Blue Ridge Tunnel

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East portal of the original Blue Ridge Tunnel

The Blue Ridge Tunnel is the longest of four railway tunnels built through the Blue Ridge Mountains at Rockfish Gap, Virginia. Claudius Crozet designed the passage and directed its construction, which began in 1850 and was completed in 1858. [1]

The refurbished tunnel opened to the public in November 2020 after a three-phase project to stabilize it and build parking lots on both sides. [2][3]


The tunnel is four-fifths of a mile (4,281 feet) long and, when completed, was the longest mountain railroad tunnel in the world. [4] The first rail traffic was on April 13, 1858. The tunnel ceased to carry traffic in 1944 [5].

The west portal of the tunnel is in Augusta County. The east portal is in Nelson County. The old Blue Ridge Railroad line (now CSX) continued east through western Albemarle County. It ended at Mechum’s River Bridge, near the intersection of Highways 250 and 240. [6]

Nelson County took the lead in partnering with the Claudius Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel Foundation to transform the Blue Ridge Tunnel from an unused facility into a public attraction. The three county jurisdictions expressed interest in reopening the tunnel as part of a greenway system. Nelson County, owner of the tunnel, applied for a $1 million transportation enhancement grant from the Virginia Department of Transportation in 2010 to renovate the tunnel [7]. The work involved adding parking lots, walking trails and removal of two bulkheads built in the 1950's when the tunnel was considered for natural gas storage.

Phase one began in 2014 with $749,149 in funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation's "Transportation Alternatives" grant. The second phase cost $3.7 million. The third phase cost $1.3 million and restored the west side of the tunnel. [3]


The Commonwealth of Virginia hired Claudius Crozet as the Blue Ridge Railroad’s chief engineer in 1849, one year before construction began. [1] Irish immigrants performed most of the work. During an 1854 labor shortage, the state rented the labor of about thirty-three enslaved men for toil in the Blue Ridge Tunnel. About 100 local white men also worked in the tunnel for brief periods of time. [8]

The state rented the labor of additional enslaved men to build and maintain track beds as Claudius Crozet rushed toward completion of a temporary line over Rockfish Gap in 1853. [9] Most of the temporary track traveled through the counties of Nelson and Albemarle, covering terrain that Claudius Crozet once described as “dangerous ground.” [10]The temporary track opened in April 1854. It bypassed the incomplete Blue Ridge Tunnel, two other passages still under construction, and a difficult stretch known as “Kelly’s Cut.” The track operated until a predominantly Irish work force finished the permanent line in 1858. [11]

To blast the four Blue Ridge Railroad tunnels, teams of two men hand-drilled four-foot-long bits through the rock. Then they inserted black powder in the resulting holes and lit the fuse. [12]. A group called Clann Mhór sought to build a memorial for these courageous workers between 2010 and 2015 but were unsuccessful. Nelson County’s goal is adding the Blue Ridge Tunnel to the National Register of Historic Places. [13] [14]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Web. Crozet tunnel builders focus of program, Dustin Wooldridge, News Virginian, retrieved November 7, 2011.
  2. Leslie Middleton, Walk through a mountain in VA’s Blue Ridge, 8 Feb 2022, The Chesapeake Bay Journal, retrieved 14 March 2022.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Web. Blue Ridge Tunnel almost complete, Erin Conway, News Article, Lynchburg News and Advance, December 24, 2019, retrieved December 26, 2019.
  4. Lyons, Mary E. (2014). The Blue Ridge Tunnel: A Remarkable Engineering Feat in Antebellum Virginia. The History Press. ISBN 978-1-62619-421-2.
  5. Web. Ain't no mountain wide enough: To keep Crozet from tunneling a new attraction, Lynn Jo Jameson, The Hook, Better Publications LLC, November 21 2002, retrieved 25 Jan 2010.
  6. Lyons (2015). The Virginia Blue Ridge Railroad. The History Press. ISBN 978-1-46711-893-4
  7. Davis, Megan E. "If Grant Comes Through, Blue Ridge Tunnel Would Benefit Outdoor Enthusiasts | Charlottesville Daily Progress." Charlottesville News, Sports, Business, Events and Jobs | Charlottesville Daily Progress. 9 Apr. 2010. Web. 12 Apr. 2010. <>.
  8. Blue Ridge Railroad payrolls. Blue Ridge Railroad Papers. Library of Virginia; Lyons (2012, 2022). Blue Ridge Railroad Community Dataset.
  9. Lyons (2020). Slave Labor on Virginia’s Blue Ridge Railroad. The History Press. ISBN 978-1-4671-4490-2.
  10. Lyons (2017). Claudius Crozet and the Blue Ridge Railroad: Selected Letters. Apple Bookstore.
  11. Lyons 2015. The Virginia Blue Ridge Railroad.
  12. Web. [1]
  13. Web. Clann Mhór Seeks Memorial to Blue Ridge Tunnel Builders, Mike Marshall, Crozet Gazette, Crozet Gazette, May 6, 2011
  14. Web. Project underway to add Claudius Crozet’s Blue Ridge Tunnel to National Register of Historic Places, Marissa Hermanson, C-VILLE Weekly, Portico Publications, December 26, 2012, retrieved January 2, 2013.

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