinery, was key to drilling holes and shoveling the blasted rock into carts for removal. About 800 workers were involved in the construction project.

The workers coming from two sides met on December 25, 1856, when the tunnel was "holed through." After eight years of difficult construction, trains began using the tunnel on April 13, 1858.10

After workers on the west portal excavated 900' of material, they exposed a fracture filled with water. Horse-powered pumps kept the water levels down as various veins were encountered, but the workers deep underground struggled to stay dry. Though Merle Travis's lyrics describe mine tunnels as a place "where the rain never falls and the sun never shines," the Blue Ridge Tunnel was wet. Water still drips into it today from fractures in the bedrock, and ditches are required to keep the modern recreational trail dry.11

even today, the original Blue Ridge Tunnel is wet from seepage through rock fractures
even today, the original Blue Ridge Tunnel is wet from seepage through rock fractures
Source: WVPT, The Blue Ridge Tunnel

Crozet managed to connect the two ends of the tunnel on December 29, 1856, before the 1857 financial "panic." That economic recession, among other things, ended plans to complete the Manassas Gap Railroad by building a separate line to Alexandria rather than use tracks of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad from the junction at Manassas.

the eastern end of the Blue Ridge Tunnel, cut through Catoctin greenstone, did not need brick reinforcement like the western end through the metamorphic Chilhowee sediments
the eastern end of the Blue Ridge Tunnel, cut through Catoctin greenstone, did not need brick reinforcement like the western end through the metamorphic Chilhowee sediments
the eastern end of the Blue Ridge Tunnel, cut through Catoctin greenstone, did not need brick reinforcement like the western end through the metamorphic Chilhowee sediments
Source: Virginia Department of Transportation, Blue Ridge Tunnel and Blue Ridge Tunnel (by Trevor Wrayton)

Crozet's success stands in contrast to the efforts of another Blue Ridge Railroad. South Carolina planned to build a line from Charleston to the Ohio River, but the state legislature lost patience as the costs to build Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel through the Blue Ridge kept climbing. The South Carolina tunnel project was stopped in 1859.

Had that tunnel been completed, it would have been 5,682 feet long and surpassed Crozet's tunnel as the longest in the world. When the Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railway made its rail connection from South Carolina across the Blue Ridge, it followed a different route rather than complete the Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel. Today the unfinished tunnel is a park where visitors can explore the failed project.12

In Virginia, a replacement tunnel at the crest of the Blue Ridge was built in 1942-44 to accommodate wider trains. The smaller Brooksville tunnel was "daylighted," with the roof removed. The Greenwood Tunnel was bypassed by excavating a railroad cut, and the tunnel was sealed with concrete.

the Greenwood Tunnel was bypassed and sealed up by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway in 1944
the Greenwood Tunnel was bypassed and sealed up by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway in 1944
Source: buxelbow, Claudius Crozet Train Tunnels

The 80-foot long Little Rock Tunnel cut through hard rock and required no brick lining, so that tunnel was enlarged as part of the 1944 project. It had been built in 1853 as a revision to Crozet's plans. He decided that digging the short tunnel would be quicker that excavating a cut, and faster work was needed to accommodate the temporary track built by the Virginia Central to bypass the incomplete Brooksville and Blue Ridge tunnels.

In 1907, a circus train wrecked inside the short Little Rock Tunnel. Cages filled with animals on one of the cars jostled loose during the trip from Charlottesville to Staunton. On going through the tunnel, a cage with a tiger was crushed, killing the tiger. Other cages fell on top of five stowaway boys hitching a ride, and one was killed. The train journey was delayed half a day, in part to drop off injured animals at Basic City (Waynesboro) for veterinary care.13

The Buckingham Branch Railroad, which now operates on the old Blue Ridge Railroad route, still uses the Little Rock Tunnel and the 1944 Blue Ridge Tunnel to cross the Blue Ridge. I-64 crosses north of the Little Rock Tunnel and over both the 1856 and the 1944 Blue Ridge tunnels as it goes across Afton Mountain.

the original Blue Ridge Tunnel was replaced by a bigger tunnel in 1944
the original Blue Ridge Tunnel was replaced by a bigger tunnel in 1944
Source: Library of Congress, General View of Entrance to Blue Ridge Tunnel (Left) From Southeast. Original Blue Ridge R.R. (Crozet) Tunnel Is Visible At Right

Nelson County began to focus on converting the 1856 tunnel into a tourist attraction in 2001. Providing a hiking path through that tunnel would give visitors one more reason to come to Nelson County and spend money at the breweries, wineries, cideries, and distilleries on Route 151.

Local residents who had traditionally explored through the Blue Ridge Tunnel without authorization were given a final opportunity to walk through it in 2017, before the site was secured. One made a comment that indicated why county officials thought an abandoned railroad tunnel might attract tourists:14

...just being able to be inside of a rock, inside a whole mountain - now that was awsome!


on St. Patrick's Day in 2021, "The Tunnel" was released on You Tube to highlight the Irish workers at the Blue Ridge Tunnel
Source: You Tube, The Tunnel (2021)

The Blue Ridge Tunnel Foundation is the non-government organization working in partnership with Nelson, Augusta, and Albemarle counties plus the City of Waynesboro to create a regional attraction. The University of Virginia used a robot to map a portion of the tunnel with Light Direction and Ranging (LiDAR) technology.15


Source: Mapping the Crozet Tunnel

Geologists have examined the bedrock, which for most of the tunnel is primarily a form of basalt called the Catoctin Formation. It was lava that oozed into fractures in the surrounding granite and flowed onto the surface. The Catoctin Formation was emplaced about 570 million years ago, and over 200 million years later tectonic forces had pushed it about 10 miles underground.

Heat and pressure metamorphosed the basalt into greenstone, rich in the greenish mineral epidote, as Africa and North America collided to form the supercontinent Pangea. That collision pushed the bedrock northwest 40-75 miles, so what is now exposed at Rockfish Gap may have been located near Richmond until the Alleghenian Orogeny. Later geologic forces brought the basalt back to the surface.

the 1858 tunnel was carved through greenstone with a semi-elliptical profile, to reduce the cost of excavating an oval ceiling
the 1858 tunnel was carved through greenstone with a semi-elliptical profile, to reduce the cost of excavating an oval ceiling
Source: Virginia Department of Transportation, Proposed Route of the Blue Ridge Tunnel Greenway

The basalt and granite/granodiorite is much more resistant to erosion than the limestone in the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the metamorphic rocks in the Piedmont to the east, so the Blue Ridge became a mountainous barrier to railroads. At only one location in Virginia, at Rockfish Gap, was the Blue Ridge crossed via a tunnel. The other crossings relied upon low "water gaps" where the Roanoke River and James River had cut through the bedrock, and at the "wind gap" of Manassas Gap. The Alexandria, Loudoun, and Hampshire Railroad stopped in Loudoun County before trying to cross the Blue Ridge and reach the coal fields of Hampshire County.

Though it is resistant to erosion, the bedrock at the tunnel is fractured. Raindrops seep through over 700 feet of rock and reach the tunnel bore within days or weeks of a storm. The Blue Ridge Tunnel is deep underground, and always wet.16

On the western end, the tunnel was carved through metamorphosed sedimentary formations before reaching the Catoctin Formation. The sediments are less consolidated, so workers encased the western 1,400 feet of the tunnel with a brick lining.17

the western portal was reinforced with a brick lining, since it was carved through metamorphosed sediments rather than greenstone
the western portal was reinforced with a brick lining, since it was carved through metamorphosed sediments rather than greenstone
Source: Virginia Department of Transportation, West portal of the Blue Ridge Tunnel

The Blue Ridge Tunnel was completed before steam-powered drills were available. After the Civil War, workers could use new technology when carving out tunnels in West Virginia. Those tunnels were built by the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Railroad, created in 1868 by merging the Virginia Central and the Covington & Ohio railroads.

In 1869, after values were depressed in the economic recession following the Civil War, Collis P. Huntington acquired control and arranged for financing of the long-planned extension to the Ohio River. The Chesapeake and Ohio's longest tunnel, the Great Bend Tunnel at the Greenbrier River, is a prime candidate for the location where the legendary "steel drivin' man" John Henry used his sledge hammer to race a steam drill. According to historian Scott Reynolds Nelson, Henry was a prisoner rented by the Virginia Penitentiary to the railroad.

The lungs of the workers building the tunnels were damaged by silica dust inhaled during construction. That dust facilitated tuberculosis and pneumonia, or directly caused death within several years through silicosis. The prisoners were unable to go on strike to obtain better working conditions, and:18

The use of steam drills on the sandstone... probably killed every worker in the tunnel in the space of a few years.

the steel drivin' men like John Henry who worked on the west end of the Blue Ridge tunnel were at the greatest risk of lung damage
the "steel drivin' men" like John Henry who worked on the west end of the Blue Ridge tunnel were at the greatest risk of lung damage
Source: National Park Service, The Legend of John Henry: Talcott, WV

After the original tunnel was abandoned in 1944, it sat idle until the Bottled Gas Corporation tried to use it for storing propane. Two massive concrete bulkheads were constructed in the middle of the tunnel; one was 10 feet thick and the other was 14 feet thick. A 20" diameter pipe was incorporated within each bulkhead in order to pump gas in and out of the "thermos bottle" being created underground.

The project was never completed, in part because the fractures in the greenstone allowed pressurized natural gas to escape as fast as water seeped into the tunnel. To have succeeded, the company would have been required to place a pressure-resistant concrete skin over all the tunnel surfaces between the bulkheads.

two concrete bulkheads built to store propane in the 1950's had to be removed to re-open the tunnel for pedestrian traffic
two concrete bulkheads built to store propane in the 1950's had to be removed to re-open the tunnel for pedestrian traffic
Source: YouTube, The Tunnel

People who explored the tunnel after the 1950's had to squeeze through the 20" pipes in the bulkheads, located several feet above "ground level" (the bottom of the tunnel). Those explorers discovered that the thick concrete barriers prevented water from draining out of the tunnel, so a pool of cold water was commonly encountered between the bulkheads. After 1944, there was no maintenance of the drainage ditches originally constructed by the railroad; much of the tunnel was filled with water knee-high.19

the Blue Ridge tunnel was filled with water when Nelson County started to convert it into a tourist attraction
the Blue Ridge tunnel was filled with water when Nelson County started to convert it into a tourist attraction
the Blue Ridge tunnel was filled with water when Nelson County started to convert it into a tourist atttraction
Source: YouTube, The Tunnel Trailer

To convert the abandoned tunnel into a tourism attraction, Nelson County has invested more time than the eight years required for initial tunnel construction.

The county arranged with the CSX for the railroad to donate the tunnel in 2007, charging only $1 for the asset. Nelson County then obtained a $750,000 Transportation Alternatives Program grant in 2013 from the Commonwealth Transportation Board for the first phase of a three-phase project. The Transportation Alternatives Program grants finance initiatives that highlight the cultural, historical and environmental aspects of roads and other transportation infrastructure.

Phase I was finished in 2015, producing a parking lot, trail, and fencing along the trail to the eastern portal. The fencing on the trail to the portal was an essential safety feature, separating visitors from trains using the still-active railroad tracks.

trains using the 1944 tunnel pose a hazard for tourists exploring the 1858 tunnel
trains using the 1944 tunnel pose a hazard for tourists exploring the 1858 tunnel
Source: Virginia Department of Transportation, Finished phase one of the Proposed Route of the Blue Ridge Tunnel Greenway

trains still emerge from the eastern end of the 1944 tunnel
trains still emerge from the eastern end of the 1944 tunnel
Source: Virginia Department of Transportation, Proposed Route of the Blue Ridge Tunnel Greenway near Crozet

The tunnel itself remained off-limits to public use after Phase I. To cope with interested-enough-to-trespass visitors, a few scheduled tours were offered to the general public. At that point, the potential tourism benefits were clear to Augusta County and the City of Waynesboro.

To raise private funds, manage outreach and tours, and build local support, in 2012 Nelson County joined with Augusta County, the City of Waynesboro, Albemarle County, the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, and the National Park Service to establish the Claudius Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel Foundation. The National Park Service managed the Blue Ridge Parkway south of the tunnel and Shenandoah National Park north of it.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board approved a grant in 2016 for the next two phases, with half of the grant going to Augusta County and half to Nelson County.

modern explosives were used to blast away the thick natural gas bulkheads so tourists could walk through the whole tunnel
modern explosives were used to blast away the thick natural gas bulkheads so tourists could walk through the whole tunnel
Source: Virginia Department of Transportation, Gas Bulkhead at the East Portal ready for 2nd blasting

Phase II included blasting away the bulkheads constructed for the natural gas storage, installation of rock bolts, and making a trail within the tunnel.

bulkheads for a failed gas storage project had to be blasted out of the historic tunnel
bulkheads for a failed gas storage project had to be blasted out of the historic tunnel
Source: Virginia Department of Transportation, Blue Ridge Tunnel | Overview

multiple blasts were required to remove the rebar-reinforced bulkheads
multiple blasts were required to remove the rebar-reinforced bulkheads
Source: Virginia Department of Transportation, Blue Ridge Tunnel | Overview

Also part of Phase II was sealing some of the brick lining at the western end to reduce the risk of falling material, and coating the rock where the bulkheads were removed. Geologists encouraged the tunnel planners to minimize the amount of shotcrete used to stabilize the rock. A coating would block the potential to interpret how the Blue Ridge formed, and the drilling challenges faced by the laborers in the 1850's.

brick lining inside the West Portal
brick lining inside the West Portal
Source: Virginia Department of Transportation, West portal of the Blue Ridge Tunnel

some bricks at the West Portal have fallen from the lining
some bricks at the West Portal have fallen from the lining
Source: Virginia Department of Transportation, West portal of the Blue Ridge Tunnel

The Phase III component created parking at a trailhead on US 250 in Augusta County and a connector trail up to the western portal.

Bids came in higher than expected, and Phase II was delayed in 2018.

Phase II ended up costing $3.7 million. Phase III, a $1.3 million project for the parking/trail in Augusta County up the mountain to U.S. 250, began in August, 2019. Together with the $750,000 cost for Phase I, the 2.5 mile trail underneath the Blue Ridge ended up costing $5.75 million.


Source: WVPT Public Media

The 2.25 mile long (round trip) trail through the tunnel opened for public use in November, 2020. Parking lots were constructed on both ends, so visits could start in either Nelson County or Augusta County. No lighting was installed, and those biking through the tunnel were cautioned to go slowly. Hikers with poor headlamps/flashlights might not be visible until the bikers were very close.

Nearly 7,000 visitors visited the tunnel during the first 10 days after it opened to the public on November 21, 2020.20


Source: Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), Blue Ridge Tunnel | Overview

Norfolk Southern had donated the historic tunnel to Nelson County, and the Commonwealth of Virginia negotiated a deal with CSX in 2019 to repurchase the modern railroad tunnel. It was part of a 10-year, $3.7 billion agreement to acquire right-of-way and track that would allow for expansion of passenger rail service.

The state planned to purchase all of the original Virginia Central track between Doswell and Clifton Forge, facilitating future Amtrak service on an east-west route. Buckingham Branch freight service could continue as well.21

CSX agreed in 2019 to sell the Virginia Central route (purple) to the Commonwealth of Virginia
CSX agreed in 2019 to sell the Virginia Central route (purple) to the Commonwealth of Virginia
Source: Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, Map of Future Program Highlights

Blue Ridge Railroad

Buckingham Branch Railroad

CSX

Natural Gas Storage in Virginia

Railroads of Virginia

Transportation Tunnels in Virginia

Virginia Central Railroad


Source: Charlottesville Inside-Out, Claudius Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel Foundation, ParadeRest Virginia

Links

Nelson County recognized the Blue Ridge Tunnel could be repurposed into a unique tourist attraction
Nelson County recognized the Blue Ridge Tunnel could be repurposed into a unique tourist attraction
Source: Virginia Department of Transportation, Partnership and Innovation - Engineering Directorate Leadership Meeting (2013)

References

1. James Poyntz Nelson, Claudius Crozet; his story of the four tunnels in the Blue Ridge, Mitchell & Hotchkiss (Richmond, VA), 1917, pp.3-4, posted online by HathiTrust, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044091993402 (last checked November 16, 2018)
2. William G. Thomas III, "Finding the Blue Ridge Tunnel Ruins," November 14, 2010, http://railroads.unl.edu/blog/?p=112; K.E. Lang, C.M. Bailey, "Geology of the Blue Ridge Tunnel," College of William and Mary, 2020, https://wm1693.app.box.com/s/ozffvetqc6onecv1g6uqpyxvslklh4hd (last checked September 2, 2021)
3. Claudius Crozet, "Annual Report to the President and Directors of the Board of Public Works, 1850," Railroads and the Making of Modern America, http://railroads.unl.edu/documents/view_document.php?id=rail.blue.0003; Sean Patrick Adams and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, "Claudius Crozet (1789-1864)," Encyclopedia Virginia, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, May 15, 2017 (last checked November 19, 2018)
4. "Lyons Traces Irish Lives at Blue Ridge Tunnel," Crozet Gazette, April 4, 2014, https://www.crozetgazette.com/2014/04/04/lyons-traces-irish-lives-at-blue-ridge-tunnel/; "Contractors and Laborers," Blue Ridge Tunnel Foundation, http://blueridgetunnel.org/contractors-laborers/; Mary E. Lyons, "The Blue Ridge Tunnel: A Remarkable Engineering Feat in Antebellum Virginia," Arcadia Publishing, 2014, p.45, https://books.google.com/books?id=QAF3CQAAQBAJ; "How John Kelly Saved the Blue Ridge Tunnel," Crozet Gazette, November 6, 2015, https://www.crozetgazette.com/2015/11/06/how-john-kelly-saved-the-blue-ridge-tunnel/; "The Blue Ridge Railroad Project," Clann Mhor, http://www.clannmhor.org/clannmhor/Home.html (last checked November 19, 2018)
5. "A Step Back in Time: The Irish and the Blue Ridge Tunnel," The News Virginian, March 6, 2016, https://newsvirginian.com/news/a-step-back-in-time-the-irish-and-the-blue-ridge-tunnel/article_2401838c-69b8-548b-8194-3adb4d446c1d.html; "Railroad tunnel through the Blue Ridge has some fighting Irish in its history," Nelson County Times, December 23, 2020, https://newsadvance.com/community/nelson_county_times/news/railroad-tunnel-through-the-blue-ridge-has-some-fighting-irish-in-its-history/article_b98b1b2a-7722-5321-ba92-fbde85b48d5f.html (last checked December 25, 2020)
6. "Attorney General W.P. Bocark's Opinion Regarding the Bureau of Public Works' Liability for Slaves Killed on Blue Ridge Railroad, November 1, 1854," Railroads and the Making of Modern America, http://railroads.unl.edu/documents/view_document.php?id=rail.blue.0022; "William M. Sclater's Affidavit, October 28, 1854," Railroads and the Making of Modern America, http://railroads.unl.edu/documents/view_document.php?id=rail.blue.0018; "Letter from Claudius Crozet to the Virginia Board of Public Works, December 28, 1854," Railroads and the Making of Modern America, http://railroads.unl.edu/documents/view_document.php?id=rail.blue.0014; "The Tunnel," American Focus Films, https://youtu.be/IRJGKjT-ahQ (last checked March 18, 2021)
7. James Poyntz Nelson, Claudius Crozet; his story of the four tunnels in the Blue Ridge, Mitchell & Hotchkiss (Richmond, VA), 1917, pp.9-10, posted online by HathiTrust, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044091993402 (last checked November 16, 2018)
8. "The Legend of John Henry: Talcott, WV," New River Gorge National River, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/neri/planyourvisit/the-legend-of-john-henry-talcott-wv.htm (last checked July 28, 2020)
9. James Poyntz Nelson, Claudius Crozet; his story of the four tunnels in the Blue Ridge, Mitchell & Hotchkiss (Richmond, VA), 1917, pp.5-8, posted online by HathiTrust, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044091993402; Palmer C. Sweet, "History of Brick In Charlottesville and Albemarle County," Virginia Minerals, Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, Volume 44, Number 3 (August 1998), pp.19-20, http://www.dmme.virginia.gov/commercedocs/VAMIN_VOL44_NO03.PDF; 10. Chuck Bailey, "From the Tunnel to the Temple," William and Mary Blogs, February 28, 2018, https://wmblogs.wm.edu/cmbail/from-the-tunnel-to-the-temple/; "'The Tunnel' unites tales of Irish diggers, enslaved railroad builders and restoration," Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 11, 2021, https://richmond.com/entertainment/television/the-tunnel-unites-tales-of-irish-diggers-enslaved-railroad-builders-and-restoration/article_1574970a-8da4-5ec6-bfdb-46e5ebe8a0b5.html (last checked March 11, 2021)
11. "Blue Ridge RR: Crozet Tunnel," Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service, http://cdn.loc.gov/master/pnp/habshaer/va/va0200/va0253/data/va0253data.pdf; "Crozet tunnel to be on trail," Free Lance-Star, June 29, 2015, (last checked November 17, 2018)
12. James Poyntz Nelson, Claudius Crozet; his story of the four tunnels in the Blue Ridge, Mitchell & Hotchkiss (Richmond, VA), 1917, p.9, posted online by HathiTrust, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044091993402; "Merle Travis - Dark as a Dungeon Lyrics," MetroLyrics, http://www.metrolyrics.com/dark-as-a-dungeon-lyrics-merle-travis.html (last checked November 18, 2018)
13. M. Linda Lee, "Tunnel to Nowhere," Smoky Mountain Living, February 1, 2016, http://www.smliv.com/departments/tunnel-to-nowhere/ (last checked November 21, 2018)
14. "The Blue Ridge Tunnel, WVPT, August 12, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTg15Dyc9Mc; Mary E. Lyons, "How John Kelly Saved Blue Ridge Tunnel," The Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Magazine, Volume 48, Numbers 9 & 10 (September/October 2016), p.46, https://cf.cohs.org/repository/archives/web/cohm/cohm-2016-09-10.pdf; "Secrets of the Blue Ridge: Tragedy at Little Rock Tunnel," Crozet Gazette, March 9, 2013, https://www.crozetgazette.com/2013/03/09/secrets-of-the-blue-ridge-tragedy-at-little-rock-tunnel/ (last checked on June 1, 2020)
15. "Into The Darkness: UVA Robot Maps Historic Tunnel," UVA Today, January 5, 2018, https://news.virginia.edu/content/darkness-uva-robot-maps-historic-tunnel (last checked November 21, 2018)
16. Chuck Bailey, "From the Tunnel to the Temple," William and Mary Blogs, February 28, 2018, https://wmblogs.wm.edu/cmbail/from-the-tunnel-to-the-temple/; Alex Johnson, Chuck Bailey, "The Catoctin Formation - Virginia is for Lavas," College of William & Mary, http://geology.wm.edu/bailey/CatoctinFormation.pdf (last checked November 21, 2018)
17. "Money secured for Virginia rail tunnel refurbishment," Tunnels, July 7, 2016, http://www.tunnelsonline.info/news/money-secured-for-virginia-rail-tunnel-refurbishment-4942776 (last checked November 21, 2018)
18. Scott Reynolds Nelson, Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry: the Untold Story of an American Legend, Oxford University Press, 2006, pp.90-92, https://books.google.com/books?id=ZgIIF8cTCVAC; John Garst, "On the Trail of the Real John Henry," History News Network, November 27, 2006, http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/31137 (last checked July 31, 2015) 19. "Long-abandoned Blue Ridge Tunnel could partially reopen within six months," C'Ville Weekly, September 25, 2013, http://www.c-ville.com/long-abandoned-blue-ridge-tunnel-could-partially-reopen-within-six-months/; Chuck Bailey, "From the Tunnel to the Temple," William and Mary Blogs, February 28, 2018, https://wmblogs.wm.edu/cmbail/from-the-tunnel-to-the-temple/ (last checked November 21, 2018)
20. "CTB Funds Blue Ridge Tunnel Restoration," Virginia Department of Transportation, June 15, 2016, http://www.virginiadot.org/newsroom/staunton/2016/ctb_funds_blue_ridge97632.asp; "Addendum No. 4," Wolpert, June 2, 2017, https://www.fce-digs.com/library/documents/doc_20170602addendum4pdf_170605_095135.pdf; "Blue Ridge Tunnel repairs delayed due to funding issues," News & Advance, June 18, 2018, https://www.newsadvance.com/townnews/economics/blue-ridge-tunnel-repairs-delayed-due-to-funding-issues/article_e0845f0d-161c-5adf-ab20-6f7ad195be37.html; "Long-abandoned Blue Ridge Tunnel could partially reopen within six months," C'Ville Weekly, September 25, 2013, http://www.c-ville.com/long-abandoned-blue-ridge-tunnel-could-partially-reopen-within-six-months/; "Blue Ridge Tunnel Foundation to Offer Tours," Crozet Gazette, March 4, 2016, https://www.crozetgazette.com/2016/03/04/blue-ridge-tunnel-foundation-to-offer-tours/; "Blue Ridge Tunnel almost complete," News & Advance, December 23, 2019, https://www.newsadvance.com/news/local/blue-ridge-tunnel-almost-complete/article_fd4a12b2-8a06-52cc-a0e8-7c26f6407f55.html; "After two-decade effort, Crozet Tunnel opens to the public," Daily Progress, November 22, 2020, https://dailyprogress.com/news/local/history/after-two-decade-effort-crozet-tunnel-opens-to-the-public/article_a176b5c0-2c58-11eb-a2bb-f7a66d620111.html; "Blue Ridge Tunnel sees nearly 7,000 visitors in first 10 days of opening," News and Advance, December 10, 2020, https://newsadvance.com/news/local/blue-ridge-tunnel-sees-nearly-7-000-visitors-in-first-10-days-of-opening/article_f9608751-b12c-5ecf-a16f-e9e353a7d431.html (last checked December 15, 2020)
21. "Transforming Rail in Virginia," Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, http://www.drpt.virginia.gov/rail/transforming-rail-in-virginia/ (last checked July 28, 2020)

brick reinforced the western entrance of the Blue Ridge Tunnel in Augusta County
brick reinforced the western entrance of the Blue Ridge Tunnel in Augusta County
Source: Library of Congress, Historic American Engineering Record, HAER VA,63-AFT.V,1- (sheet 2 of 2) - Blue Ridge Railroad, Blue Ridge Tunnel

west portal of the Blue Ridge Tunnel
west portal of the Blue Ridge Tunnel
Source: HathiTrust, Claudius Crozet; his story of the four tunnels in the Blue Ridge


From Feet to Space: Transportation in Virginia
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