Abandoned Railroad Lines

A collection of photographs and miscellaneous information about abandoned railroad lines in the US. The desire is to be complete, but the objective is to collect whatever materail is available and make it available on the Internet, with the hope that more material will emerge in time.

As of about 1915 there was about 350,000 miles of RR track in the U.S. As of about 2000 there was about 220,000 miles, so of it new. So roughly 150,000 miles of track has been abandoned in the 85 years between 1915 and 2000 alone. By the mid 1870s there was an over expansion of the railroads, and in the financial panic of 1877 many lines were abandoned. Something in the charters apparently indicated that a route could not simply be abandoned in all cases. Some were operated for a very brief period of time, and then dismantled, today often leaving little more than a bridge abutment, and a few stone or concrete bridges over small streams, and the countour of the land to suggest where they ever were.

The roughly 150,000 miles of track abandoned in the 20th century alone means many thousands of small spur lines, and lines between 5 and 25 miles long all over the US. Some were hastily built, and it's not clear they were ever expected to last very long. Others represent vast amounts of labor in the substantial bridges, grading, stations, and other aspects of the routes. They're all gone. Victims of changing economics, railroad regulatory policy, which almost saw the demise of the US rail system by the 1970s, changing technology, notable cars, and a pubically financed interstate highway system which made it possible for trucks to compete with the railroads for freight service. Each factor took its toll, and was responsible for railroad routes being abandoned, dismantaled, and, sadly, the right of ways being sold off. In days gone by it was relatively easy to site a railroad track. Today, for various reasons, it is almost impossible in many part of the country. For that reason the right of ways should be preserved, but rarely are.

One can see in some the examples below that the right of ways are already partially developed, and the lines could never be revived should congestion or environmental factors warrent in the future. Still, in many case the towns and industries the railroads were built to serve no longer exist today, so perhaps the lines would never have a future use anyway. An abandoned track often has a lot of mystery surrounding it. But in some ways they were the highways of their day, and built in a time when a multitude of regulations did not add time and expense to the effort. In the heyday of the railroads in the East, say between about 1870 and 1915, the land was more open, and it was possible to build a line where it would be all but impossible today. There was a great deal of pick and shovel work, and most of the lines represent a great deal of human effort, but in the midwest and the west, a new town and a new railroad track usually went hand in hand. The work did get done. Had overzealous government regulations not nearly destroyed the railroads in the U.S. by the early 1970s, and publically funded roads not effectively subsidized trucking, at the expense of the railroads, many of the abandoned lines shown below might still be active, providing efficient freight and passenger service.

East Millstone, NJ - spur track to canal.

Poseyville, IN, to Graville, IL

Somerville, NJ, to Flemington, NJ.