The line effectively runs both north and south of the yard at Dante, where coal hoppers hauled in from the mines are consolidated into trains heading either north, into the Ohio River valley and to the industries and power plants of the Mid West, or south, through Kingsport and Johnson City, through Erwin Yard, and then across the Blue Ridge into the Carolinas. Only a single time freight in each direction traverses the entire line and thus passes through Dante along the main line. The entire railroad is single track with passing sidings every few miles.
At the north end of Dante Yard (MP 35.1), where there is a 4,250 ft. east side siding, the single track, CTC, line turns west, with maximum speed 45 mph, but local speed restriction 35 mph, and then north again into Sandy Ridge tunnel, and then past the 3,691 ft. east side siding at Trammel (MP 31.9), Roaring Fork, where it turns curvily north-northwest, Honey Branch, Wakenva, Nora Junction, where a coal branch (the Nora Spur) leaves to the west, to Neece Creek; and the line turns north, past the dual-ended spur at Allen Storage (MP 25.4), and curvily west-northwest past the 6,102 ft. siding at Allen (MP 24.3), turning just east of due north past the south-facing spur at Central Supply (MP 23.7), and just west of due north, past McClure Junction, where another coal branch (the McClure Spur) heads for McClure, also to the west, the north-facing sour at McClure Lead (MP 23.1), Caney, where the longer Fremont Branch heads west to Lick, with a number of mines along the way, and the double-ended spur at Caney Storage (MP 22.4), turning east to a detector at MP 21.6 and Fremont (MP 21.5).
Between Dante and Haysi, the river valleys are much narrower than they are further south, with the wooded hillsides impinging directly on the river from both sides. Here, the railroad runs on a shelf between river and hillside, with the road either across the river, or sometimes in the next river valley over!
The main line heads curvily north and then curvily northeast past Clinchco #9, the north-facing spur at Clinchco Storage (MP 17.3), the double-ended spur at Rush Storage (MP 17.2), a tunnel, Steinman, and the 6,235 ft. east side siding at Delano (MP 14.4),turning east-northeast past Collco to Haysi, where a coal branch (the Haysi Branch) to Pittco-Greenbrier heads east and the main line turns north, past the north-facing spur at Haysi House (MP 11.4) and the double-ended spur at Rex Storage (MP 10.8), turning curvily just west of due north, past a slide detector fence between MP 10.6 and MP 10.4 and a tunnel, turning east-northeast past a detector at Tom's Bottom (MP 7.5) to the 8,939 ft. east side siding at Towers (MP 6.0), and curvily north again, past the double-ended spur at Towers Storage (MP 5.5), to reach State Line Tunnel in the Russell Creek valley, where it passes from Virginia into Kentucky, after which it heads west, past MP 2.1, where the speed restriction drops to 25 mph, and turns north-northwest, past MP 0.6, where the speed restriction drops to 20 mph, to the 8,250 ft. east side siding at Elkhorn City (MP 0.5).
The Clinchfield ended at Elkhorn City, at an end-on junction with C&O’s Big Sandy River line. Since the CSX merger included both the Clinchfield lines and the C&O lines in the same railroad, CSX has run the line operationally northwest from Elkhorn City to Shelby Yard at Shelbiana, KY.
The line south from Dante (MP 35.1), where there is a 4,250 ft. east side siding, was built first, initially as far as Bostic, NC. Initially, the line heads curvily almost due south, single track, CTC, with speed restriction 25 mph, jogging east and then just east of due south, until a mile or two north of the town of St. Paul, where the line passes through consecutive horseshoe curves to the west, first clockwise, curving north, and then counter-clockwise, south again, then heading west and southwest out of these curves, and then turning south to reach the 7,713 ft. east side siding at Boody (MP 40.8), on the west side of a stream, at the bottom of the westerly hillside, with the road on a ledge above to the west of the line.
Saint Paul, Virginia, is where the old Clinchfield Railroad crosses the old Norfolk & Western's Clinch Valley Branch. At Boody, there is what amounts to a wye with the NS Clinch Valley District, coming west from Bluefield, but at this point heading north directly in line with the ex-Clinchfield’s southerly heading. Both lines turn to the west into St. Paul, where they both cross (MP 42.2) and interconnect (MP 42.5), and there is a north-facing spur at Lumber Track (MP 42.5). On the west side of St. Paul is a similar “wye” at MP 42.7, with the NS Clinch Valley District leaving to the northwest, and the ex-Clinchfield leaving to the southwest.
Modern day CSX uses the superbly engineered Clinchfield at near maximum capacity, running as many as 25 trains per day between division points Erwin, Tennessee, and Shelbiana, Kentucky. Modern day Norfolk Southern runs about 8 trains per day on the Clinch Valley line, which runs from Bluefield, Virginia, to Norton, Virginia. St. Paul is where southbound NS coal trains enter on the old Clinchfield, to run as far as Frisco, Tennessee, where the NS trains roll back onto Norfolk Southern rails to continue their journey south. This "shortcut" actually saves about a day on a NS unit train turnaround. CSX utilizes NS trackage from Big Stone Gap, Virginia (only 8 miles from Norton) to shortcut over to the old Clinchfield at Frisco.