The Cowan Tunnel

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Mr. Pick

New Member
I've been wanting to make the trek up to see the Cowan Tunnel that goes through Cumberland mountain on the CSX Chattanooga sub for a long time. Thanks to BJudd85, and local Cowan railfan Bobby G, I finally got my chance Saturday. It's a two mile hike to the north end of the tunnel, and another 2 or so over the mountain to the south entrance, but it was well worth the sore legs and chiggers and mud and everything else.

This tunnel was built between 1849 and 1853 and has been in continuous use since then. At 2228' in length, it was the longest tunnel in North America when it was opened. It was dug entirely by hand with only black powder to help with minor blasting.

These pictures aren't too swift as the lighting conditions were brutal - but mostly because I was in full bore spectator/tourist mode much more than photographer mode while just soaking in the whole experience... but I thought you might enjoy seeing a location that isn't often seen.

This is the north facing entrance. The arch in front of the tunnel is a bridge from the "Mountain Goat" branch line that ran from Cowan to Sewanee, TN.

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Cowan Tunnel North End_ by ridestherain, on Flickr

This is the south facing entrance in the area known as Rockledge.

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Rockledge Tunnel South End by ridestherain, on Flickr

Here northbound Q582 emerges from the north facing entrance. This picture was taken while standing on the Mountain Goat branch line overpass seen in the first picture. You can't imagine the sensation of feeling the earth tremble as you hear the train making its way through the tunnel, then emerging and passing directly under you with all that power reverberating off the rock walls. Awesome.

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Cowan Q582 by ridestherain, on Flickr

For this picture I just turned 180 degrees to catch the pushers on the tail end of Q582.

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Cowan Q582 Helpers by ridestherain, on Flickr

Here's a look at a train making its way up the grade to the tunnel. I'm standing about a third of the way up the grade at the first curve. That's another train way down there on the siding waiting his turn up the mountain.

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Cowan Q197 First Curve by ridestherain, on Flickr

And here are the pushers following a train down the south side of the mountain from Rockledge to Sherwood, TN. They will disengage in Sherwood and then push Q582 back over the mountain.

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Rockledge Q237 Helpers by ridestherain, on Flickr

If you made it this far, thanks for looking!
 
Wow indeed. I remember the branch line up at Monteagle very well from my childhood days long before the Interstate ran up there, but never saw an operating train on the track before it was abandoned. Was that the original line between Chattanooga and Nashville, or just a coal branch?
 

Mr. Pick

New Member
Wow indeed. I remember the branch line up at Monteagle very well from my childhood days long before the Interstate ran up there, but never saw an operating train on the track before it was abandoned. Was that the original line between Chattanooga and Nashville, or just a coal branch?
The original line from Nashville to Chattanooga is the line you see going through the tunnel. The tunnel construction was actually started before any track was laid anywhere on the line, and was finished several months before the railroad made it to the tunnel.

The "Mountain Goat" branch line that crosses the mainline from Nash to Chatt was a branch line that ran from Cowan, TN to Tracy City, TN, passing through Mounteagle and Sewanee along the way. Later it was extended to Palmer, TN, which made it aabout 30 or so miles in length. It was built because coal was discovered near Tracy City, but the line provided passenger and freight service as well. It wasn't entirely abandoned until the tracks were pulled up in 1985.

The Mountain Goat line, or at least part of it, is now being converted into a trail by a local rails to trails organization. A couple miles of it is already open and more is being worked on.

And thanks to all for the kind comments!
 
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