The Saluda Grade
Was the Steepest Standard Gauge Main Line Railroad Grade In The U.S.A.
This track was operated by Southern Railroad until it was purchased by Norfolk Southern.

This web page was updated on 19 November 2019

 

 

 

Now part of the Norfolk Southern Railroad

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Painting by -- M. V. Kotowski -- April 1985

 

Saluda: From Top to Bottom
by Matt Bumgarner

Rediscover the famous Saluda grade with this new book from Matt Bumgarner and Tarheel Press.

Matt has filled over 200 pages with more than 250 color and black and white photographs documenting the steepest mainline grade in the United States. Also included are floor-plans of many of the depots found along the route and the track charts for the full 66 mile route from Spartanburg SC to Asheville NC.

With a forward written by Jim Wrinn, you can expect this to be a thorough review of this amazing piece of Southern Railway history.

Available on Amazon.

 


From Trains Magazine September 2010
Preservation Department by Jim Wrinn
Reprint of this complete article.

Back Into The Fire
Norfolk Southern charts a new course
for a steam program with
Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum

 

NEWS   FLASH

 March 16, 2019

We have now found that there are about 15 washouts to the road bed from Horse Shoe Curve to Saluda Down Town. In addition there are several minor mud slides over the tracks as well.  Some of this can been seen in the latest Google Earth Satellite photos. Several of these washouts are substantial - meaning they are deep cuts through or under the track road bed. The Trestle at Melrose Falls is now basically undercut so bad that it would not be recommend that you get on it for fear of falling and getting hurt.  There are two other washouts that have grown to be very large that you can actually fall through between the ties and the drop is quite far down plus they are totally covered in thick kudzu vines that you cannot see through when the vines are greened out.  Use caution in these areas as they are heavily snake infested.

The Melrose safety track all but does not exist any more other than at the switch due to being buried and having now large trees growing up through the ties. Most all of the ties are now buried under ground or have completely rotted away.

Where ever there is Kudzu growing in the area of the tracks then the tracks are completely covered over. In the summer it is very dangerous to walk through due to snakes. These snakes are Copperheads and Rattlers. Look before you step is highly recommended should you venture into the kudzu.

Keep in mind that a number of mud slides have occurred in this area due to the extremely high volume of rain that we have had over the last 5 months 2018 / 2019.  The estimated total is well over 50 inches of rain most occurring in two different rain events. The mountains in this area have had their share of mud slides as well with taking out US-176, Holberts Cove Road, and Howard Gap Road which is still not fixed today and damage to the Interstate 26 at the top of Saluda Grade. Repairs to these roads are on going with Howard Gap Road to be worked on in 2021 at the earliest. Interstate 26 will have repairs started sometime starting in the spring of 2020.

The latest scuttlebutt is that the rail line from Charlotte to Asheville and west towards Knoxville area is now up for sale. The Asheville to Spartanburg line is all but closed down from Hendersonville to Landrum. NS is using some of the track south of Hendersonville to store rail cars in temporary storage. The line between Hendersonville and Asheville is still used to bring some freight down to the plants in the Hendersonville NC area by a new short line railroad. Operations are on a as needed basics.

The line leaving Hendersonville and heading west towards Rosman NC is now completely shut down and is rail banked. In Asheville the line that branches west towards the Smoky Mountain Railroad is still in use for hauling freight on a as-need-basics. This includes wood chips to the Canton Paper Mill. They also take some freight out to the Smoky Mountain Railroad for delivery in that short line operational area.

 

October 11, 2018

After the major flooding from both of the hurricanes this month the ground in this entire area is very unstable at this time. There have been a number of mud slides in this area. I have not been able to walk the track to view everything but a number of others have and report back the rail bed is in very bad shape. I have received the following reports from several rail fans that have walked the tracks from the Melrose area. These are their reports:

There are now major road bed areas that have washed out and making the track totally unserviceable. In some cases the tracks are hanging in the air. There are several new areas that are eroding away in addition to the two locations that have completely wash out. All of the track can be walked from Tryon NC to the Lake Summit bridge. Be forewarned that the area of the Melrose Falls will require one to descend down to the river and cross over and climb back up to the track road bed. The other washed out areas are not so bad to cross over and if you are careful you can walk the tracks over some of the washouts. The bridge over Lake Summit is stated to be in ok shape.

In addition, I will advise you NOT to walk across the bridge at Lake Summit. This is a very dangerous bridge over very deep and cold water. In addition, there is a Hydro Electric intake very near this bridge and when the generators are in operation the current is very strong.  You sure do not want to get sucked into the intake.

 

June 3, 2017

There is a second washout in the area of sand cut that has undermined the rails leaving the rails somewhat hanging in the air.  This can be accessed from the tunnel end or you can cross the trestle at Melrose and head up the grade to the wash out. It is about midway between Melrose yard and the car tunnel under the tracks.

There is still a third area that is starting to wash out just below Saluda. While this has not yet reached the tracks it is now very close.

Video of the bottom of the Saluda Grade at Melrose NC.  This was taped on June 3, 2017 using a GoPro Camera.  It was tripod mounted with a 360 motor mount under it. See below in the video and picture section.

 

September 7, 2016

This is the latest on the fate of the Saluda Grade. I have just found out that the entire line from Asheville NC to Spartanburg SC is up for sale. The spur out from Hendersonville NC towards Brevard NC has now been shut down and is no longer in use and thus is not being maintained. A private company has taken a lease on the tracks from Asheville NC to Hendersonville NC to run freight down as far as Hendersonville NC on a as needed very sporadic schedule. The tracks below the lower end of Hendersonville NC are now being used to store unused freight cars. These are mostly gondolas.  I suspect that they belong to NS. The tracks between Landrum and just north of Saluda are now covered in kudzu. Most to the ties are now rotting out. The safety track is now completely covered over and a large part is now buried under dirt and over growth. There are now trees growing up between the rails that are 6 to 12 inches across!

 

May 15, 2016

We learned that a section of track below the Melrose Falls trestle has wash out making the rails impassable. This is just south of the Melrose switch yard. To see the washout, go to the foot of the Melrose Grade and walk South. You must walk across the trestle over Melrose Falls so be careful and continue for about 100 yard down the tracks towards Tryon, NC.

 

April 2, 2003

The rails have been cut in just South of Landrum. This is the first step in Rail Banking the tracks which most likely will then lead up to abandoning the rail line by the Norfolk Southern Railroad. Time will tell what NS will do but it does not look good for this part of the tracks.

Pictures of the of cutting of the rails below Landrum SC

Pictures of the Melrose Switch Yard as of 2013 is sad to see.

Video of the bottom of the grade at Safety Track 2
This is what the track looks like today. These pictures were taken in 2017.
The safety track as noted above is totally overgrown.

 

 

The Carolina Heritage Line had tried to put in a passenger
service train between Spartanburg and Asheville which
would travel both ways - up and down the grade.
This has now failed as Norfolk Southern said flatly NO.


Norfolk Southern Pulls Plug on the Saluda Grade.
No More Trains up and down the grade for a while!
Maybe forever! 

Now NS said it is NOT going to reopen the line unless
there is enough freight going to Charleston SC to justify it!

Then maybe they will reconsider it.

Read it here.

Greer Newspaper Published this article
about the grade.  Very interesting reading.

Read it here.

 

 

 

 

Concerning all pictures featured in this web page. 

ALL pictures either belong to Robin Michael in Tryon, NC
and www.polkcounty.org web site or the original publishers. 

As such this is to inform you that all pictures have copyrights involved.

Camera Information:
All personal pictures are either taken on a slide film using a Olympus OM-2A with
a number of lenses of various focal lengths, on a Kodak Digital Zoom, Model 210
camera with a 40 meg memory card holding up to 175 photos in HiRes.

Later on all personal pictures were taken with a Canon 5d MK 2 with
several different lenses.  For the Video pans a GoPro-5 was use on a
custom mount panning device.


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Most all of the pictures shown are in Thumb Format, then
when you click on these thumb prints,
you will open a new window and have a
full size print with text about this photo.

Please use your browsers back arrow for navigation
and click your browsers refresh button for the updated screen.

 

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Tidbits and History of the Saluda Grade

Model Railroading and building a layout of the grade.

As Published by Bob Loehne of American AltaVista

 

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Last run of the 611 on the Saluda Grade

The Last run of the 611 Steam Excursion up Saluda Grade.  Please click on the pictures
for a larger version.  These are personal photos that I took at both locations.  By the way,
when train chasing, one of the best ways to do it is from a motorcycle.  Traffic does not
slow you down when it is stopped!  Just worm your way through and you are on the way
to the next photo opt!

 

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Track Maps for the Saluda Grade

The track map of the Saluda Grade starting just south of Tryon, North Carolina and going
just north of Saluda, North Carolina (Polk / Henderson County Line) are included in this
section.  This set of maps were reduced for down load size but the original scans are over
16 gigs each, being done at 300 dpi. These files are quite large and will take some time to
download to your computer.  Use the plans to do a model layout of the Saluda Grade.

 

 

Since the Saluda Grade is here in Polk County, North Carolina, and this is the Polk County Web Page, we have take the time to make this fantastic story of the Saluda Grade available to all who may or may not be train buffs.  This history lesson is really quite good!  This was the main passenger line with up to 4 passenger trains each way each day.  As time went by this rail line became nothing but a freight line.  Until the end of the passenger service, add the freight trains to the total train count and you had a lot of traffic on this line.   Please feel free to read all about it.

Trains Magazine did this fine major article in November 1984 Issue on the famous Saluda Grade.  Since this is no longer available in print - we have scanned it in hires PDF format.

Update

Trains Magazine has republished this article again in a special edition of Classic Trains - Mountain Railroads Holiday issue 2018. This new article includes additional information not found in the original article. The price is of this issue is $12.99 should you wish to order a copy of the magazine.

 

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Trains Magazine  -  Nov. 1984 - The Saluda Grade
 (PDF File Size 4.16 Meg)

 

The Photo Section

 

The NS Rail-gang and their equipment

Pictures of the rail gang when they came into Tryon setting the new welded 1 mile long rails.
This is the equipment that they used. Also included is the Sperry X-Ray car that is used to find cranks
in the rails.  The welding crews then follow along and cut out the crack and re-weld the rails back together.
Note that all of these photos are scans of either slides or pictures.

 

 

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Town of Tryon Railroad Pictures

This is the beginning of the climb to Saluda.  Tryon, NC was considered the bottom
of the grade with Melrose in the middle and the steepest part of the grade and Saluda at the
top of the mountain.  Each town had many siding for trains to pass on or park
and unload their cargo.  While Tryon never was a marshaling yard it still had to hold trains
 pending track conditions and congestion at Melrose.

 

 

Melrose Switch Yard over the years

2001

2012

2013

 2017

 

Pictures detailing some of the interesting areas as they now appear on the
Saluda Grade.  Most of the action happened in Melrose near the Safety Track
No. 2.   As such we have a collection of pictures on the links above that will
allow you to see the area then and now.  All thumb prints will call a much larger picture.

Melrose is at the bottom of the steepest part of the grade and as such the
trains were split up to make it up to the top.  During the early days they
kept additional steam engines on hand to act as pushers at the end of the
train so that the trains could make it up the grade to Saluda NC. 

 

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Town of Saluda Railroad Pictures

Saluda Switch and the top of the grade. Saluda is where all trains were split up
or reassembled to go up or down the mountain. Pictures are of the trains that
have a mandatory stop here prior to going down the grade. Keep in mind that
the unit coal trains were NOT split up to go down the grade. Also these trains
had radio controlled engines attached to the rear of the train to act as either
pushers or used for dynamic braking of the the train as it descended the grade.

 

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History of Saluda NC

The Saluda Historical Railroad Station and Museum

 

Railroad Head Quarters of NS and CSX / Clinchfield

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Visit Norfolk Southern Headquarters

 

Also found in this area is CSX line
CSX bought the Clinchfield Line


Some links to Southern Railway Sites on the net.

http://www.srha.net/
http://southern.railfan.net/
http://www.railpictures.net/showphotos.php?railroad=Southern%20Railway
http://southernmodeler.info/SRdiagrams.htm
http://www.blet375.com/
http://nanovor.com/routes/crescentroute.php
http://www.avmrc.com
http://www.retroweb.com/611lastrun.html
http://www.retroweb.com/611.html


Train Rides or Tours

http://www.gsmr.com/
http://www.steamlocomotive.com/nc-ga/
http://www.nhvry.org/
http://www.nctrans.org/
http://www.tweetsie-railroad.com/
http://www.wrrm.org/

 



Site constructed by
Robin Michael
robin312@charter.net