Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway aka NC&StL, NC&Stl.L, ncstl,  




Chattanooga Division

The Chattanooga Division of the NC&St.L Railroad is the N&C (Nashville and Chattanooga), the core line of the entire system that existed from the beginning. Many still refer to the NC&StL as the N&C or “NC” for short for this reason. Built from Nashville southeastward through the rolling Tennessee flatlands beginning in 1849, the line includes many bridges and several important obstacles. The main stem also offers opportunity for feeder (branch) lines to connect along its way to tap the rich central Tennessee resources. The main obstacles are the ruling grade at Tullahoma hill, the Cumberland Mountain plateau and tunnel, the long and high trestle over Running Water creek, the Tennessee River at Bridgeport, and Sand Mountain, which leads to Lookout Mountain at Chattanooga. The entire line is over 150 miles long. Through traffic was commenced just about in time for the line to be an important focal point for many Civil War episodes. Early on though, the line was in control of the US military so did not suffer as much damage as more southern lines did.

The feat of throwing a rail line with grades and curves (then unknown) sufficiently gentle enough for engines to handle over some very tough terrain was an engineering marvel of its time. As a testament to the ingenuity and foresight of the surveyors and construction crews, much of this line is still in use today by CSX RR. Several line relocations and realignment of track for better operation have occurred over the years. The largest was the TVA project at Nickajack Dam where the riverbed was found to be porous under the old Hale’s Bar Dam. This forced the line to relocate out of the valley to higher ground. Also, the tunnel at Cumberland Mountain east of Cowan, TN. was opened up to accommodate larger equipment and the floor lowered as well. Other rebuilding of bridges and removal of curves made substantial improvements to the line. Note also that after passing through the “Cowan Tunnel,” the line is very near the borders of three states: Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia. As a result, and due to the tortuous terrain, the line zigs and zags back and forth across these state lines several times.

In summary, The Chattanooga Division has and will continue to be an important link for commerce and filled with rich history. From the railfan aspect, it is still pretty obscure and somewhat inaccessible, yet highly interesting. As a reminder to anyone wishing to check out this line in person, remember it is private property and railroads are dangerous places. In the post-9-11 world, there is also suspicion raised by unannounced photographers and “casual” observers of our infrastructure. A word to the wise.

--Tom Knowles, 2-8-2003

Chattanooga Division

*Cumberland Mountain Pusher District



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