Elkhorn tunnel

This tunnel, referred to in early N&W documents as “Tunnel 377”, was first known as the Coaldale tunnel, but is now officially (as the sign on the lintel says) the Elkhorn tunnel.  Shown is the SE portal at 37.333022, -81.338904, about one mile as the crow flies, from the NW portal of the Coopers tunnel, across the Bluestone River.  The tunnel is on the Flat Top Extension, which opened up a way to the Ohio River for the N&W.  It was excavated between 1887-1888 and is 1.3 miles long.





As you can tell by the comment below, this posting is pretty much just twaddle.  This is the Elkhorn Tunnel, but it’s Elkhorn Tunnel #2. The original tunnel was a single-track jobbie about 3,100′ long.  That line was electrified between about 1915 to just after WWII.  Wanting double tracks and seeing needs shift, N&W bored this tunnel, about 1.5 miles NW from Bramwell WV.  It was dedicated in 1950.
According to Buddy French (http://shinbrierwv.com/coaldale/return_to_coaldale_-_great_story_by_buddy_french), the old Elkhorn Tunnel, located at Coaldale, was abandoned and filled in after the new line was built.

I always appreciate comments and corrections, always!

25 thoughts on “Elkhorn tunnel

  1. bill gordon June 19, 2017 / 10:16 pm

    Enjoying your blog, noticed this photo of the new Elkhorn tunnel. New Elkhorn tunnel replaced the single track old Coaldale tunnel which is close by to the north and slightly higher. Portals for that tunnel were buried. New Elkhorn was finished about 1950 and is 7101 feet in length. It originally had ventilating fans for blowing out the smoke from steam locomotives.

  2. Anonymous December 26, 2017 / 2:52 pm

    Not saying your wrong, but the Coaldale Tunnel was above this and to the right coming from Coopers Tunnel. It was deliberately filled in after Elkhorn was built. Don’t remember reading they gave this tunnel same name, but possibly. Just keep in mind this tunnel replaced Coaldale. Had the pleasure of walking through this. Doesn’t look like 7,000 ft, but it sure feels like it.

    • Bob Lawrence December 26, 2017 / 5:08 pm

      Your memories are more valuable for me than the research I’ve done. I need now to go back and find out where I got the posting wrong. Many thanks!

  3. Buddy French July 18, 2018 / 12:22 am

    According to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph archives dating back as the 1890’s, construction began in 1886 on what was originally referred to as the Flat-top and or Elkhorn Tunnel. It seems to have taken on the Coaldale name in later years, most likely being associated with the Coaldale community located at the western entrance of the tunnel. In 1950 when the new Elkhorn Tunnel was opened, the Coaldale Tunnel was taken out of service. The Coaldale tunnel had been driven through the twelve thick Pocahontas No. 3 coal seam between the Mill Creek Coal & Coke Company lease and the Caswell Creek Coal & Coke Company lease. The N&W sold the coal as they advanced the tunnel which helped to offset its construction cost and it was completed in 1888. There were smaller parallel ventilation tunnels that were bored parallel with the main tunnel. There was also a tunnel length long barrier block of coal on each side of the railroad tunnel to protect it from the workings of the two adjacent mines. After the Coaldale tunnel was taken out of service in 1950, a coal company began mining the coal on each side of the railroad tunnel. According to the actual maps I have a copy of, mining began at the eastern entrance on 3-14-1952. The map shows progressive dates all the way through the mountain until the last coal was mined at the western entrance on 9-28-1955. As the supporting blocks of coal on each side of the railroad tunnel were mined out, the tunnel collapsed and doesn’t exist today.

    • Bob Lawrence July 18, 2018 / 5:14 pm

      Absolutely fascinating information! Thank you!

      • Buddy French July 20, 2018 / 5:23 pm

        Thanks so much for your interest. If there were a way, I would post the actual maps showing how the coal was mined out on each side of the Coaldale tunnel with the dates. I also have a map diagraming the ventilation air flow through the tunnel and how the smoke and steam were drawn ahead of the steam engine as it entered the tunnel from the western side. The smoke and steam was exhausted out the large fan behind the Coaldale power plant

      • Bob Lawrence July 21, 2018 / 8:16 am

        Thank you! But, within the confines of WordPress, there’s not reasonable way I can post all that.

      • Buddy French July 19, 2020 / 3:44 pm

        I want to make a couple of corrections to my previous post. I stated that N&W offset their construction cost for the Coaldale tunnel by selling the coal from the No.3 Pocahontas coal seam they bored though. Actually, it was the contractor who constructed the tunnel that was reported as selling the coal during tunnel construction for between $60,000 and $75,000 offsetting his construction cost.
        The other correction is, there was no tunnel ventilation for the first thirteen years after it was constructed and was considered a deathtrap. In April 1898 engineer W. H. Kennedy was overcome and killed by the smoke when his engine stalled halfway though the tunnel. Then in December that same year a double-headed was struggling with its heavy load as it entered the tunnel at Coaldale going east and stalled at the tunnels apex. The two engineers, C. L. Shelton and Pat Donahue along with fireman W. T. Rumburg and W. T. Spretzel barely made it out alive. These events forced N&W to begin plans for a tunnel ventilation system. After being reported as being a six month long construction project. the new fan and tunnel ventilation system was completed in April 1901. The only other similar tunnel ventilating system in the world was in Switzerland.
        The Coaldale tunnel has gone by several names over the years. According to a ca. 1888 N&W map, it was referred to as Flat Top Tunnel. In the 1890’s it was reported as the East End Tunnel in newspaper stories and by 1900 it was referred to as both the Elkhorn and Coaldale tunnel.

    • Blane Pebesma July 3, 2020 / 8:13 am

      Although the tunnel has been filled in for close to 60-years now, have you ever been able to locate the eastern portal of Coaldale Tunnel? Despite access to older topographic maps and aerial photos from 1955, I have yet to confirm the actual location of the eastern portal in relation to modern satellite photos. I’d love to try and fine what’s left of the tunnel in person, but being up in Canada makes that a bit of a trip.

      • Bob Lawrence July 3, 2020 / 10:38 am

        I refer you to Buddy French, who provided much of the excellent information on this tunnel. Check the comments to this post. Thank you!

      • Buddy French December 27, 2021 / 6:19 pm

        Yes, I know exactly where the eastern entrance to the Coaldale tunnel is and have been there several times over the last 15 years. I have photos of the collasped entrances from both sides of the mountain.

  4. Anonymous July 25, 2018 / 11:45 pm

    Have you been to the abandoned tunnel near carbo va

    • Bob Lawrence July 26, 2018 / 3:27 pm

      Please be more specific. Where near Carbo?

      • Anonymous July 26, 2018 / 5:23 pm

        It’s on Wilder hollow Rd, I have pictures from the entrance. I walked it over the weekend, 1800ft long

      • Bob Lawrence July 27, 2018 / 5:52 am

        Thank you! That helps a lot. Nothing like a new tunnel!

  5. Tony Honeyman April 8, 2021 / 3:28 pm

    Tony Honeyman

  6. Buddy French December 26, 2021 / 4:53 pm

    Early N&W maps referred to its new tunnel at the head of its Mill Creek Branch as the Flat Top Tunnel. After the tunnel was opened in 1888, the railroad was extended another five miles from the Flat Top Tunnel on to Elkhorn which became the N&W’s western terminus and was known as the Elkhorn Branch. During that time, Bluefield Daily Telegraph newspaper stories referred to the Flat Top Tunnel as the East End Tunnel because it was situated at the eastern end of Elkhorn Branch. Elkhorn remained the terminus of the N&W’s westward expansion until construction began in the spring of 1890 on the Ohio Extension. The paper reported that the first passenger train passed through the East End Tunnel in 1889. The engineer was Bob Brown, brakeman was Jim Price and the conductor was Captain Thomas. Stories had it that Captain Thomas would have the train stopped on the tall Maybeury trestle to collect passenger fares.
    By the time electrification work began on this section of the railroad in 1913, the Flat Top/East End Tunnel had become known as the Elkhorn Tunnel. In later years it became more universally known as the Coaldale Tunnel, especially after the opening of the lower grade, double tracked Elkhorn Tunnel in 1950.

  7. Andrew November 6, 2022 / 1:53 pm

    Can one walk through this tunnel? Is there a list anywhere of all walkable/bikeable tunnels in WV/PA/VA? Would love to check them all out.

    • Bob Lawrence November 6, 2022 / 4:26 pm

      Generally speaking, tunnels that are still in use by the railroad are safe, but they’re also private property. Tunnels that have gone out of use can be dangerous: dark, wet, chilly. Definitely not a lark. Don’t get caught in a tunnel when a train comes through. It’s an unpleasant situation.
      Google “Rails to Trails” in WV/PA/VA and you should get some results. Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s