The Hiwassee Loop, one of the South’s most unusual rail lines, lies slightly more than a two-hour drive north of Atlanta. This line branches off CSX’s Cincinnati–Marietta, Ga., main line at South Etowah, Tenn., and charts a southeasterly course toward Blue Ridge, Ga., following the Hiwassee River through a remote region just west of the North Carolina state line. Passenger rail excursions today carry passengers over this scenic line on one of the South’s most remarkable railroad engineering marvels.
Constructed in 1890 by the Atlanta, Knoxville & Northern Railway, the railway worked its way over Bald Mountain via a series of switchbacks. In 1898, Hiwassee Loop was constructed, with the railroad crossing over itself on a bridge to gain elevation. Louisville & Nashville acquired the route in 1902 and made it a key piece of its line between Cincinnati, Knoxville, and Atlanta.
It came to be known as The Old Line after a faster new route was constructed between Etowah and Cartersville, Ga., a few years later. The Old Line hosted L&N passenger service between Knoxville, Etowah, Copperhill, and Atlanta from completion of the line in 1890 until 1951. Service was cut back to Knoxville–Copperhill in 1949. The 1951 discontinuance left the Hiwassee Loop Old Line devoid of passenger service, except for occasional excursions operated by L&N and successors Family Lines, Seaboard System, and CSX from the 1960s through the late 1990s. In 2001, CSX mothballed The Old Line when mining traffic ceased. The Overhill Heritage Association took over the route a year later to preserve the scenic line.
ABOVE: Beyond new carpet and upholstery, the interior of Algonquin Park’s observation lounge has not changed much since its last use in VIA Rail Canada service in the early 1990s. —Jack M. Turner
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Mu-seum (TVRM), based in Chattanooga, soon became the sole operator and established excursion passenger train service between Gee Creek State Park and the Apalachia Power House. Service was subsequently extended to Copperhill. The entire route between Etowah and Marietta came to be nicknamed “The Hook and Eye Line,” with The Hook representing a double S-curve near Jasper, Ga., and The Eye referring to the loop around Bald Mountain. In 1998, the Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad commenced its own excursion train between Blue Ridge and McCaysville, Ga., twin city to Copperhill. The two trains tie up just a few feet from one another during a lunch stop.
Riding a Hiwassee Loop Excursion
In mid-June 2022, my wife and I boarded a TVRM train at Delano, Tenn., five miles south of Etowah. We were directed to vista dome car 9410, which originally had operated on Great Northern’s Empire Builder. Seating in the dome and the downstairs coach section was comfortable and everything functioned well throughout the journey. GP38-2 5109 pulled the five-car train consisting of two coaches, a coach-grill car, and two dome cars…