ELIZABETHTON — The rails and crossties are finally being removed.
After several years of out-of-sight negotiations between the city of Johnson City and Genesee and Wyoming Railroad, the public will finally be able to see evidence of the city’s takeover of the East Tennessee Railroad line on Monday.
That is when the railroad will begin pulling up the rails and crossties of the standard-gauge rail line. Part of the agreement reached between Johnson City and Genesee and Wyoming was that the railroad could salvage the rail lines prior to turning over the property.
Elizabethton Planning Director Jon Hartman said the track removal will begin at the eastern end of the line on State Line Road. The track removal work will move westward through Elizabethton and then on through the western sections of Carter County until it reaches Johnson City.
Hartman said in a news release that the city is encouraging all residents and business owners to remove any vehicles and other objects within 25 feet of the unused rail bed so the track removal “can continue seamlessly.”
He said the Elizabethton Police Department will be assisting the track removal by patrolling any staging areas to prevent the theft of rails and crossties and assist in the removal of any vehicles parked near the rail bed.
“This process should not inconvenience any citizens or disrupt any traffic routes,” Hartman said. “The city asks for citizens’ patience and cooperation during this time.”
While community leaders regret to see the end of rail service to Elizabethton, Johnson City’s plans to convert the rail line into a bike and walking trail will preserve the rail corridor for future use if there is an increase demand for rail transportation in Elizabethton.
Others see Johnson City’s plans as a potential boost to Carter County tourism and call for the trail to be connected to the city’s bike trail that runs along the Watauga and Doe rivers from Sycamore Shoals to East Side Elementary School.
The East Tennessee Railway line was once a profitable rail line that served the two large rayon plants in Elizabethton as well as the aluminum extrusion plant and other factories and businesses in the town.
The end of rayon production in Elizabethton and the closure of the aluminum plant and other businesses spelled the end of of profitable rail service. East Tennessee Railroad ceased operations on the short line railroad. The first note of its death knell came in the past few years when the rails were removed from most of the street crossings in the city.
The rail line had once been part of the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad, which operated a 3-foot narrow-gauge rail line between Johnson City and Boone, N.C. The line connected to the iron mines in Cranberry, N.C. The line was completed in 1882, with Thomas Matson heading the engineering through the rugged mountains.
The railroad helped open up the mountainous region and developed a reputation as the “railroad with a heart.” Its locomotives were called Tweetsie by locals. The line to North Carolina was abandoned after a 1940 flood destroyed the track, but service on the standard gauge line between Elizabethton and Johnson City would continue for another half-century.