Monday, February 17, 2014

Winslow Train Tunnel

Hiked: 2/16/2014
Distance: 1.4 miles round trip on railroad tracks
Summit Elevation: 1735' (track elevation)
Elevation Gain: 0'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.00
Round trip time: 30 minutes
Recommended water: 0 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free near the tunnel
Difficulty: Easy

While visiting family in Fayetteville, AR, I wanted to explore some of the local caves, but they have been closed to the public since 2010 due to some fungal infection in the local bat population. Most of the mountain high points were impractical to drive to during my short visit, so I decided on a nearby train tunnel. The Winslow (AR) train tunnel was built in 1882 and is very active, used several times a week by the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad. The A&M Railroad handles both passenger and freight traffic and trains pass through the tunnel frequently. I checked the passenger schedule to find a time when the tunnel should be clear, but I could not find a freight schedule so had to take my chances. Luck was on my side as no trains passed through from either direction.

The tunnel was originally completed in 1882, then expanded in 1967 to the current dimensions: 1702' (about 1/3 mile) in length and 24' wide. When I parked, a couple of motorcycles parked next to me and a biker couple got off and started following me toward the tunnel. I asked them if they were headed there and they said yes. They were unfamiliar with it and came without a flashlight, though you can safely travel through it without one. When we got to the portal, I continued in at the same pace, and they followed me in for a few hundred feet, then made some funny noises to hear the echo and turned back. The inky darkness inside the tunnel makes it very hard to judge the distance to the other end and it feels like you are not making any progress walking the tracks. After getting to the south portal, I climbed up the blocks that make up the outer wall to the top for a view down, then headed back through. As I was leaving, I spotted the bikers heading down the road and they waved at me as they drove off, having flaked out at passing through the tunnel.

North portal

North portal, looking through to the other side

The light at the end of the tunnel is not a train, this time.
Safety notch visible on left. They appear on both sides about every 100'.

The south portal

Looking down from the top of the south portal

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