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DeBandi 10-13-2008 08:54 AM

Exploring the Abandoned Mountain Goat Railroad
We loaded the bikes and headed to the NCN Rally to see some old friends and meet new fellow ADV riders.

We set up camp at NCN, then headed north.

My brother & I went to explore the historical Mountain Goat Railroad from Cowan to Sewanee, TN.

The old grade is in orange.

I wanted to see this before it is lost forever in a rails to trails program.

Some background on the historic railroad.

The Cowan Tunnel is part of this story. This is a National Historic Landmark. It was built in 1849 by the Nashville and Chattanooga railroad. 2,228 feet straight through Cumberland Mountain.
It played a major role in the Civil War. More info on that at

The idea was to mine coal on the Cumberland Plateau. The Sewanee Mining Company -- TCI -- Tennessee Coal and Iron, the same company that is the subject of so many of my Exploring Alabama reports, started on the spur line around 1850. This was the steepest railroad grade in the country in the late 1800s.

This is my brother on the old line. He is on top of an old bridge at the tunnel.

This is the view from his vantage point.

Other views showing the original bridge.

1856 - Coal shipments began.

1858 - 15,000 acres were donated by the railroad investors to start The University of the South at Sewanee. This is one of the most beautiful college campuses I have ever seen. :deal

1858 - Line was extended to Tracey City.

1861 - The line was destroyed in the Civil War. (It was rebuilt.)

1971 - Passenger service was discontinued.

1985 - All 40 miles of the Mountain Goat Railroad were abandoned by what is now CSX.

It was a total of 10 miles from Cowan to Sewanee and the scenery was fantastic. A few tough places, but nothing too technical.

You see how steep the grade is in this picture.

We noticed that the Husky had a rear flat when we got to Sewanee. (I guess I had pinched the tube when changing it.) We had no choice but to leave the bike in Sewanee. A super nice man let us leave the bike in front of a business location.

The rails to trails people are all over this, so I do not expect this to be open to motorized vehicles much longer. The section from Sewanee to Monteagle, TN, has already been converted to hiking and biking trails.

GB 10-13-2008 09:01 AM

That first one with the train there... :eek1 Train time is anytime! Cool before and after pics!

Abandoned rail road riding can be awesome! :thumb


Stretch67 10-13-2008 09:03 AM

Sweet. I do love your historic reports.

GA. DUALSPORT WANTAB 10-13-2008 09:20 AM

You have a thing for old Rail Road beds don't ya. :wink: Nice report. How did the MEFO DO? :ear

BlueLghtning 10-13-2008 09:28 AM

Very Cool! :clap

bigskydrift 10-13-2008 10:11 AM

I work for a railroad out here in Montana, and we have some real cool active mountain RR's in operation, the ones that are abandoned have either gone to Rails to Trails or are in private land areas. Old RR beds are cool and I hate to see them lost. Thanks for the report!

mel brooks 10-13-2008 10:41 AM

Another good report DeBandi, thanks! Love the pics.

dlrides 10-13-2008 10:51 AM

Great report David ! :clap

Have any more pics of riding the RR line ?

scarysharkface 10-13-2008 11:12 AM

+1 on more pics!

That would be an excellent Fall/Winter ride...


jgreer 10-13-2008 11:12 AM

Next time
Next time try to get a picture before the train hits your bike :evil

SDS 10-13-2008 01:02 PM

Dave, did you access the eastern end of the trail off of 41A like the map shows, or did you get on it off of 56?

DeBandi 10-13-2008 01:51 PM


Originally Posted by SDS
Dave, did you access the eastern end of the trail off of 41A like the map shows, or did you get on it off of 56?

Hey Tim :wave

We started on Bookout Road in Cowan on popped out at Hwy 56 in Sewanee. :thumb

This shows the 10 mile section.

The old rail bed is still on the mapping software:evil

This shows the grade starting off the main line.

This shows the exit location off hwy 56.

Thanks for all the great comments everybody. :1drink

SScratch 10-13-2008 01:53 PM

Funny, I rode that route a couple of years ago while planning a GS route for the RA Rally in Shelbyville.
Got the same pics:

Rode the same trails:

Got the same flat: :lol3

But did not meet the same nice guy. Met these two instead while I was changing the tube. Real country, real nervous, real suspicious. They were probably growing pot or had a meth lab out there, said the land belonged to them and I needed to move along. Whatever. At least they didn't eat me.

Xfool 10-13-2008 06:42 PM

I used to think rails to trails was a cool deal, I need to re-think this now.

Aidan1150 10-14-2008 05:47 AM

A very interesting read DeBandi. Thank-you. :clap

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