Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
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|Locale||Western North Carolina|
|Dates of operation||1988–present|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
|Length||53 miles (85 kilometres)|
|Headquarters||Bryson City, North Carolina|
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (formerly Railway) owns 53 miles (85 kilometres) of the Murphy Branch, a former branch line of the Southern Railway between Dillsboro and Andrews. The line was completed to Dillsboro in 1883 and reached Andrews in 1890. GSMR, which began operations in 1988, uses a route which passes through "fertile valleys, a tunnel, and across river gorges" in the Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina. Several miles of the line near Andrews are currently out of service; excursions currently utilize the line between Bryson City and Nantahala (22 miles (35 km) in length), and the line between Bryson City and Dillsboro (16 miles (26 km) in length).
In addition to running tourist excursions year-round, the railroad has also moved freight via an interchange with the Blue Ridge Southern Railroad in Sylva near Jackson Paper Manufacturing. GSMR runs nearly 1,000 excursions each year.
The railroad has seven diesel locomotives, GP9's #711, #777, #1751, & #1755, GP30's #2467 & 536, and U18B #1901. #1901 and #536 were used in the filming of The Fugitive, and are non-operational (having been wrecked in the film); tourists can view the scene of the wreck while passing by on the Tuckasegee/ Dillsboro excursion.
In addition, GSMR owns two steam locomotives: S160 2-8-0 Consolidation #1702, acquired ca. 1994, and former Southern Railway 2-8-0 #722. The 722 never operated on the GSMR, it was formerly owned by the Southern Railway that operated the locomotive for use in their steam program from 1966 to 1994 until it was being purchased in December 2000. #722 is currently awaiting restoration.
The GSMR had purchased a third steam locomotive, a former Swedish State Railways 4-6-0 #1149, in 2010 from the defunct Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad. This engine was originally slated to be moved to the GSMR in spring 2011. However, the engine continued to remain on the B&ML for two more years. Ultimately, the GSMR deemed the engine's move too costly and instead sold the engine to the Discovery Park of America, in Union City, Tennessee.
Consolidation steam locomotive #1702, built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1942 for the U.S. Army during World War II, was acquired by GSMR around 1994. #1702 was taken out of service at the end of the 2004 season. It was hoped that the engine would be restored and returned to service, although no definite plans were set. In October 2013 an "historic agreement" was reached between GSMR and Swain County (NC) to begin restoration of #1702. A new shop, especially built for the restoration, was completed the following year. In addition to that, a new turntable was built at Dillsboro for #1702 to turn around for the return trip to Bryson City during the Tuckasegee River excursion. In March 2016 it was announced that #1702 would return to service that summer, which coincided with the construction and usage of a new turn-table for the locomotive near the depot in Bryson City. Special events and a unique "Return of Steam in 2016" lapel pin were incorporated to celebrate the return of #1702.
Towns and attractions served
Smoky Mountain Trains Museum
The railroad operates the Smoky Mountain Trains Museum in Bryson City, North Carolina, adjacent to the historic Bryson City depot (where GSMR excursions depart). The museum features a collection of over 7000 Lionel model engines, cars and accessories, a large model train layout, a children’s activity center, and a gift shop.
The famous train wreck scene in the 1993 Warner Brothers blockbuster movie The Fugitive starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones was filmed in Dillsboro along the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. The wreckage set can still be viewed on eastbound Tuckasegee River Excursions departing from Bryson City.
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad was also used in the filming of 1996 Warner Brothers comedy My Fellow Americans starring Jack Lemmon and James Garner when they stumble on to a charter train full of UNC-Chapel Hill fans headed for the NCAA Final Four.
GSMR's 2-8-0 steam locomotive #1702 (formerly of the U.S. Army) was featured in the 1966 film, "This Property is Condemned," starring Natalie Wood, Robert Redford, and Charles Bronson.