Durham to Duncan


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Looking north from the westbound lane of US64 to the east of Jordan Lake and south of Durham. This relatively new section was installed by 1974 and was supposedly never put into service. It was removed in 1979.

The New Hope Valley Railroad was created in 1904 to connect Durham, NC, to the Seaboard Air Line mainline at Bonsal, in Wake County, to the south. Although the railroad was never chartered with the state of North Carolina, its owners purchased seven strips of 100-foot right-of-way in Chatham on which to build the new railroad, for $186.50.

A year later, the same owners began construction of a second railroad, the Durham and South Carolina Railroad — this time obtaining an official charter from the state. Construction began using the land slated for the New Hope Valley Railroad (which had still not been officially chartered for railroad use), with intentions of going beyond the end of the New Hope Valley line at Bonsal south to South Carolina. By 1917, the line had reached Duncan in Harnett County, at a length of 42 miles. Here the railroad stopped, roughly 80 miles shy of its intended destination.

The first locomotive of the D&SC was a rebuilt 2-6-0 from the Southern Implement and Engine Co. of Atlanta, GA. Lettered D&SC 47, it had 18 x 24" cylinders and was delivered to the Hamlet office in 1905. The rolling stock of the railroad included three combination cars (baggage and passenger car combined), two box cars and five flat cars. The D&SC also acquired two 4-6-0 Baldwin locomotives.

The original railroad company, the New Hope Valley, which still had not laid a single rail, was purchased by the Durham and South Carolina Railroad in 1905. However, since both companies were owned by the same individuals, the fact that the original NHVRR was never officially incorporated and had purchased land outside of the proper channels has since caused long-term speculation on who actually owns the right-of-way. Despite this, and because of its access to lucrative tobacco and textile factories in Durham, the Norfolk and Southern Railway entered into a 99-year lease with the D&SC in 1920. The lease ended in 1957 when the Norfolk Southern Railway purchased the D&SC outright. However, the rightful owners of part of the land that was intended to host the original NHVRR railroad was still in dispute.

In April, 1969, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers entered into a relocation agreement with the D&SC, and the Norfolk Southern Railway as a third party, to move the rail line from the New Hope Valley river basin to higher ground in preparation for the building of the New Hope Dam and Reservoir, Jordan Lake. The new, relocated line branched off the old one about 1000-feet south of what is now Interstate 40, at a place called Penny, and rejoined it near Beaver Creek. After the line was constructed and completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, ownership of the line was transferred to D&SC in March of 1974, which was provided for by the contract with the Corps. However, this occurred after the SR and the N&S (precursor to today's Norfolk Southern Corporation) merged in January, 1974. The merge rendered the D&SC's line, including this newly relocated line, as redundant and therefore extraneous, since the Southern Railway had a parallel line that was shorter. Thus it was decided to abandon the entire line. However, the contract for the relocation stipulated that the three trains had to travel over the new line for testing purposes, so the D&SC sent three trains over the line, with the third and final train picking up the newly-laid rail and spikes for salvaging. Official abandonment of the line occurred in 1979.

While most of the right-of-way has been reclaimed by state/local governments and corporate entities with no problems, the original debate of land ownership of the NHVRR continues today between the Norfolk Southern, the U.S. Corps of Engineers, the North Carolina Department of Transportation, local governments, adjacent land owners, and rail-to-trail advocates.

the SR did not enter a 99 year agreement with D&SC. it was the old NS RY. in 1974 the SR bought the old NS RY and the line was abandoned in 1980.

tim carroll
fuquay varina, NC


In 1973, I was the on-site representative of the railroad when the Corps attempted to turn the relocated track over to the Durham & Southern. I rode the new rails in a Fremont car to inspect the work and found numerous locations where the side slopes had failed. In both cut and fill sections, the slopes had collapsed and resulted in either track being partially covered with earth or the ends of the ties exposed. These types of failures are not uncommon to the area due to the unique soil conditions found between Durham and Sanford (Triassic Basin). Needless to say, the railroad refused to accept the new line until corrections were made. I spent the entire summer of 1973 monitoring the corrective work (at additional taxpayers expense) and driving the back roads along the line. When the work was competed in the fall of 1973, I returned to Charlotte and lost track of what eventually happened. I was surprised, to say the least, to learn that the track was abandoned in the late 1970s and is now the Tobacco Road Trail.

Just another example of pork barrel projects that have plagued this nation for decades.

Eric Chapman
Raleigh, NC


The issue with the new line as I was told by the contractor that was hired to fix it is that in many areas the soil was not properly compacted and there were instances of stumps and the like buried in the fills which eventually created voids. As mentioned in the other comment the soil is pretty rotten with clay in the area. The soil survey of 1971 called it "highly eroded". Much is said of the line being an example of pork but the line was the old Norfolk-Southern's only route to Durham. When Southern absorbed the NS in 1974 the line was tragically redundant. Southern's heavy welded mainline went through Durham so spending money to upgrade the 56lb, 70lb and 80lb rail, improving the ties, sand/cinder roadbed and old wooden trestles was just not smart for them. The fact that the Corps of Engineers had to pay to relocate a non-public railroad to build a public flood control lake only to have it abandonned by the new owner was an unfortunate waste.

J.B. Slaughter
West Chester, PA


The American Tobacco Trail is now fully open and continous on the old bed. It's pretty flat and easy going through the pines until you zig zag around south Durham, by a mall and across a slick interstate overpass. You lose the bed sometimes until it brings right to the south end of the Am. Tob. Campus where there is pizza, beer, software and music. Easy to tell where the old trains would unload broadleaf to be cut and rolled

Andy M.
Raleigh, NC



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