Blue Ridge Railroad
- Not to be confused with the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway or the former Virginia Blue Ridge Railway which is now the Blue Ridge Railway Trail
The Blue Ridge Railroad was owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Its purpose was to provide a crossing of the Blue Ridge Mountains for the Virginia Central Railroad. The Virginia Board of Public Works, always keen to help with "internal improvements" owned a portion of Virginia Central stock, and that railroad had found a planned crossing at Swift Run Gap to be financially unfeasible around 1855.
To protect its investment, and enable transportation, the State then incorporated and financed the Blue Ridge Railroad to accomplish the hard and expensive task of crossing the Blue Ridge mountain barrier to the west. Rather than attempting the more formidable Swift Run Gap, under the leadership of the great early civil engineer Claudius Crozet, the state-owned Blue Ridge Railroad built over the mountains at the next gap to the south, Rockfish Gap near Afton Mountain, using four tunnels, including the 4,263-foot Blue Ridge Tunnel at the top of the pass, then one of the longest tunnels in the world. The tunnel was 'holed-through' on Christmas Day, 1856, and was less than six inches off perfect alignment, as construction had proceeded from either end. Rail service didn't begin until April of 1858, although temporary tracks over the top of the gap were in operation as early as 1854. Due to the extreme grade, the first train to cross over the mountain wrecked on its return journey eastwards the following day. The Blue Ridge Tunnel eliminated this grade.
As a corporate entity, the Blue Ridge Railroad ceased to exist when the tunnels were completed, becoming part of the Virginia Central Railroad. That later became part of Collis P. Huntington's Chesapeake and Ohio Railway after the American Civil War, and helped complete Virginia's longterm dream of linking its navigable rivers of the Chesapeake Bay watershed with the Ohio River, which led to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.