Step back in time to experience the golden age of railroads aboard the Hiwassee River Railroad Adventure. This family-friendly railroad excursion offers train buffs, history fans and adventurous travelers the opportunity to relax aboard a historic train to enjoy scenic views of the Hiwassee River Gorge in Southeast Tennessee.
Hiwassee River Rail Adventures begin in the historic railroad town of Etowah, Tennessee. Passengers board shuttle buses at the L&N Depot Museum for a short ride to Hiwassee/Ocoee Scenic River State Park in Delano, Tennessee, to board the train.
Passengers may choose a half-day round trip along the Hiwassee Rail Loop or a daylong excursion with a midday layover for lunch and shopping. The 50-mile (3.5-hour) rail excursion travels east along the Hiwassee River through the Hiwassee River Gorge and past TVA’s Appalachia Dam to Farner, Tennessee, near the North Carolina state line. Full-day trips turn south, arriving at lunchtime in the twin towns of Copperhill, Tennessee, and McCaysville, Georgia, returning in the afternoon.
Both routes offer passengers a scenic journey through sections of the Cherokee National Forest with scenic views of the Hiwassee River, waterfalls, wildlife, mountains and the ruins of historic settlements.
Trains used for the Hiwassee River Rail Adventure are pulled along the track at up to 20 miles per hour by historic 1950s-era diesel locomotives. A dome car offers passengers spectacular views from the top of the train.
The historic Hiwassee Loop was originally part of the Marietta and North Georgia Railroad Company. Passenger service between Knoxville and Marietta began along the route Aug. 18, 1890.
Shortly after the line was completed in 1890, the Knoxville Southern Railway merged with the Marietta and North Georgia Railway (M&NG) and took M&NG as its name. The following year, the M&NG became part of the Atlantic, Knoxville and Northern Railroad Construction Company (AK&N).
In 1902, the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Railroad took ownership of the railroad when it secured a majority interest in AK&N. The line became known as the “old line” in 1906 after the company decided to avoid the rugged mountain route by building 80 miles of new track from a point near Etowah to Marietta, Georgia. The new line, which parallels U.S. Highway 411 in Tennessee and Georgia, ran over flatter terrain and allowed trains to move in a more efficient manner. The new line, in effect, became a bypass for the old line.
The old line remained a part of the L&N system until 1982, when consolidations placed it under the ownership of Seaboard Systems. In 1987, Chessie System and Seaboard Systems merged and became CSX. CSX continued to own the old line from Copperhill to Etowah until its sole freight—sulfuric acid from Copperhill—was no longer being produced.
In 2001, the last freight train traveled the old line as CSX ceased operations, and the rail line was thought to have been abandoned for good. However, concerned citizens, local governments and regional organizations formed the Old Line Railroad Coalition to save the line; and in 2002, the Tennessee Overhill Heritage Association purchased the tracks for preservation. The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum became the sole operator of historic passenger trains along the historic rail line through the Hiwassee River Gorge.
Today, 20 miles of the railroad corridor are listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of the historical significance of the rail line and the fact that the corridor has retained so much of the original look that it had when it was built in 1890.
Hiwassee River Rail Adventure tickets can be purchased online at www.TVRail.com or by calling 423-894-8028.