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Norfolk & Western Railway

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Best known as the Norfolk and Western Railway, the company was actually organized as the Norfolk and Western Railroad. The company's name changed to the Norfolk and Western Railway, in 1896.

Norfolk & Western Railroad

Norfolk & Western Yards - Williamson, WV - 1935

The Norfolk & Western Railroad (N&W) of Virginia emerged in 1881 as a result of the foreclosure sale of the unsuccessful Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio Railroad, which had been formed in 1870 by the consolidation of the Norfolk & Petersburg, the Southside, and the Virginia & Tennessee railroads.

Organized primarily to develop coal, iron and other resources, and especially attracted by the discovery of good coal near the site of present-day Pocahontas, Virginia, the N&W began its existance by the purchase of the proposed New River Railroad.

New River Railroad

General Gabriel C. Wharton, CSA, of Montgomery County, Virginia, had become impressed with the commercial value of the coal he observed on an outcropping on Flat Top Mountain during the Civil War. In 1872, Wharton secured from the Virginia legislature a charter incorporating the New River Railroad, Mining and Manufacturing Company to construct and operate a railroad from New River Depot in Pulaski County on the line of the Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio Railroad to a point at or near the head of Camp Creek, in Mercer County, West Virginia, and with provisions for building branch roads in Mercer and other counties.

In 1875 experimental lines were surveyed from New River Depot down the New River to Hinton, WV, where the line would connect with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway (C&O). Shortly thereafter Colonel Thomas Graham of Philadelphia, through friends obtained control of the majority of the company's stock. Graham then began working to secure all the coal land in the Pocahontas region, and prepared to push completion of the railroad, which he decided to construct as a narrow gauge. Graham succeded in securing Virginia state convicts to assist in the construction.

Building of the N&W's New River Division

Map of the Great Flat Top Coalfield - 1886

In 1881, Frederick J. Kimball, President of N&W, met with Major Jed Hotchkiss, of Staunton, Virginia, regarding the potential of the Flat Top-Pocahontas Coal Field. This conversation led Mr. Kimball to join Hotchkiss in a visit to the section, which convinced Kimball that the N&W should develop the field.

After acquiring Graham's "paper railroad," the N&W decided against building a narrow-gauge line, and instead proceded with plans to complete a wide-gauge line, of 5-foot gauge. The railroad also decided to alter the line's route, dropping the planned connection with the C&O at Hinton. Instead, the road would head directly into the untapped Flat Top - Pocahontas Coal Field, turning away from New River at point near Glen Lyn, at the Virginia-West Virginia border, from there traveling along East and Bluestone rivers to the site of a newly created coal mining operation, located at present-day Pocahontas, in Tazewell County, Virginia.

Construction of coal mining operations began in anticipation of the completion of the line, therefore the mines in the Pocahontas field were prepared to ship as soon as the railroad arrived. On March 12, 1883 the first car of Pocahontas coal was loaded at the mine at Pocahontas, VA, and on May 2nd of the same year the N&W's line from New River, Virginia to Bluefield, West Virginia was opened to traffic.

The Bluestone Extension

N&W mainline, near Welch, WV

Between 1884 and 1887, the N&W built its Bluestone Extension, from Mill Creek (now Maybeury) to Elkhorn, WV. Prior to the company's beginning its route down the Bluestone and up its western branches, several new mining operations were incorporated in West Virginia, in preparation for the completion of the N&W's line further into the coal field. The Beury-Cooper mines, located near present-day Bramwell, WV were the first to ship coal from a mine located in West Virginia. The first shipment was made November 10, 1884, the same day the N&W's line reached the area.

The N&W's original "wide gauge" track of five-foot width on its western extension was changed to standard gauge on May 29, 1886, and its main line regauged to standard gauge on June 1, 1886. The company's annual report for 1885 contained a narrative about the change of gauge.

The Elkhorn Tunnel, following the famous coal vein through Flat Top Mountain was begun in 1886. The original northwesterly route to the Ohio, surveyed in 1886, via Elkhorn Creek, Pinnacle Creek, Clear Fork, Coal Creek, and Mud River was regarded as unsatisfactory and was abandoned in 1888. The route adopted for the Ohio extension followed down Elkhorn to Tug, thence to Pigeon, thence up Pigeon and Laurel Fork and across the divide to Twelve Pole, which was followed to its mouth at Ceredo.

Map of N&W showing planned expansion to the Ohio, circa 1889

The Route to the Ohio

The difficult construction of the Ohio Extension, from Elkhorn to Ironton, Ohio, approximately 195 miles in length, was begun in 1890. The road was opened on November 12, 1892 by the completion of the Hatfield Tunnel, eight miles east of Williamson, WV. The Ohio River Bridge was completed earlier, in 1891. Still earlier, in 1890, the purchase of the Scioto Valley Railroad and the Shenandoah Valley Railroad furnished additional terminal facilities.

Photo: First N&W train through Coaldale Tunnel (near Bramwell, WV)

Refining the Road

The engineering problems, met and sucessfully solved in accomplishing the strategic purposes of the railway directors, resulting in the opening of vast previously secluded regions to the larger life of the works, were many and complicated. As the earlier problems were solved, subsequent ones arose in the necessity of perfecting the original road to meet the demands of increasing traffic.

A large portion of the original line of extension to the Ohio River was remote from other railways, and therefore, required cross-county transportation for men, sustenance and construction materials. From a financial standpoint, the venture was hazardous; and, therefore, the route was first located with considerable curvature to secure immediate economy of construction. From the necessity of revising both grades and curvatures the road was later practically rebuilt; and branches, sidings and double-tracks were added to meet new demands.

In constructing the original line across from Naugatuck on Tug Fork to Dingess and down Twelve Pole, the purpose of the management was to locate as near as possible to the Ohio River a coal of good quality which could be easily transported to Kenova, about four miles from Huntington, WV, for shipment down the Ohio River on barges. Later, finding the earlier service too uncertain for the steady movement of traffic westward, and confronted with the necessity of a second track for the economical and prompt movement of the vast traffice resulting from the great development of the Pocahontas Coal Field, and the increasing growth of traffic toward the Northwest, the directors of the railroad decided to construct a second track along the line of the Big Sandy which furnished a better grade for heavy traffic.

This new line, planned for an established and growing traffic, was constructed with less attention to the immediate economy illustrated in the numerous curves of the earlier route. It largely supplanted the old line, both for passenger traffic and for heavy freight traffic. Following completion of the new route, the use of the old was largely confined to local traffic, and to through trains of returning "empties."

The Norfolk & Western Railway

On Sept. 24, 1896, the Norfolk & Western Railroad sold under foreclosure and reorganized as Norfolk & Western Railway, with Henry Fink named as the line's president and Frederick Kimball as chairman of the board.

N&W Branch Lines

N&W - Davy, WV - 1938

Branches of the Norfolk & Western were extended in other sections of the Southern West Virginia Coal Fields as follows: North Fork Branch, 1894; Briar Mountain Branch, 1902; Crane Creek Branch, 1903; Low Grade line the Big Sandy (Naugatuck to Kenova), 1904; Tug Fork Branch to Gary, 1904, with extensions is subsequent years; Clear Fork Branch, 1905; Widemouth Branch, 1904; Dry Fork Branch, 1906, with extensions is subsequent years; Spice Creek Branch, 1909; Poplaw Creek Branch, 1909; and Sycamore Branch, 1911.


The N&W was one of the first railroads in the country to employ electric locomotives, which was the first use of an AC-powered electric system in a heavy duty mountainous setting.

In 1913, the N&W began to electrify a part of its mainline west of Bluefield, WV. By 1926, had completed 52-miles of electrification of its line between Iaeger and Bluefield, WV. By the end of the 1920's, the N&W had greatly increased its operating efficiency by electrifying 210 miles of its track on mountain grades in the state, and was using sixteen electric locomotives. The need for electrification was eliminated in 1950, with the relocation of the rail route and the completion of a new Elkhorn tunnel.

The N&W's sixteen electric locomotives were numbered 2500-2515, consisting of twelve Class LC1 2-4-4-2 boxcabs and four LC2 class 2-4-4-2 boxcabs, typically operated in units of two.

Photos: Class LC1 #2508 - near Mayberry, WV and Class LC2 #2512 - west of Bluestone, WV

Norfolk Southern Corporation

In 1982, the Norfolk & Western Railway was consolidated with the Southern Railway, forming the Norfolk Southern Corporation.


Scale drawings, erection diagrams, and other drawings of locomotives, rolling stock, equipment, and structures used on the Norfolk & Western Railway. Drawings: Norfolk & Western

Annual Reports

Virginia & Tennessee Railroad

Virginia & Tennessee Railroad, Annual Report 1850

Virginia & Tennessee Railroad, Annual Report 1851

Virginia & Tennessee Railroad, Annual Report 1853

Virginian & Tennessee Railroad, Annual Report 1861

Virginian & Tennessee Railroad, Annual Report 1867

Virginian & Tennessee Railroad, Annual Report 1868

Virginian & Tennessee Railroad, Annual Report 1869

Virginian & Tennessee Railroad, Annual Report 1870

Virginian & Tennessee Railroad, Annual Report 1871*

Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio Railroad

Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio Railroad, Annual Report 1874

Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio Railroad, Receivers Report 1878

Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio Railroad, Receivers Report 1879

Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio Railroad, Receivers Report 1880

Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio Railroad, Receivers Report 1881

Norfolk & Western

Norfolk & Western, Annual Report 1883

Norfolk & Western, Annual Report 1884

Norfolk & Western, Annual Report 1885

Norfolk & Western, Annual Report 1886

Norfolk & Western, Annual Report 1887

Norfolk & Western, Annual Report 1889

Norfolk & Western, Annual Report 1890

Norfolk & Western, Annual Report 1891

Norfolk & Western, Annual Report 1897

Norfolk & Western, Annual Report 1898

Norfolk & Western, Annual Report 1899

Norfolk & Western, Annual Report 1900

Norfolk & Western, Annual Report 1901

Norfolk & Western, Annual Report 1902

Norfolk & Western, Annual Report 1903

Norfolk & Western, Annual Report 1904

Norfolk & Western, Annual Report 1905

Norfolk & Western, Annual Report 1906

Norfolk & Western, Annual Report 1907

Norfolk & Western, Annual Report 1908

Norfolk & Western, Annual Report 1909

Norfolk & Western, Annual Report 1910

Norfolk & Western, Annual Report 1911