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History of Virginia Railroads (by

   Virginia railroads feature typical Appalachian operations; plenty of coal moving from tipple to tidewater with stiff grades that must be conquered to complete the journey. However, the Commonwealth also includes operations not often found in Appalachian states (partly because it lies along the Atlantic Coast), a large port that provides important container traffic and north-south main lines, connecting the Northeast with the Southeast. The Old Dominion State may no longer be home to names like the Norfolk & Western Railway or the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad but today successors CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railway carry on operating many of their, and other fallen flags’ lines in the state. 
   Virginia railroads date back to 1830 when the Petersburg Railroad was chartered to connect Petersburg, Virginia with Garysburg, North Carolina. A distance of about 62 miles the railroad opened its main line in 1833 and after operating for 65 years, it was merged into the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad in March of 1898 eventually becoming part of the Atlantic Coast Line system. In the succeeding years Virginia would come to know many of the South’s most celebrated railroads including the Norfolk & Western Railway, Southern Railway, the RF&P (which was essentially a bridge route that linked northeastern railroads with southern lines), Virginian Railway, Clinchfield Railroad, Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, Seaboard Air Line Railroad,
Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (which had a branch stretching from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia to Winchester, Virginia), Chesapeake & Ohio Railway and the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.
   Many of these railroads played a vital role in both developing Virginia and seeing it prosper, such as serving the Port of Norfolk/Newport News in the southeast and tapping the state’s rich coal reserves to the west. While railroads like the C&O, Virginian and RF&P have particularly left their mark on the state, perhaps no other railroad is more synonymous with Virginia than the N&W.
   The N&W’s beginnings date back to 1836 when the State of Virginia chartered the City Point Railroad to build a line between Petersburg and City Point, Virginia. This small line was later purchased by the South Side Railroad and merged with both the Norfolk & Petersburg and Virginia & Tennessee to form the Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio Railroad in 1870.
   Together these lines formed the backbone of the modern N&W and stretched from cities such as Petersburg and Lynchburg to Bristol, Virginia. The formation of the Norfolk & Western occurred in 1881 when the bankrupt AM&O was purchased by the Clark Family. It was then, later, of course, reorganized as the Norfolk and Western Railway when the Norfolk and Western Railroad fell into receivership in 1895.
   By the time the N&W had entered its second and final reorganization the railroad was already well on its way to reap the rewards brought by black diamonds. Prior to its 1896 reorganization it had built a line into the prosperous coal region around Pocahontas, Virginia (then Hutton, Virginia). By the late 1880s, just a few years after it opened a line into the region the railroad was already hauling over 1 million annual tons of coal from the area

At its peak the N&W comprised a railroad stretching from the tidewater port area of Norfolk/Portsmouth, Virginia to Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio. Along this mostly double-track main line the railroad also had a vast array of branches into the western Virginia and southern West Virginia coal fields with other branches reaching places such as Durham and Winston-Salem, NC; Bristol, TN; Norton, Virginia; and Hagerstown, MD. In all, while it comprised a rather small railroad of just over 2,000 miles it easily made up for this by its strategic location in Appalachian coal country.
   Aside from its astronomical earnings derived from hauling coal, the railroad was also successful because of its sound management practices. First and foremost the railroad always made sure its physical plant was in top-notch condition, pouring millions annually into its maintenance. Likewise the N&W was meticulous about keeping its locomotive fleet and equipment in good running order.
   Of course, the N&W is usually best remembered for its steam fleet, which lasted until 1962 (long after most other Class I railroads had since fully dieselized) and legendary photographer O. Winston Link who captured the last days of N&W steam in dramatic and stunning black and white photography. Today, you can see much of Mr. Link’s work at the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke. 
   Today, with the Southern’s main north-south line that terminates in Washington, D.C. and the N&W’s east-west route that connects Norfolk/Newport News with most of the large markets in the Midwest, including Chicago, successor Norfolk Southern operates most of the strategic routes in Virginia (not to mention the Virginian's main line that follows much the same route as the N&W along with all of the coal mines the NS still serves in western Virginian and Southern West Virginia). 
   While CSX operates the former C&O, SAL, ACL, RF&P and Clinchfield lines in the Old Dominion State none offer quite the strategic advantage afforded by the N&W, Virginian and Southern lines. 
   Aside from the Class Is, Virginia railroads also feature a handful of short-lines which include the Bay Coast Railroad, Buckingham Branch Railroad, Commonwealth Railway, Norfolk & Portsmouth Belt Line Railroad, Virginia Southern Railroad and the Winchester & Western Railroad. 
   In total, these railroads operate over 3,000 miles of trackage in Virginia today, although at one time the state featured nearly 5,000 miles of rails. For more information on Virginia railroads, in terms of route mileage over the years please take a look at the chart below. 
   Passenger trains are still alive and well in Virginia with Amtrak operating the tri-weekly Cardinal along with the Crescent and Silver Service operations. The Commonwealth also operates commuter services with the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) which has a line connecting Manassas with D.C. and another connecting Fredericksburg with D.C. Future commuter operations include The Tide, a light rail initiative to serve Norfolk and Virginia Beach as well as the Columbia Pike Streetcar project which will link Pentagon City with Skyline, Virginia. 
   If you are interested in museums, Virginia is home to several although aside from the O. Winston Link collection perhaps none is more recognized or popular than the Virginia Museum of Transportation which houses the former N&W J-class 4-8-4 #611 and A-class 4-8-8-4 #1218 (which were part of Norfolk Southern’s popular steam program prior to its ending in 1994).
   In all, Virginia railroads offer everything from rugged mountain railroading to intermeddle and commuter rail. Depending on what kind of railroading you’re interested in, you are sure to find it in the Old Dominion State! 

For more information about Virginia , the state itself please click here.

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April 21, 2017 05:26 AM



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