Grafton to Rowlesburg

The railroad from Cumberland to Grafton, once the B&O West End, is one of the oldest lines in the area, built between 1850 and 1853.

Grafton, West Virginia has been a railroad town since the Baltimore and Ohio's mainline between Baltimore and Wheeling first reached it in 1852. From that point Grafton grew to reach its apex in the 1920's when steam power and the amount of freight moving over its lines were also at a pinnacle. Grafton's railroad operations began to decline less than thirty years later as steam related jobs were cut and local businesses began switching from rail transportation to newer, more efficient forms of transportation, and continued through the 1970s and into the 1980s. Even so, Grafton remained the focal point for the B&O and WM lines in the northern and central sections of the state and inversely grew as the terminals in Fairmont, Elkins, Benwood and Rowlesburg were shut down. The St. Louis Mainline downgrade in 1985 removed all through freight going from Cumberland, MD, to Cincinnati, OH. Grafton went from a primary terminal on a mainline to secondary status almost overnight. Many of the mines in the area that Grafton served also closed, resulting in fewer mine turns. The majority of today’s traffic, however, is still coal trains serving the remaining mines in the area.

The Mountain Subdivision is characterized by its four major grades, with the steepest grades facing the eastbound loaded coal trains. From the west, Newburg Grade climbs from Grafton and, more particularly, Newburg to a summit at Blaser, from which Cheat River Grade descend to the Youghioghany River valley at Rowlesburg. East of Rowlesburg, the Cranberry Grade climbs through Amblersburg and Rodemer to its summit at Terra Alta, reached by a very evident vertical curve at the top of the grade. After some rolling country across the top of the mountain, through Oakland, MD, the 2628 ft. Summit of the Alleghenies is reached at Altamont, after which the line descend by the Seventeen Mile Grade to Piedmont and Keyser. At the latter, it turns north and runs across the Potomac River valley to Cumberland, MD.

From the late 1880s, this was a double track main line, with triple track in many places from the early 20th century until the 1970s. In 2003, some portions of this former double track line have been singled, including the stretches between Westerman and Hardman, and between Blaser and Rowlesburg.

From the crossovers at  East Grafton (MP 277.5), site of GN Tower, the double track, current-of-traffic (Rule D-251) line, with speed limit 45 mph for fast freight and 40 mph for slow freight, heads east, south, east, northeast, east, and northeast past Thornton (MP 274.4), where there is a 35 mph speed restriction, Ironton, where it turns north and then curvily east, Hardman (MP 269.8), site of Q Tower, where CTC begins on the south track (Track 2), the center third track from Hardman ending at Independence (MP 268.4), with a 15 mph speed restriction on entry and exit to the siding, Newburg (MP 267.2), foot of the eastbound climb of the Newburg Grade, where a branch to Gorman once headed north, crossovers at West End (MP 262.0), location of WS Tower, where CTC on the north track (Track 1) joins the CTC on Track 2, Kingwood Tunnel, where there is a 35 mph speed restriction, crossovers at Tunnelton (MP 260.3), where the erstwhile West Virginia Northern once trailed in from the north, a 40mph speed restriction on the curve east of Tunnelton, as the line turns east-southeast, and crossovers at Blaser (MP 258.9), summit of the Newburg and Cheat River Grades.

Now descending the Cheat River Grade to the Youghioghany River valley, on a ledge in the woods above the southwest side of the valley, with a 30/25 speed restriction on the grade, the line passes detectors at MP 257.8, and turns southwest and then southeast, finally turning northeast at the foot of the grade into Rowlesburg (MP 254.4), where the Rowlesburg Southern once headed away to the south, and bridging over the Youghioghany River to the crossovers at MK Tower (MP 253.9), where there is a junction with the M&K branch off to the north. The CSX Kingwood Subdivision or the M & K branch is the only remaining section of the former Morgantown and Kingwood Railroad. The M&K RR was constructed in the early years of the 20th century to haul the enormous coal resources found between Rowlesburg and Morgantown, WV. Completed in 1907, this line was absorbed by the B&O in 1920.