Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
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|Headquarters||Bryson City, North Carolina|
|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 kilometers)|
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (formerly Railway) owns 53 miles (85 kilometers) 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, through a lease agreement from the NCDOT by Malcom and Joan MacNeil. With help of a team of investors, MacNeil secured the lease within 48 hours of the Norfolk Southern Railway dispatching work trains to the Murphy Branch to begin dismantling the track. The GSMR route 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 between the far western end of the Nantahala Gorge and Andrews are currently out of service; excursions currently utilize the line between Bryson City and Nantahala (22 miles or 35 km in length), and the line between Bryson City and Dillsboro (16 miles or 26 km in length).
In December 1999, MacNeil sold the GSMR to American Heritage Railways, owners of the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Colorado. In 2000, with a new tuscan red and gold stripe livery, retiring the bright and colorful blue, yellow and red "circus train" livery, the GSMR debuted as the newly formed Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, changing the latter from Railway to Railroad.
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.
In 2004, GSMR debuted its Polar Express train ride, based on the newly released movie and licensed through Warner Bros. This ride has annually been a major economy boost for the railroad and the town of Bryson City. In 2019, GSMR broke all attendance records with over 91,000 people riding the Polar Express excursion alone.
In 2008, as a result of economic failure in the country due to a recession, GSMR made the difficult decision to close their Dillsboro Depot and focus solely on their Bryson City operations. Administrative Offices were moved from Dillsboro to Bryson City, establishing it as the new hometown of the Railroad. Excursions between Dillsboro and Bryson City continued, however the trips would now depart from Bryson City and layover in Dillsboro.
In March 2020, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the country severely affected everyone in the US. For the safety and protection of guests and employees, GSMR suspended operations for 30 days. This is the first time in the railroad's history that a closure of this scale had to be made.
In addition, GSMR has one operational steam locomotive: S160 2-8-0 "Consolidation" type #1702, acquired in 1991. Additionally, the railroad owns former Southern Railway 2-8-0 #722. The 722 never operated on the GSMR, it was formerly owned by the Southern Railway, which operated the locomotive for use in their steam program from 1966 to 1994 until it was being purchased in late 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 type steam locomotive #1702, built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1942 for the U.S. Army during World War II, was acquired by GSMR in 1991. #1702 was taken out of service at the end of the 2004 season. Although it was hoped that the engine would be restored and returned to service, 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 Bryson City for #1702 to turn around for the return trip to Dillsboro 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. As of the 2020 Season, #1702 still runs occasionally throughout the year.
In late 2019, the GSMR began the process of purchasing a 6th diesel locomotive. The locomotive, a GP-38, is believed to have been purchased through Western Rail in Washington State and is currently awaiting delivery to the GSMR.
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 7,000 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.
- Town of Dillsboro, North Carolina - History
- Town of Andrews, North Carolina - History
- Karlsson, Lars Olov (2013). Ånglok vid Sveriges normalspåriga enskilda järnvägar. Del 2. MBJ–ÖVJ (in Swedish). Malmö: Frank Stenvalls Förlag. p. 154. ISBN 9-789172-661875.
- "The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad and Model Train Museum part 1". YouTube. Retrieved 6 December 2014.
- George, Michael; Strack, Frank (2012). Passage Through Time: The Official Guidebook. Bryson City, NC, USA: Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. p. 47.