Was the Steepest Standard Gauge Main Line Railroad Grade In The U.S.A.
This track was operated by Southern Railroad until it was purchased by Norfolk Southern.
Now part of the Norfolk Southern Railroad
The Saluda Grade -
Rails to Trails is now almost a reality!
Saluda: From Top to
Rediscover the famous Saluda grade with this new book from Matt Bumgarner and Tarheel Press.
Matt has filled over 200 pages with more than 250 color and black and white photographs documenting the steepest mainline grade in the United States. Also included are floor-plans of many of the depots found along the route and the track charts for the full 66 mile route from Spartanburg SC to Asheville NC.
With a forward written by Jim Wrinn, you can expect this to be a thorough review of this amazing piece of Southern Railway history.
Available on Amazon.
Back Into The Fire
There has been a lot of chatter about converting the Saluda Rail line into a Rails to Trails. This seems to be gaining some steam as there are now 2 counties and 2 states talking about it. As we hear more on this it will be posted here on these pages.
As for ever putting trains back on the tracks, NS has flatly stated that the entire line from Inman to Hendersonville has been rail banked and that the subject is closed. They cite that the insurance required to but rail service back in is far to costly and the repairs to the line in its present state is not of interest to NS.
At this time there are approx. 7 washouts under the tracks with some very deep drop offs. Falling and getting hurt will take quite a length of time to get you out and to the hospital. For this reason - hiking these tracks is now very dangerous in the summer with the kazoo growing over the tracks and you cannot see what and where the danger points are. It is NOT recommended that one hike these tracks from Melrose Falls to Saluda for this reason.
September 11, 2022
This article was copied from the Tryon Daily Bulletin as published on September 10, 2022. No pictures are included and no author was credited for or in this article.
SALUDA — On July 4, 1878, the first train to travel the Saluda Grade railway passage arrived in what’s now the town of Saluda, NC in Polk County. Construction of the railway passage began in 1877 under the direction of Capt. Charles W. Pearson. The railway was intended to link Salisbury, Murphy and Knoxville, Tennessee, and most importantly to provide a connection between Asheville and Spartanburg, South Carolina. It would be another year before the track reached all the way to Hendersonville, NC and then Asheville, NC.
While railroad builders used tunnels to snake through the steep climbs found elsewhere in the North Carolina mountains, near Saluda they decided to face the steep inclines head-on and built straight up the rugged terrain. Henceforth, the climb for the railroad has been known as the Saluda Grade and registered as a historical NC landmark where the track crests in Saluda, NC.
The engineering feat that made the project possible was unprecedented in the 1870s, and construction proved so dangerous and resulted in so many causalities that it sparked an investigation by the General Assembly. The Saluda Grade was used by Southern Railway and subsequently Norfolk Southern for 123 years before ceasing to run trains up the grade in December of 2001. Since then, the tracks have been silent.
The Saluda train station was the focal point for the city of Saluda. Folks from the low country retreated to the mountains escaping the sweltering heat in the summer, and the link between the low country and the mountains established ties that last to this day. In 2015, a group of concerned citizens initiated an effort to raise funds to purchase the depot to house a museum that would memorialize the railroad history and the position in history Saluda holds in Western North Carolina. This was accomplished through a non-profit entity known as the Saluda Historic Depot.
Now, the initiative for a Saluda Grade Trail from Saluda to Inman, SC is underway and the tracks will become a destination for adventurists and outdoor enthusiasts. The Saluda Grade will regain its recognition again and be silent no more.
Mike Reeves, Chair of the Saluda Historic Depot says, “The board of the Saluda Historic Depot wholeheartedly endorses the effort to create the Saluda Grade Trail. For the last six years, the board of the Depot has been following all initiatives and legislature activity about the Saluda Grade tracks and feel strongly that the organizations that have come together to create this masterful plan are the right groups to get the job done. The Saluda Grade Trail will become a tourist destination increasing tourism in Polk County and Saluda. This economic development will contribute to the continuing outdoor tourism in Polk County and grow tourism beyond Saluda’s strollable Main Street. Hikers and bikers abound in our town and this will promote more amenities for these great guests.”
The Saluda Historic Depot board wanted to make it public that we officially endorse the project as conservation groups gain momentum to both acquire, and then build, the infrastructure for this impactful trail.
A group of citizens formed a 501(c)3 non-profit and purchased the Depot building in June 2016, and has created a railroad and heritage museum to celebrate and memorialize the town’s railroad history and its beginnings. If you would like to climb aboard and help preserve the Saluda Historic Depot for future generations, you can send donations to Saluda Historic Depot, PO Box 990, Saluda, NC 28773 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. All donations are tax-deductible.
The museum is open Thursday through Sunday, noon to 4 p.m., Sunday noon to 4 p.m., and exhibits a Saluda Grade “O Scale” wreck Dioramas and “Z Scale” train diorama depicting to scale the steepest portion of the grade from Melrose to Saluda with its elevation, shape, and details during the transition era from steam to diesel. There are also running videos of trains that came up the Saluda Grade and a gift station. The Saluda Historic Depot is located at 32 W. Main Street, Saluda, NC 28773.
For more information, please contact Mike Reeves at email@example.com.
October 25, 2021
Having visited the line from Landrum SC to Lake Summit bridge, I can report that the track might as well be removed the the track bed be converted to a Rails To Trails route. In the area between Landrum SC and Tryon NC about 70% of the route is completely over grown with the famous kudzu! With the on set of cooler weather you are now able to walk the tracks with out the fear of snakes. But one warning is that be very careful of the washes that are under the tracks and the kudzu has overgrown the tracks as some of the under cuts are very deep and you can get hurt falling through. Most of the ties are now totally rotten and running a train will be impossible without a total rebuild of the rail bed & ties. Keep in mind that this is the heavy single rail with no joints except where there is a switch to a spur. As for the major washouts between Tryon and Saluda, these just have grown deeper and wider. If you choose to walk the line be very careful in these areas. The safety track at Melrose is now totally overgrown and useless. The timing section is still in tact and I would expect that it would still work if a train was on the rails. I have met a fair number of people walking the rails down from Saluda to Melrose and then meet their friends for pickup and return to Saluda. Their comments are where the washouts are was rough and extreme caution is necessary. Otherwise the hike was a lot of fun. Did not have much in views due to the kudzu. We have had a lot of rain this fall and this has caused a lot of erosion in various areas of the tracks. Also several minor slide have occurred in October 2021.
That just about does it for this year of track condition reporting. Will update if I hear of anything else new on the line.
January 10, 2020
Visited the tracks today after about 8 inches of rain in 5 days. New areas are now washed out and even more trees now lay across the tracks. With all of the washed out areas walking the tracks from Saluda down to Melrose is somewhat of a risky endeavor. Should you choose to do it just be very careful of your footing. If you get hurt it will be a while before help can get to you. The Google Earth Satellite photos have not been updated yet showing the tracks. What is being show now was taken before March 1, 2019. The major wash out below Melrose is now grown to become a major trench under the rails. Some of the ties have finally turned loose and fallen from the rails so there are now large gaps in the ties still attached to the rails. I expect that all of the ties will be rotted off in a year or so. For those that wish to visit in the warmer months be forewarned that the kudzu will hide the ties and washout from view. This is not the time to hike the tracks.
In late December I noticed that there were several NS truck just north of Landrum and also were spotted in and around Tryon. Could not tell what they were doing but when the headed out from Tryon towards Melrose and Saluda they were joined with several other trucks that could get on the rails. Possibly they were headed to the washouts to see how bad they were. I later learned that they continued on towards Hendersonville. Nothing more was ever said about their visit.
March 16, 2019
We have now found that there are about 15 washouts to the road bed from Horse Shoe Curve to Saluda Down Town. In addition there are several minor mud slides over the tracks as well. Some of this can been seen in the latest Google Earth Satellite photos. Several of these washouts are substantial - meaning they are deep cuts through or under the track road bed. The Trestle at Melrose Falls is now basically undercut so bad that it would not be recommend that you get on it for fear of falling and getting hurt. There are two other washouts that have grown to be very large that you can actually fall through between the ties and the drop is quite far down plus they are totally covered in thick kudzu vines that you cannot see through when the vines are greened out. Use caution in these areas as they are heavily snake infested.
The Melrose safety track all but does not exist any more other than at the switch due to being buried and having now large trees growing up through the ties. Most all of the ties are now buried under ground or have completely rotted away.
Where ever there is Kudzu growing in the area of the tracks then the tracks are completely covered over. In the summer it is very dangerous to walk through due to snakes. These snakes are Copperheads and Rattlers. Look before you step is highly recommended should you venture into the kudzu.
Keep in mind that a number of mud slides have occurred in this area due to the extremely high volume of rain that we have had over the last 5 months 2018 / 2019. The estimated total is well over 50 inches of rain most occurring in two different rain events. The mountains in this area have had their share of mud slides as well with taking out US-176, Holberts Cove Road, and Howard Gap Road which is still not fixed today and damage to the Interstate 26 at the top of Saluda Grade. Repairs to these roads are on going with Howard Gap Road to be worked on in 2021 at the earliest. Interstate 26 will have repairs started sometime starting in the spring of 2020.
The latest scuttlebutt is that the rail line from Charlotte to Asheville and west towards Knoxville area is now up for sale. The Asheville to Spartanburg line is all but closed down from Hendersonville to Landrum. NS is using some of the track south of Hendersonville to store rail cars in temporary storage. The line between Hendersonville and Asheville is still used to bring some freight down to the plants in the Hendersonville NC area by a new short line railroad. Operations are on a as needed basics.
The line leaving Hendersonville and heading west towards Rosman NC is now completely shut down and is rail banked. In Asheville the line that branches west towards the Smoky Mountain Railroad is still in use for hauling freight on a as-need-basics. This includes wood chips to the Canton Paper Mill. They also take some freight out to the Smoky Mountain Railroad for delivery in that short line operational area.
October 11, 2018
After the major flooding from both of the hurricanes this month the ground in this entire area is very unstable at this time. There have been a number of mud slides in this area. I have not been able to walk the track to view everything but a number of others have and report back the rail bed is in very bad shape. I have received the following reports from several rail fans that have walked the tracks from the Melrose area. These are their reports:
There are now major road bed areas that have washed out and making the track totally unserviceable. In some cases the tracks are hanging in the air. There are several new areas that are eroding away in addition to the two locations that have completely wash out. All of the track can be walked from Tryon NC to the Lake Summit bridge. Be forewarned that the area of the Melrose Falls will require one to descend down to the river and cross over and climb back up to the track road bed. The other washed out areas are not so bad to cross over and if you are careful you can walk the tracks over some of the washouts. The bridge over Lake Summit is stated to be in ok shape.
In addition, I will advise you NOT to walk across the bridge at Lake Summit. This is a very dangerous bridge over very deep and cold water. In addition, there is a Hydro Electric intake very near this bridge and when the generators are in operation the current is very strong. You sure do not want to get sucked into the intake.
June 3, 2017
There is a second washout in the area of sand cut that has undermined the rails leaving the rails somewhat hanging in the air. This can be accessed from the tunnel end or you can cross the trestle at Melrose and head up the grade to the wash out. It is about midway between Melrose yard and the car tunnel under the tracks.
There is still a third area that is starting to wash out just below Saluda. While this has not yet reached the tracks it is now very close.
Video of the bottom of the Saluda Grade at Melrose NC. This was taped on June 3, 2017 using a GoPro Camera. It was tripod mounted with a 360 motor mount under it. See below in the video and picture section.
September 7, 2016
This is the latest on the fate of the Saluda Grade. I have just found out that the entire line from Asheville NC to Spartanburg SC is up for sale. The spur out from Hendersonville NC towards Brevard NC has now been shut down and is no longer in use and thus is not being maintained. A private company has taken a lease on the tracks from Asheville NC to Hendersonville NC to run freight down as far as Hendersonville NC on a as needed very sporadic schedule. The tracks below the lower end of Hendersonville NC are now being used to store unused freight cars. These are mostly gondolas. I suspect that they belong to NS. The tracks between Landrum and just north of Saluda are now covered in kudzu. Most to the ties are now rotting out. The safety track is now completely covered over and a large part is now buried under dirt and over growth. There are now trees growing up between the rails that are 6 to 12 inches across!
May 15, 2016
We learned that a section of track below the Melrose Falls trestle has wash out making the rails impassable. This is just south of the Melrose switch yard. To see the washout, go to the foot of the Melrose Grade and walk South. You must walk across the trestle over Melrose Falls so be careful and continue for about 100 yard down the tracks towards Tryon, NC.
April 2, 2003
The rails have been cut in just South of Landrum. This is the first step in Rail Banking the tracks which most likely will then lead up to abandoning the rail line by the Norfolk Southern Railroad. Time will tell what NS will do but it does not look good for this part of the tracks.
Pictures of the of cutting of the rails below Landrum SC
Pictures of the Melrose Switch Yard as of 2013 is sad to see.
Video of the bottom of the grade at
Safety Track 2
Carolina Heritage Line had tried to put in a passenger
Norfolk Southern Pulls
Plug on the Saluda Grade.
Newspaper Published this article
Concerning all pictures featured in this web page.
ALL pictures either
belong to Robin Michael in Tryon, NC
As such this is to inform you that all pictures have copyrights involved.
Later on all personal pictures were
taken with a Canon 5d MK 2 with
Most all of the pictures shown are
in Thumb Format, then
Please use your browsers back arrow for navigation
Tidbits and History of the Saluda Grade
Model Railroading and building a layout of the grade.
As Published by
Bob Loehne of American AltaVista
Videos may still be ordered from AltaVista
Last run of the 611 on the Saluda Grade
The Last run of the 611 Steam Excursion up
Saluda Grade. Please click on the pictures
for a larger version. These are personal photos that I took at both locations. By the way,
when train chasing, one of the best ways to do it is from a motorcycle. Traffic does not
slow you down when it is stopped! Just worm your way through and you are on the way
to the next photo opt!
Track Maps for the Saluda Grade
The track map of the Saluda Grade starting
just south of Tryon, North Carolina and going
just north of Saluda, North Carolina (Polk / Henderson County Line) are included in this
section. This set of maps were reduced for down load size but the original scans are over
16 gigs each, being done at 300 dpi. These files are quite large and will take some time to
download to your computer. Use the plans to do a model layout of the Saluda Grade.
Since the Saluda Grade is here in Polk County, North Carolina, and this is the Polk County Web Page, we have take the time to make this fantastic story of the Saluda Grade available to all who may or may not be train buffs. This history lesson is really quite good! This was the main passenger line with up to 4 passenger trains each way each day. As time went by this rail line became nothing but a freight line. Until the end of the passenger service, add the freight trains to the total train count and you had a lot of traffic on this line. Please feel free to read all about it.
Trains Magazine did this fine major article in November 1984 Issue on the famous Saluda Grade. Since this is no longer available in print - we have scanned it in hires PDF format.
Trains Magazine has republished this article again in a special edition of Classic Trains - Mountain Railroads Holiday issue 2018. This new rendition of this article includes additional information not found in the original print of the article. The price is of this issue is $12.99 should you wish to order a copy of the magazine.
Magazine - Nov. 1984 - The Saluda Grade
(PDF File Size 4.16 Meg)
The Photo Section
The NS Rail-gang and their equipment
Pictures of the rail gang when
they came into Tryon setting the new welded 1 mile long rails.
This is the equipment that they used. Also included is the Sperry X-Ray car that is used to find cranks
in the rails. The welding crews then follow along and cut out the crack and re-weld the rails back together.
Note that all of these photos are scans of either slides or pictures.
Town of Tryon Railroad Pictures
This is the beginning of the climb to Saluda.
Tryon, NC was considered the bottom
of the grade with Melrose in the middle and the steepest part of the grade and Saluda at the
top of the mountain. Each town had many siding for trains to pass on or park
and unload their cargo. While Tryon never was a marshaling yard it still had to hold trains
pending track conditions and congestion at Melrose.
Melrose Switch Yard over the years
Pictures detailing some of the interesting areas as they now
appear on the
Saluda Grade. Most of the action happened in Melrose near the Safety Track
No. 2. As such we have a collection of pictures on the links above that will
allow you to see the area then and now. All thumb prints will call a much larger picture.
Melrose is at the bottom of the steepest part of the grade and as such the
trains were split up to make it up to the top. During the early days they
kept additional steam engines on hand to act as pushers at the end of the
train so that the trains could make it up the grade to Saluda NC.
Town of Saluda Railroad Pictures
Saluda Switch and the top of the grade. Saluda is where all
trains were split up
or reassembled to go up or down the mountain. Pictures are of the trains that
have a mandatory stop here prior to going down the grade. Keep in mind that
the unit coal trains were NOT split up to go down the grade. Also these trains
had radio controlled engines attached to the rear of the train to act as either
pushers or used for dynamic braking of the the train as it descended the grade.
History of Saluda NC
The Saluda Historical Railroad Station and Museum
Railroad Headquarters of NS and CSX / Clinchfield
Visit Norfolk Southern Headquarters
Also found in this area is CSX line
CSX bought the Clinchfield Line
Some links to Southern Railway Sites on the net.
Train Rides or Tours