Map of Cumberland to Benham and Lynch line Cumberland to Benham and Lynch

Harlan County

5 miles

This line was begun first by the Looney Creek RR to open up mines in the Looney Creek Valley and to develop the towns of Benham and Lynch; the Louisville and Nashville assumed ownership early in the line's history. The railroad was opened to Benham in 1911 and Lynch in 1918. Benham was a company town developed by the International Harvester company and Lynch was developed by US Coal and Coke, a subsidiary of US Steel. At the time it was built, Lynch was the largest coal camp in the world. There remain extensive remnants of the mining industry and company town landscape. Many of the original company houses are intact as well as some company offices, coal processing facilities, and schools. Portal 31 Museum is open in a former lamp house and conducts tours inside a former coal mine. Various mining equipment is on display here as well as a caboose and locomotive at the refurbished Louisville & Nashville depot. Some rails remain on the ground here between the coal processing plant and the depot.

In Benham, a former company store houses a coal mining museum and the former school houses a bed and breakfast. This town is also an exceptional example of a model coal company town. A small section of the right of way has been paved behind the mining museum in Benham and it is part of a park area.

The line was abandoned in 1996 and still intact, with some overgrowth. There is great potential for a trail here for a number of reasons. The first is the prior tourism/historic preservation developments. A trail connecting these sites would further complement them and could be an additional avenue for historic interpretation. The second is that the line is in quite good shape and would require minimal reconstruction. The third reason is that it would connect the two smaller towns of Benham and Lynch to Cumberland with a safe, off-road transportation corridor. Cumberland is home to the area's schools, community college, and virtually all commercial activity. Currently there is a narrow sidewalk leading most of the way from Cumberland to Lynch, but it follows closely along the road. A pathway on the railroad right of way would provide a safe path for children and trips to stores and civic amenities.

Surface Transportation Board records indicate that the abandoning railroad company, CSXT, was asked to delay disposing of the line until historic preservation inventories could be completed (STB Docket # AB-55). It took some time to determine that the abandonment would not adversely affect adjacent historic properties. In 1998 the City of Benham petitioned for interim trail use but they were denied because it was deemed that the official abandonment was approved in 1996 and the deadline had passed. It is unclear if the efforts to build a trail were given up at that point or if there is still interest.