Thermal Belt Railway

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Thermal Belt Railway
Reporting mark TBRY
Locale Rutherford County, North Carolina
Dates of operation 1990
Predecessor Norfolk Southern, CSX Transportation
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Length 8.5 miles (13.7 km)
Headquarters Morganton, North Carolina

The Thermal Belt Railway (reporting marks TBRY) is a Class III shortline railroad that operates for freight service on an irregular schedule on a former CSX line from Bostic to Forest City and on a former Norfolk Southern line from Forest City to Alexander Mills, North Carolina. Total mileage is 8.5 miles (13.7 km). Connections are made with CSX at Bostic. Rail is 85 pounds.

Railroad classes transport company

In the United States, railroads are designated as Class I, II, or III, according to size criteria first established by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) in 1911, and now governed by the Surface Transportation Board.

A shortline railroad is a small or mid-sized railroad company that operates over a relatively short distance relative to larger, national railroad networks. The term is used primarily in the United States and Canada. In the U.S., railroads are categorized by operating revenue, and most shortline railroads fall into the Class III or Class II categorization defined by the Surface Transportation Board. Shortlines generally exist for one of three reasons: to link two industries requiring rail freight together ; to interchange revenue traffic with other, usually larger, railroads; or to operate a tourist passenger train service. Often, short lines exist for all three of these reasons.

CSX Transportation railway system in the United States of America

CSX Transportation is a Class I railroad operating in the eastern United States and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. The railroad operates approximately 21,000 route miles (34,000 km) of track. The company operates as a subsidiary of CSX Corporation, a Fortune 500 company headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida.



The former CSXT Bostic-Forest City line was originally built by the Central Carolina Railroad in 1886 as part of a route from Rutherfordton to Charlotte, North Carolina. The Central Carolina was later acquired by Seaboard Air Line. Through mergers, it later became part of CSX. The former Norfolk Southern Forest City-Alexander Mills line was built in 1887 by the Charleston, Cincinnati, and Chicago Railroad as part of a line from Marion, North Carolina to Kingville in South Carolina. The line was soon acquired by the Southern Railway, which merged into Norfolk Southern in 1982. [1]

Rutherfordton, North Carolina Town in North Carolina, United States

Rutherfordton is a town in Rutherford County, North Carolina, United States. The population was 4,213 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Rutherford County.

Charlotte, North Carolina Largest city in North Carolina

Charlotte is the most populous city in the U.S. state of North Carolina. Located in the Piedmont, it is the county seat of Mecklenburg County. In 2017, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the population was 859,035, making it the 17th-most populous city in the United States. The Charlotte metropolitan area's population ranks 22nd in the U.S., and had a 2016 population of 2,474,314. The Charlotte metropolitan area is part of a sixteen-county market region or combined statistical area with a 2016 census-estimated population of 2,632,249.

The Charleston, Cincinnati and Chicago Railroad, informally known as the Triple C, was a Southeastern railroad that operated in the late 19th century.

By the early 1980s, both CSX and Norfolk Southern reached an agreement to allow the consolidation of trackage in both Rutherford and Cleveland counties. This would allow both companies to abandon duplicate lines, while granting trackage rights on former competitor routes. While this move helped with operating costs, traffic declined to the point that by late 1989, Norfolk Southern had pulled out of operating its remaining segment from Gilkey, through Forest City, to Alexander Mills. The Gilkey-Ruth segment of this line had already been embargoed due to lack of traffic as well as downed trees caused by Hurricane Hugo. At about this time, CSX was considering abandonment of its Bostic-Forest City line as well. [2]

Rutherford County, North Carolina county in North Carolina, United States

Rutherford County is a county located in the southwestern area of the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of the 2010 census, the population was 67,810. Its county seat is Rutherfordton.

Cleveland County, North Carolina county in North Carolina, United States

Cleveland County is a county located in the western Piedmont and on the southern border of the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of the 2010 census, the population was 98,078. Its county seat is Shelby.

Ruth, North Carolina Town in North Carolina, United States

Ruth is a town in Rutherford County, North Carolina, United States. The population was 440 at the 2010 census.

A group of the railroad's online shippers formed the Rutherford Railroad Development Corporation, which acquired both the former CSX Bostic-Forest City line and Norfolk Southern's Gilkey-Alexander Mills line in early 1990 in order to preserve rail service. Total rail mileage acquired was 16 miles. The line was leased to Southeast Shortlines, Inc, which renamed the line the Thermal Belt Railway after the area's isothermal effect which, on certain cool nights, allowed the area mountains to be warmer in temperature on the slope than on the base. The line started operations on April 2, 1990. Traffic in its first few years consisted of inbound plastic pellets, grain and lumber and outbound pulpwood on the remaining open sections of track, while work started on clearing the downed trees on the embargoed section. [2] However traffic on that segment never materialized, and after about 10 years of dormancy, the Gilkey-Spindale section was converted into a rail-trail with the provision that it could be reactivated if needed. [3] The remaining trackage has seen a steady decline of traffic to the point that by late 2010, parts of the line was used for rail car storage.

Spindale, North Carolina Town in North Carolina, United States

Spindale is a town in Rutherford County, North Carolina, United States. The population was 4,321 at the 2010 census.

As of 2014 the only customer remaining on the line is a small transload operation near the CSX interchange. Included in the May 2014 North Carolina Freight Rail & Rail Crossing Safety Improvement Fund Projects budget is a $58,688 grant to construct more transloading tracks and expand this operation. [4]

Motive power

The Thermal Belt operates with two locomotives. Number 1 is an Electro-Motive Corporation SW model switcher repowered with a Cummins 600 horsepower engine block. The unit was originally built in July, 1938 for Missouri Pacific's subsidiary, Union Terminal Railway of St. Joseph, Missouri. It was then transferred to another Missouri Pacific subsidiary, St. Joseph Belt Railway, which served as their #5. When the St Joseph Belt was merged into the Missouri Pacific, the SW became their #6005.

Early Electro-Motive Corporation switchers were built with Winton 201-A engines. A total of 175 were built between February 1935 and January 1939. Two main series of locomotives were built, distinguished by engine size and output: the straight-8, 600 hp (450 kW) 'S' series, and the V12, 900 hp (670 kW) 'N' series. Both were offered with either one-piece cast underframes from General Steel Castings of Granite City, Illinois, denoted by 'C' after the power identifier, and fabricated, welded underframes built by EMC themselves, denoted by 'W'. This gave four model series: SC, SW, NC and NW. Further developments of the 900 hp (670 kW) models gave model numbers NC1, NC2, NW1, and NW1A, all of which were practically indistinguishable externally from the others, as well as a pair of unique NW4 models for the Missouri Pacific Railroad and a solitary, twin-engined T transfer locomotive model built for the Illinois Central Railroad.

Switcher small railroad locomotive intended for assembling trains

A switcher or shunter is a small railroad locomotive intended not for moving trains over long distances but rather for assembling trains ready for a road locomotive to take over, disassembling a train that has been brought in, and generally moving railroad cars around – a process usually known as switching (USA) or shunting (UK). They do this in classification yards. Switchers may also make short transfer runs and even be the only motive power on branch lines and switching and terminal railroads. The term can also be used to describe the workers operating these engines or engaged in directing shunting operations.

Cummins American corporation that designs, manufactures, distributes and services engines and related technologies

Cummins is an American Fortune 500 corporation that designs, manufactures, and distributes engines, filtration, and power generation products. Cummins also services engines and related equipment, including fuel systems, controls, air handling, filtration, emission control, electrical power generation systems, and semi trucks. Headquartered in Columbus, Indiana, United States, Cummins sells in approximately 190 countries and territories through a network of more than 600 company-owned and independent distributors and approximately 6,000 dealers. Cummins reported net income of $999 million on sales of $20.4 billion in 2017.

The locomotive was sold in the mid-1960s to Precision Engineering, which remanufactured (but not repowered) the SW. The unit was sold to the Pickens Railroad as their #3. Pickens kept the unit until the mid-1970s when it was sold to Birmingham Rail and Locomotive near Birmingham, Alabama. It was then acquired by Duke Power and sent to Chattahoochee Locomotive, near Cornelia, Georgia to be repowered with a Cummins engine block. It was assigned to construction duty at Duke's Cherokee Nuclear Power Plant. An economic downturn as well as new nuclear power regulations in the 1980s sidelined the plant, parking the SW locomotive for several years.

The unit was sold in 1989 to Don McGrady, which formed Southeastern Shortlines Inc as an operator for the Thermal Belt Railway and, later on, the Caldwell County Railroad. [2]

The 4601 is of MPRX heritage and was sold to the Thermal Belt in late 2015.

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  1. Lewis, Edward A. (1991). "Thermal Belt Railway". American Shortline Railway Guide. p. 257.
  2. 1 2 3 Wrinn, Jim (June 1991). "Warming Up To The Thermal Belt". Railfan & Railroad: 64–67.
  3. Surface Transportation Board (February 2, 2001), STB Docket No. AB-567, (Sub-No. 1X)
  4. , "Freight Rail & Rail Crossing Safety Improvement Fund Projects" (retrieved 7/7/2014)