|Locale||Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio; after the 1960s mergers, also Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, New York, and Pennsylvania|
|Dates of operation||1870–1982|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
|Previous gauge||5 ft (1,524 mm) (?)|
|Length||1956: 2,132 miles (3,431 kilometers);1970: 7,595 miles (12,223 kilometers)|
The Norfolk and Western Railway (reporting mark NW), commonly called the N&W, was a US class I railroad, formed by more than 200 railroad mergers between 1838 and 1982. It was headquartered in Roanoke, Virginia, for most of its existence. Its motto was "Precision Transportation"; it had a variety of nicknames, including "King Coal" and "British Railway of America". In 1986, N&W merged with Southern Railway to form Today’s Norfolk Southern Railway.
The N&W was famous for manufacturing its own steam locomotives, which were built at the Roanoke Shops, as well as its own hopper cars. After 1960, N&W was the last major Class I railroad using steam locomotives; the last remaining Y class 2-8-8-2s would eventually be retired between 1964 and 1965.
In December 1959, the N&W merged with the Virginian Railway (reporting mark VGN), a longtime rival in the Pocahontas coal region. By 1970, other mergers with the Nickel Plate Road and Wabash formed a system that operated 7,595 miles (12,223 km) of road on 14,881 miles (23,949 km) of track from North Carolina to New York and from Virginia to Iowa.
In 1982, the N&W merged its business operation with those of the Southern Railway, another profitable carrier to create the Norfolk Southern Corporation holding company. The N&W and the Southern Railway continued as separate railroads operating under a single holding company.
In 1982, the Southern Railway was renamed Norfolk Southern Railway and the holding company transferred the Norfolk & Western Railway to the control of the newly renamed company.
The N&W's earliest predecessor was the City Point Railroad (CPRR), a 9-mile (14 km) short-line railroad formed in 1838 to extend from City Point (now part of the independent city of Hopewell, Virginia), a port on the tidal James River, to Petersburg, Virginia, on the fall line of the shallower Appomattox River. In 1854, CPRR became part of the South Side Railroad, which connected Petersburg with Lynchburg, where it interchanged through traffic with the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad (V&T) and the James River and Kanawha Canal.
William Mahone (1826–95), an 1847 engineering graduate of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), was employed by Francis Mallory to build the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad (N&P) and eventually became its president in the pre-Civil War era. Construction of N&P began in 1853. Mahone's innovative corduroy roadbed through the Great Dismal Swamp near Norfolk, Virginia, employed a log foundation laid at right angles beneath the surface of the swamp. It is still in use 150 years later and it withstands immense tonnages of coal traffic.
Mahone married Otelia Butler, from Smithfield in Isle of Wight County, Virginia, a daughter of Robert Butler (1784–1853), a Virginia state treasurer. Popular legend has it that Otelia and William Mahone traveled along the newly completed N&P naming stations along the 52-mile (84 km) tangent between Suffolk and Petersburg from Ivanhoe, a book she was reading by Walter Scott. From Scott's historical Scottish novels, Otelia chose the place names of Windsor, Waverly and Wakefield. She tapped the Scottish Clan "McIvor" for the name of Ivor, a small Southampton County town. When they could not agree on a name for a station just west of the Sussex County line in Prince George, it is said that the young couple invented a new word in honor of their "dispute", which is how the tiny community of Disputanta was named. The N&P was completed in 1858.
Of small stature, dynamic "Little Billy" Mahone became a major general in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. He was widely regarded as the hero of the Battle of the Crater during the Siege of Petersburg in 1864–65. Otelia Mahone served as a nurse in the Confederate capital of Richmond.
The N&P was severed by the war. The portion east of the Blackwater River at Zuni, Virginia, was held by the Union for most of the war. The eastern portion of the City Point Railroad played a crucial role for Union General Ulysses S. Grant during the Siege of Petersburg, and was operated by the United States Military Railroad. The South Side Railroad was also heavily damaged.
William and Otelia Mahone were illustrious characters in post-bellum Virginia. Mahone got quickly to work restoring "his" N&P, and resumed his dream of linking the three trunk lines across the southern tier of Virginia to reach points to the west. He became president of all three, and drove the 1870 merger of N&P, South Side Railroad and the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad to form the Atlantic, Mississippi and Ohio Railroad (AM&O). The AM&O extended 408 miles (657 km) from Norfolk to Bristol, Virginia. The Mahones moved to the headquarters city of Lynchburg, the midpoint of the AM&O. The acronym AM&O was said to stand for "All Mine and Otelia's."
The AM&O operated profitably in the early 1870s but like many railroads encountered financial problems during the Panic of 1873. A fourth road of the AM&O family was planned to extend west through the Cumberland Gap to Kentucky, but was never built. Mahone retained control of AM&O for several more years before his relationship with English and Scottish bondholders deteriorated in 1876 and receivers were appointed to oversee his work. After several years of operating under receiverships, Mahone's role as a railroad builder ended in 1881 when northern financial interests took control.
At the foreclosure auction, the AM&O was purchased by E.W. Clark & Co., a private banking firm in Philadelphia with ties to the large Pennsylvania Railroad. The PRR was seeking a southern connection for its Shenandoah Valley Railroad (SVRR), which was then under construction up the valley from the Potomac River.
In 1881, the AM&O was reorganized and renamed Norfolk and Western, a name perhaps taken from an 1850s charter application filed by citizens of Norfolk, Virginia. George Frederick Tyler became president. Frederick J. Kimball, a civil engineer and partner in E.W. Clark & Co., became First Vice President. Henry Fink, whom Mahone had hired in 1855, became Second Vice President and General Superintendent.
Kimball and his board of directors selected Big Lick, a small Virginia village on the Roanoke River, to be the junction of SVRR and the N&W. Big Lick was later renamed Roanoke, Virginia. Over time, Roanoke began to grow and in the 1950s, reached a population of over 90,000.
At its founding, the N&W primarily transported agricultural products. Kimball, who had a strong interest in geology, led the railroad's efforts to open the Pocahontas coalfields in western Virginia and southern West Virginia. In mid-1881, the N&W acquired the franchises to four other lines: the New River Railroad, Mining and Manufacturing Company, the Bluestone Railroad, and the East River Railroad. Consolidated into the New River Railroad Company, with Kimball as president, these railroads became the basis for N&W's New River Division, which was soon built from New Kanawha (near East Radford) up the west bank of the New River through Pulaski County and into Giles County to the mouth of the East River near Glen Lyn, Virginia. From there, the new line ran up the East River, crossing the Virginia-West Virginia border several times to reach the coalfields to the west near the Great Flat Top Mountain. Coal transported to Norfolk soon became NW's primary commodity, and led to great wealth and profitability.
Kimball served as N&W president from 1883 to 1895. Under his leadership, the N&W continued expansion westward with its lines through the wilderness of West Virginia with the Ohio Extension, eventually extending north across the Ohio River to Columbus, Ohio by the Scioto Valley Railroad. Acquisition of other lines, including the Cincinnati, Portsmouth and Virginia Railroad (CP&V) (which it had long supported and leased) extended the N&W system west along the Ohio River to Cincinnati, Ohio, south from Lynchburg to Durham, North Carolina, and south from Roanoke to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. By the time Kimball died in 1903, the railroad had attained the basic structure it would use for more than 60 years.
In 1890 the N&W bought out the Shenandoah Valley Railroad. This gave the railroad a reach north of the Potomac River and the Virginia-Maryland border, and a line with territory reaching as far north as Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This would become referred to as the Shenandoah Valley Division.
In 1885, several small mining companies representing about 400,000 acres (1,600 km2) of bituminous coal reserves grouped together to form the coalfields' largest landowner, the Philadelphia-based Flat-Top Coal Land Association.The N&W bought the association and reorganized it as the Pocahontas Coal and Coke Company (PCCC). The PCCC was later renamed the Pocahontas Land Corporation (PLC) and is now a subsidiary of NS.
As the availability and fame of high-quality Pocahontas bituminous coal increased, economic forces took over. Coal operators and their employees settled dozens of towns in southern West Virginia, and in the next few years, as coal demand swelled, some of them amassed fortunes. The countryside was soon sprinkled with tipples, coke ovens, houses for workers, company stores and churches. In the four decades before the Crash of 1929 and subsequent Depression, these coal towns flourished. One example was the small community of Bramwell, West Virginia, which in its heyday boasted the highest per capita concentration of millionaires in the country.
In 1886, the N&W tracks were extended directly to coal piers at Lambert's Point, which was located in Norfolk County just north of the City of Norfolk on the Elizabeth River, where one of the busiest coal export facilities in the world was built to reach Hampton Roads shipping. A residential section was also developed to house the families of the workers. Many early residents of Lambert's Point were involved in the coal industry.
The company was famous for building its own steam locomotives, a practice rare outside Britain (where most railways either built their own locomotives or had outside contractors build locomotives to their designs). The locomotives were built at the Roanoke Shops at Roanoke. The Shops employed thousands of craftsmen, who refined their products over the years. The A, J, and Y6 locomotives, designed, built and maintained by NW personnel, brought the company industry-wide fame for its excellence in steam power. The N&W's commitment to steam power was due in part to its investment in the manufacturing capacity and human resources to build and operate steam locomotives, and partially due to the major commodity it hauled, coal. During the 1950s, N&W rebuilt its W Class 2-8-0 Consolidations into Shop Co W6 0-8-0Ts. In 1960, the N&W became the last major railroad in the United States to abandon steam locomotives for diesel-electric motive power.
Today, the Roanoke Shops continued to build and repair rolling stock until 2020 when NS closed them. 
The Roanoke & Southern Railway Company was organized in 1887, succeeding separate companies called Roanoke & Southern in North Carolina and Virginia. Norfolk and Western leased the Roanoke & Southern (called the Norfolk, Roanoke & Southern Rail Road by 1896) starting in 1892 but it became part of Norfolk and Western in 1911.
The N&W operated profitably through World War I and World War II and paid regular dividends throughout the Depression. During World War I, the N&W was jointly operated with VGN under the USRA's wartime takeover of the Pocahontas Roads. The operating efficiencies were significant, and after the war, when the railroads were returned to their respective owners and competitive status, the N&W never lost sight of the VGN and its low-gradient routing through Virginia. N&W meanwhile during World War 2 used their J's, K1's, A Class, and S1 Switchers to handle the troop trains from Ohio to Norfolk, a point of embarkation. Other three were New York, San Francisco, and San Diego. However, the US Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) turned down attempts at combining the roads until 1959, when a proposed N&W-VGN merger was finally approved.
The N&W also operated safely in this time, being the recipient of the Gold E. H. Harriman Award for 1938. In a promotional booklet published in 1939, the N&W wrote "For the second time in 12 years, the American Museum of Safety has awarded the Harriman Memorial Gold Medal to the Norfolk & Western Railway for the outstanding safety record during 1938 among class I railroads of the United States." It is further noted that the railway carried one million passengers more than 86,000,000 miles (138,000,000 km) without incident in the period from 1924 to 1938.
At the end of 1925, the N&W operated 2,241 miles (3,607 km) of route on 4,429 miles (7,128 km) track; at the end of 1956 NW operated 2,132 miles (3,431 km) of route on 4,759 miles (7,659 km) of track.
Main article: Virginian Railway
VGN was conceived and built by William Nelson Page and Henry Huttleston Rogers. Page had helped engineer and build the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway (C&O) through the mountains of West Virginia and Rogers had already become a millionaire and a principal of Standard Oil before their partnership was formed early in the 20th century.
See also: Building the Virginian Railway
Initially, their project was an 80-mile (130 km)-long short line railroad. After failing to establish favorable rates to interchange coal traffic with the big railroads (who shut them out through collusion), the project expanded. Rogers was apparently a silent partner in the early stages, and the bigger railroads did not take Page seriously. However, the partners planned and then built a "Mountains to Sea" railroad from the coal fields of southern West Virginia to port near Norfolk at Sewell's Point in the harbor of Hampton Roads. They accomplished this right under the noses of the pre-existing and much bigger C&O and N&W railroads and their leaders by forming two small intrastate railroads, Deepwater Railway, in West Virginia, and Tidewater Railway in Virginia. Once right-of-way and land acquisitions had been secured, the two small railroads were merged in 1907 to form the Virginian Railway.
Engineered by Page and financed almost entirely from Rogers' personal resources, VGN lines were laid on the principle that picking the best route and buying the best equipment would save operating expenses.
Mark Twain spoke at VGN's dedication in Norfolk, Virginia, only 6 weeks before Rogers died in May 1909 after his only inspection trip on the newly completed railroad. That June, Booker T. Washington made a whistle-stop speaking tour on VGN, traveling in Rogers' private car, Dixie, and later revealing that Rogers had been instrumental in funding many small country schools and institutions of higher education in the South for the betterment of Black communities.
VGN operated over more modern alignments than the C&O, and the N&W, and its track was built to the highest standards. It provided major competition for coal traffic to C&O and the N&W. The 600-mile (970 km) VGN followed Rogers' philosophy throughout its profitable history, earning the nickname "Richest Little Railroad in the World." It operated some of the largest and most powerful steam, electric, and diesel locomotives.
The VGN electrified 134 miles (216 km) of its route between 1922 and 1926 at a cost of $15 million, and had its own power plant at Narrows, Virginia. It shared electrical resources with N&W from 1925 to 1950, when the N&W discontinued its own, shorter, electrified section through the Elkhorn Tunnel and Great Flat Top Mountain region. The VGN track was de-electrified in 1962, after the N&W-VGN merger.
In 1955, the N&W operated in North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, and Ohio.
When the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) approved VGN's 1959 merger into the N&W, it heralded a merger movement and a modernization of the entire U.S. railroad industry. In 1964, the former Wabash; Nickel Plate; Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railway; and Akron, Canton and Youngstown Railroad were brought into the system in one of the most complex mergers of the era. This consolidation, plus the 1976 addition of a more direct route to Chicago, Illinois, made NW an important Midwestern railroad that provided direct single-line service between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes and Mississippi River.
In the late 1960s, the N&W acquired Dereco, a holding company that owned the Delaware & Hudson (D&H) and Erie Lackawanna (EL) railroads. Dereco's troubled railroads were not merged into the N&W; EL eventually joined Conrail and D&H was sold to Guilford Transportation Industries, and is now part of Canadian Pacific.
In 1970, the N&W operated in North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa.
On September 1, 1981, the N&W acquired Illinois Terminal Railroad. The N&W was also a major investor in Piedmont Airlines. Sometime in the 1980s the song "Cargo Movin' People" was written and recorded, however it never was officially released to the public.
By 1996, N&W ran in most of the Midwest and Eastern states. Many N&W lines by 1998 were abandoned and some of them were never used again. However, the Norfolk to Bluefield line still exists but traffic has slowed because of its 12-mile 1.2% grade.
In the 1950s, Canadian National Railway (CN) introduced a group of innovative bi-level autorack railcars. These autoracks had end doors and were very large by the standards of the time; at 75 feet (23 m) long, each autorack could carry 8 completed automobiles. These autoracks were a big success and helped lead to the development of today's fully enclosed autoracks. Tri-level autoracks were developed in the 1970s.
During the 1960s, autoracks took over rail transportation of newly completed automobiles in North America. They carried more cars in the same space and were easier to load and unload than the boxcars formerly used. Ever-larger auto carriers and specialized terminals were developed by NW and other railroads.
The railroads were able to provide lower costs and greater protection from in-transit damage, such as that which may occur due to vandalism or weather and traffic conditions on unenclosed truck trailers. Using the autoracks, the railroads became the primary long-distance transporter of completed automobiles, one of few commodities where the industry has been able to overcome trucking in competition.
In 1980, the profitable N&W teamed up with the Southern Railway, another profitable company, to form the Norfolk Southern Corporation and it paved the way for today's Norfolk Southern Railway (formerly the Southern Railway) and compete more effectively with CSX Transportation, itself a combination of smaller railroads in the eastern half of the United States.
Today, former N&W trackage remains a vital portion of the Norfolk Southern Railway, a Fortune 500 company. The headquarters of the Norfolk Southern Railway and the parent Norfolk Southern Corporation are near the coal piers at Lambert's Point.
While the Powhatan Arrow (all-coach, Norfolk–Cincinnati/Columbus) was the N&W's flagship passenger train, sporting a regal maroon livery with gold trim and hauled by a J Class 4-8-4 Northern Type steam locomotive, the railroad also operated a number of other passenger trains. These include:
The N&W also participated in five inter-line passenger trains:
The last three were unusual in that the Southern Railway operated the trains, either side of the N&W stretch between Lynchburg and Bristol.
The Norfolk-bound trains arrived at Norfolk Terminal Station, which also served as the N&W company offices.
For a more comprehensive list, see List of Norfolk and Western Railway locomotives.
The N&W had run excursion trains since its first days of passenger traffic, and deliberately powered them with steam engines after 1960, when most other trains had been switched to diesels. The excursion trains were powered by several of the N&W's famous steam locomotives, including J class #611 and A class #1218. The practice continued after the 1982 merger, under the first president of the merged Norfolk Southern, Robert B. Claytor, but was finally halted in 1994.
Today, #1218 is on static display at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, Virginia; locomotive #611 has been restored to working order for the VMT by the North Carolina Transportation Museum; N&W class Y6a #2156 has been brought to Roanoke from the National Museum of Transportation in St. Louis, Missouri; and Class M #475 continues to operate at the Strasburg Railroad in Strasburg, Pennsylvania, where 611 will participate in Fall 2019 for the "Reunion of Steam" event.
N&W Class M #433 survives at the trailhead of the Virginia Creeper in Abingdon, Virginia. The Virginia Creeper runs on the old Right of Way of the Norfolk and Western Abingdon branch line.
N&W Class E #578 survives at the Ohio Railway museum in Worthington, Ohio.
Four other engines survive known as the Lost Engines of Roanoke; a group of engines that survived in a Roanoke Scrapyard from the late 1950s until all were retrieved in 2009. These four engines included a Class W2 2-8-0 #917, Class M2 #1118 and #1134, and Class M2c #1151. #917 is displayed without a tender in Bellville, Ohio as a display for a restaurant. M2 #1118 is owned by the Roanoke Chapter Historical Society without a tender. M2 #1134 is displayed in Portsmouth VA at the Railroad Museum of Virginia with a tender. M2c #1151 is owned by the Virginia Museum of Transportation, and currently sits unrestored with a tender from an A class engine.
N&W Class Y3a #2050 is also preserved.
Thousands of men and women worked for the AM&O and NW after the Civil War. Among the leaders were:
As a part of Norfolk Southern's 30th anniversary, the company painted 20 new locomotives into predecessor schemes. NS #8103, a GE ES44AC, was painted into the Norfolk and Western's blue scheme. NS also has SD40 #1580, of N&W heritage, stored at Altoona Works, awaiting restoration to its original N&W colors. However, as of 2021, there is still no information on where #1580 will go when it will be donated.