The Richmond History Podcast

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Only Triple Decker Train Crossing in the World

'Is Two over one Railroad Fare?' (Sixteenth and Dock), Richmond, c.1919 Va. courtesy of VCU Libraries Digital Collections
On Richmond, Va's canal walk just south of Dock St between 15th St and 16th St, is a site that train spotters from around the world flock to, while most pass without a notice.  If anything most people pass, shrugging and thinking, "Great, there's bunch of train tracks".  I am referring to what is known as the "Only Triple Train Cross in the World".

Yes they are all still active.
The Triple Cross in Richmond, Va, photo by Jeff Majer
The ground level is the hardest to see from the normal walking path.  The Southern Railway built the tracks during the Civil War.  For many years the tracks carried people from Richmond to West Point, Va.1   It is now owned and operated by Norfolk Southern Railway.2

The middle is The Seaboard Viaduct.  It was the main line of the Seaboard Railway and was built to take advantage of traffic to and from Florida and still stops at The Main St Station.  It was known for running through the heart of Dixie and transporting people on trains with names like "The Robert E Lee", "The Southern States Special", and "The Orange Blossom Special".1  Importantly when you are traveling through the hot southern states, the trains were "air conditioned with meals that appeased the air conditioned appetites"1  It is now owned by CSX though Amtrak trains use it as well. 2

The Triple Cross in Richmond, Va showing the split in
 the Southern Norfolk, photo by Jeff Majer
The top was built as The Chesapeake and Ohio Viaduct carrying the mainline of the James River Division.  It opened June 24, 1901, creating the triple cross and was a symbol of the importance of Richmond.1  It is a double track that runs 15,840 feet and is also now run by CSX.2  It was built to replace the out dated Church Hill Tunnel which stopped at the Fulton Train Yard.1  The viaduct linked the former Richmond and Allegheny Railroad with C&O's Peninsula Subdivision in Newport News.2

Saying something is the only one in the world begs for someone to disprove it, which is why I have read "probably" and "believed to be" in connection to Richmond's triple cross.  I can say it is not the only one ever.  There was a triple cross in Elliston, Indiana on the west bank of the White River in the Fairplay Township, Green County, Indiana.3  Their triple cross was completed in 1906 but only lasted 29 years.  In 1935, one of the bridges over the White River was discontinued and the tracks and ties were removed.  Then in 1937 the bridge was washed away by floods.3
Norfolk Southern train car on the tracks near the RVA Triple Cross, photo by Jeff Majer
Leading tours of the area people often ask me if I have ever seen trains on all 3 tracks at the same time.  The answer is no, very few have. But looking for details for this post I came across the Youtube video "all levels in 20 minutes", which is evidence of the power of trains for some folks.  It is edited to 10 minutes but 12,531 people had viewed it by the writing of this post for the chance to see not three at once, but just three trains go by.  Some people LOVE trains.

If you have ever seen three trains on the triple cross, comment below.  Heck, comment if you haven't seen it if you like.

1. The Collapse of Richmond's Church Hill Tunnel, by Walter S. Griggs Jr.


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  1. Very Informative..


  2. I saw two trains at once. there was a Norfolk Southern coal train sitting on the bottom track when a CSX train rolled across the middle track. :)

    Great article!

  3. I've seen all three at once but the 2nd and 3rd lines were stopped and the NSF line was junk. About 5 tankers long.