Pine Mountain tunnel

This is the Virginia (eastern) portal of Pine Mountain tunnel, blasted out in 1947 and sealed up, at least from the Kentucky side, in 1958.  It’s just off Highway 667 above Almira, if you’re coming out of Pound.  The access is at the “Red Fox Trail” sign, but don’t expect an easy way in.  The railbed is heavily overgrown with high marsh grass and there was a lot of marshy goop around.  We leaped, gazelle-like, across a creek and climbed up to the top of the cut and pushed our way through trees, some briars, and other of Nature’s finest obstacles, to where we could get a fairly clear view of the portal.  You actually can’t see it in either of these pictures, but on that light-colored band across the top of the portal is written “1947 PINE MOUNTAIN TUNNEL’.
The Chesapeake and Ohio railroad created this tunnel in order to open up a vast (300 million tons!) coal field just east of Pound VA.  A big thank you to Chris Balthis for providing me some rich research material on this nearly forgotten tunnel.







42 thoughts on “Pine Mountain tunnel

  1. Jerry Sullivan March 15, 2012 / 9:40 pm

    Well the Pine Mtn. tunnel wasn’t on the Clinchfield like the others. This was a C&O tunnel. It was also a huge mistake to tunnel Pine Mountain because of faults in the terrain and much expense was used to keep it open but it kept collapsing during the decade it was used. After the coal mine at Meade played out – the mine havinig tunnel through to the Clincfield side where Moss #1 Prep. plant was built, there was no further
    need for the line and it was abandoned, barely 10 years after completion at the cost of around $20M in 1947 dollars.

    • bobtricities2011 March 16, 2012 / 6:05 pm

      Yep, that tallies with what I’d heard. I think the other Sandy Ridge tunnel (the one that’s not in use anymore) had the same problems.

  2. Jerry Wallen March 29, 2012 / 7:34 pm

    My Dad worked at theTunnel. My brother and I visited the Tunnel and watched the large trucks haul rock from inside the mountain. Between loads we would look a the rock that had been dumped. Much to our suprise we found fossils enbedded in rock.
    Fossils of Ferns, Feathers, and yes Sea Shells. How did those Fossils get inside that mountain? Somehow in my many relocations over the past 60 years I have misplaced
    the Fossils we collected.

    • bobtricities2011 March 30, 2012 / 5:38 pm

      Interesting! This area used to be an inland sea at some point before the Paleozoic, when the land here was folded like an accordian by geologic forces. Amazing that you had a chance to see these fossils. Thank you for the comment! Btw, when Hillary got to the 26,000′ level on Mt. Everest in 1953, he began to find ancient sea shells.

      • Jerry Wallen March 31, 2012 / 11:40 am

        Thanks for the reply. Returned to general area 1991 & 2010. Cuuld not see any evidence of Tunnel from roads. We also found fossils on logging road bank between Dunhan & Mc Roberts, Ky. Been told that area is being Striped Mined.

      • bobtricities2011 March 31, 2012 / 1:39 pm

        Neither portal is visible from the road anymore. We’ve reached both, but it took a bit of doing. On the Almira side, the cut into the tunnel is really marshy and overgrown with grasses taller than I am. Lots of water coming from around that entrance. Over on the Jenkins side, you can walk in to that portal easily enough. It’s barred more formally than the other portal, but, given its history, who’d want to go into it?

      • Jerry Wallen March 31, 2012 / 10:21 pm

        Thanks again for great info. Does anyone know name of construction company that built tunnel?

      • bobtricities2011 April 1, 2012 / 6:03 am

        I’ll dig around and see what I can come up with. From what I understand, all the papers regarding the building of the Clinchfield and its spurs is at the Center for Appalachian Studies and Services at ETSU (there’s also a railroad museum there).

      • Chris October 23, 2013 / 2:54 pm

        Jerry, The construction of the tunnel was done by Western Contracting Co of Sioux Falls, IA. The track work on the Virginia side was by Sutton Comany of Radford VA and some grading and structural work was by Codell Construction of Winchester KY.

  3. Mike Hopson May 24, 2012 / 10:31 am

    Excellent blog post. I work for Clinchfield and will be checking the out the portal you describe this afternoon. Went to KY side yesterday. Amazing piece of railroad!

    • bobtricities2011 May 24, 2012 / 5:48 pm

      Again, thank you. Hope you didn’t get too soggy there at the south portal! bobl

  4. Michael November 25, 2012 / 10:34 pm

    Does any one know the route the line used to connect with another line on the Ky Side?
    or if any maps exist I have tried to find a route on google earth, to no success
    I have found the path of a line running from below whitesburg to Neon. but have not connected it to Jenkins…

    • Henry Rucker August 30, 2020 / 6:36 pm

      The line from Whitesburg to Neon, Ky, on up to Mcroberts, and Hemphill Ky was the L&N railroad, the Jenkins, Ky down towards Elkhorn City, toward Ashland Ky was the C&O

      • Bob Lawrence August 31, 2020 / 6:14 am

        Thank you for your information!

  5. Jerry May 9, 2013 / 10:59 pm

    The railroad connected up with a line that went toward Pikeville. That particular line is now long ago closed. When I was younger (and DUMBER), some friends and I walked through the entire length of the tunnel. Climbed over one rock fall that extended higher than the ceiling of the tunnel!

    • bobtricities2011 May 10, 2013 / 5:48 pm

      Wow! Gutsy! That tunnel always had a rep for being unstable.

  6. Jerry May 15, 2013 / 12:36 am

    All of the rockfalls were on the Virginia side which was supported only by timber. The Kentucky side appeared to be supported by reinforced concrete and at the time we walked through, appeared to still be in good shape.

    • bobtricities2011 May 15, 2013 / 5:32 pm

      Makes sense. We could actually access the VA side a little bit, but it was really in bad shape. Had to wear waders to get to that portal…lot of water coming down from above it.

  7. Jerry May 15, 2013 / 8:34 pm

    Always thought that the Kentucky portal, with some much needed upgrades, would have made a nice place for the Little Shepherd Amphitheater. Would have had great acoustics! Instead, the amphitheater is just a small building on the old railroad grade a short distance from the old tunnel.

    • bobtricities2011 May 16, 2013 / 5:35 pm

      I know where it is. We passed it as we walked in to the KY portal. There are probably liability issues with the tunnel now. I wonder who owns that land now?

      • Jerry June 29, 2013 / 1:28 pm

        Has anyone noticed what they did with the old railroad bridge abutment on the Pound side. There is a really nice mural featuring some of the history of the area including the railroad and coal mining history, Francis Gary Powers (the U2 pilot who was shot down over the USSR in the early 60’s) and others. Also, Gary Powers had connections on both sides of the mountain, having been born in Jenkins and growing up in Pound.

      • bobtricities2011 June 29, 2013 / 5:50 pm

        Thanks, Jerry. Good point on the abutment. The artwork is decently done.

      • nettie July 21, 2014 / 9:22 pm

        The tunnel is located on land belonging to TECO Coal Company, a subsidiary of Tampa Electric Company.

  8. Daniel Church April 3, 2014 / 11:20 am

    Wow, Thanks for your documentation on this tunnel. I’m not sure that all but a hand full of people know that this exists. I grew up in Pound and since I learned of it’s existence have always been fascinated with the tunnel it’s self and it’s legend. I had seen the Virginia portal years ago. The pictures you have are not how I remember it. However it really has been lots of years since I have seen it. I always wondered where it came out on the Ky side. I would be interested in seeing pictures of the tunnel in it’s heyday or even pictures of the construction. I have hiked a lot of the old rail beds in that area leading to the tunnel and again have always been fascinated from a historical perspective of the early railroad industry in the Pound VA. area.

    • Bob Lawrence April 3, 2014 / 5:31 pm

      Thank you. I can only use pictures I own on this blogsite; however, there may be some pictures available either at the George Carter Railroad Museum at East Tennessee State University or at one of the several railroad museums in the SW VA area. There’s lots of history there.

    • Anonymous May 26, 2014 / 9:06 am

      I located some information about the tunnel in the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. The info is the public relations press relases and a series of pictures of the construction.

      I can email a pdf if you wish.

      • Daniel Church August 3, 2014 / 10:50 am

        I would love to see pictures of the construction. Thanks .

      • Bob Lawrence August 4, 2014 / 5:33 pm

        I’ve seen some, but they are in private hands. The library in Jenkins might be able to assist you.

      • Anonymous March 5, 2017 / 10:51 pm

        Daniel I would enjoy having that link for pine man tunnel info. Thanks

  9. Don Ramey June 10, 2014 / 8:14 am

    Reading this blog on the Pine Mountain tunnel brought back many memories of growing up in Jenkins. As a younger lad we used to take a maintenance of way trailer car and push it through the tunnel to the VA side and ride it all the way back to the switchback in Dunham, above Jenkins. What a rush to travel across the old highway 23 on the raiilroad trestle and look down at the cars going by at night. Yup, lots of wonderful memories surrounding this tunnel and the Jenkins area. D. Q. Ramey

    • Bob Lawrence June 10, 2014 / 5:37 pm

      Wow! That’s a great memory! Thank you for sharing, Don.

  10. Nini July 21, 2014 / 8:56 am

    How long was the Pine Mtn. tunnel? There is a similar wood constructed tunnel on the Dawkins line in Magoffin County. It is the Gun Creek Tunnel and is in good condition. The Dawkins line bed is now a bike trail.

    • Bob Lawrence July 21, 2014 / 5:34 pm

      I get a figure close to 2,490′ by measuring it on Google Earth.

  11. Anonymous April 14, 2017 / 5:18 pm

    A team of men with myself a local photographer and film-maker along with a man from a local media are about to head into the tunnel tomorrow April 15th 2017. I’ve read that there are parts that are flooded and nearly impossible to cross without swimming and even rats the size of small dogs lol. I guess we’ll see how it goes but i will be capturing some pics from what we find in there.

    • Bob Lawrence April 14, 2017 / 6:05 pm

      The tunnel is reportedly in bad shape. The rock there is unstable and wet. Be careful!

  12. Rick Hall April 22, 2017 / 7:25 pm

    The Kentucky side is in great shape. Virginia not as good, can’t get all the way to end. Great video on youtube. Bob Lawrence and Danny Ratliff and 3 others have posted incredible pictures and videos!

    • Bob Lawrence April 23, 2017 / 5:14 am

      Really interesting video at youtube! Reminded me how much I dislike struggling through abandoned tunnels!

  13. Micah Turner November 21, 2020 / 9:29 pm

    I’m A Photographer Who Is A Train a fanatic, and recently visited the tunnel on both portals, you can check out what they look like now at Micah Turner Photography on Facebook and Instagram and Checking the Rail Photography Album. I’ve heard talk from Don Amburgey, the “Chief” of the Amphitheater’s operations that they are working to get it reopened for a Trolley run from Jenkins to Pound. From his words, and my dads, who is an expert safety mine rescue man for Cumberland Kys Mine Rescue Team, With the right roofing procedures used in mining, the tunnel could be made stable. One reason for all the collapses is from the Coal Seem above it. The last full walkthrough I’ve heard of was in 2011, and at that point only 4 major roof falls were present. I’d say many more have fallen by now. From what I know only one short section of the tunnel is unknown, and it’s all they need to get it re-opened. Thanks for the great article!

    • Bob Lawrence November 22, 2020 / 5:56 am

      Thank you! It’s great to hear that the tunnel may return to use. It cost the railroad enough dough to blast out, for sure.

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