The tracks along the scenic Toccoa River that runs between CopperhHill/McCaysville and Blue Ridge were idle for two decades and in danger of being taken up.
But a group of dedicated train enthusiasts and volunteers set about to bring the passenger train back to the mountains, and they have succeeded in a big way.
The train, with two locomotives and 11 passenger cars, runs with diesel engines at both ends - so there is no need for a turntable.
The Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad is gaining additional passengers every year, and it has been a boon to the communities on either end of the line.
Tim Griffin, operations manager, says, "We passed 70,000 last year, and will top that this year."
The line is a division of the Georgia Northeast short line railroad, which also has freight operations along the track that goes from Copperhill on to Ellijay and eventually to Marietta, Ga., where it reaches the old Western and Atlantic main line.
One study projected passenger service from Canton to Marietta along the Georgia Northeast, though the cost for bolstering the track and building new stations would be high.
The line has had several names since it was chartered in 1854 as the Ellijay Railroad. It was later called the Marietta, Canton and Ellijay Railroad, then the Marietta and North Georgia Railroad.
On a recent Saturday, the Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad reached Copper Hill/McCaysville at the same time as the Tennessee Valley Railroad's excursion from Etowah, Tn., pulled in. That brought a lot of lunch traffic to local restaurants, including a new one with a view of the spot where the Toccoa becomes the Ocoee River.
The river marks the state line between Copperhill, Tn., and McCaysville, Ga.
Nearby are the ruins of copper mines that once were a major business for the railroad. Spur lines still run into the mining center, and there is a Copperhill yard with numerous rail cars on side tracks.
The Copperhill/McCaysville depot did not survive. The Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad has built a covered platform for passengers to disembark. There is a two-hour layover at Copperhill/McCaysville after the hour-long trip along the 26 miles of the winding river. Then it is back to Blue Ridge.
However, Blue Ridge still has its historic 1905 train station, which is currently being refurbished.
The popular passenger train, along with a four-lane highway, has revived the pretty mountain town. There are numerous restaurants and shops in its reclaimed historic buildings.
Just off the Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad's route is the old rail line that once ran to Murphy, N.C.
Though most of the track was pulled up along this route from Blue Ridge, one depot survives. The depot at Mineral Bluff, five miles northeast of Blue Ridge, is one of the most charming in the South. It was built in 1887 and refurbished in 2007.