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Norfolk Southern Railway History  
Norfolk & Western Railway
Southern Railway
Norfolk Southern Railway
family of rail lines

The Norfolk Southern Corporation was formed in June 1982 to operate two subsidiary railroads, the Norfolk & Western Railway (N&W) and the Southern Railway (SR).  In 1990 the N&W was merged into the SR and the name of the SR was changed to the Norfolk Southern Railway, a subsidiary of the Norfolk Southern Corporation.  The merger of parts of Conrail into the NS system in June of 1999 had no direct effect on NS trackage in this part of Virginia.

The Norfolk Southern family of rail lines are drawn in red as shown on the Railroad Map of Northcentral Virginia on the railroad history home page and are described below:

A.  Norfolk & Western Railway

The Norfolk & Western Railway (N&W) was organized in 1881 out of the failed Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio Railroad which had been a consolidation of earlier railroads attempting to build westward from Norfolk to Ohio.  The Shenandoah Valley Railroad already under construction at that time was eventually purchased by the N&W in 1890.  Another railway in the northcentral part of Virginia, the Chesapeake Western Railway, came under N&W control in 1954.

The Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) gained control of the N&W in 1901.  The railroad was required to divest its interest in the N&W as a condition of its merger with the New York Central Railroad in 1968 in the creation of Penn Central.

1.)   Shenandoah Valley Railroad

Construction of the Shenandoah Valley Railroad (SVRR) started in the late 1870s in Hagerstown, Md. where a connection was made with the Cumberland Valley (CV), a subsidiary of the PRR.  The SVRR built southward down the valley and reached Big Lick, later to be renamed Roanoke in 1882.  The line was purchased by the N&W in 1890.

2.)  Chesapeake Western Railway

The Chesapeake & Western Railroad was chartered in 1895.  Construction started that year at Harrisonburg (with a connection to the SR), eastward toward Elkton (with a connection to the N&W), and westward 8 miles to Bridgewater.  Trains began operating the following year in 1896.  The railroad was sold about 1900 and renamed the Chesapeake Western Railway (CW) in 1901.  Eventually the line was extended westward to North River Gap.

By 1933 the west end of the line had been cut back to Bridgewater.  In 1943 the line expanded by purchasing the line south out of Harrisonburg that had been built previously by the B&O, with a connection to the C&O at Staunton and on south.  The CW came under N&W control in 1954.  Today, the line between Pleasant Valley and Staunton is operated by another railroad also known as the Shenandoah Valley Railroad.  The line west out of Harrisonburg has been cut back further to Dayton.

B.  Southern Railway

The Southern Railway Company (SR) was chartered by the Virginia Legislature as a new company in February 1894.  Operations began the following July with over two thousand miles of lines including the former Richmond & Danville (R&D) lines in Virginia and several other southeastern railroads that had failed due to a depression in 1893 when over 27,000 miles of railroad lines went into receivership.  By the end of 1894 the Southern had grown to over 4300 miles in length as other lines emerged from receivership and joined the Southern.  Eventually almost 150 predecessor lines were combined, reorganized, and recombined to complete the Southern Railway before its merger into Norfolk Southern.  Both the Pennsylvania (PRR) and the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) railroads were to play a major part in the development of the SR in Northern Virginia.

Four lines that were chartered in this part of Virginia,  eventually became a part of the Southern Railway family of lines:

1.)  Orange and Alexandria Railroad

Chartered in 1848, the O&A made Alexandria its headquarters including a yard and shop area.  Construction of the railroad started southward in 1850 at a point along the Potomac River waterfront.  Tudor Hall, later renamed Manassas Junction (located in the area of today's Fairview Avenue road crossing east of the Manassas Amtrak passenger station), was reached in October 1851.  The rails reached Gordonsville in 1854 where a link with the Virginia Central RR (later to become the Chesapeake & Ohio RR) provided a through route to Richmond and Charlottesville.  Using trackage rights on the Virginia Central to reach from Gordonsville to Charlottesville, the O&A built southward from Charlottesville to reach Lynchburg by 1860.

The O&A RR  was the first railroad constructed on the south side of the Potomac River near Washington, DC.  At that time a wagon road bridge across the Potomac existed at the site of today's Long Bridge, but was not able to carry the weight of rail traffic.  All freight and passenger traffic across the river had to be carried by horse drawn wagon to reach the B&O in Washington.  In 1854 an affiliate of the O&A RR called the Alexandria & Washington RR (A&W RR) was chartered which completed a line in 1858 from Alexandria the six miles to the foot of the bridge.  To meet the need to ship supplies south during the Civil War, a new bridge was constructed in 1863 capable of carrying rail traffic.  During the war the A&W RR was taken over by the US Government and the line was extended over the new bridge to a connection with the B&O RR in Washington.  The US Military Railroad operated the A&W along with its connections, the Alexandria, Loudon & Hampshire, and the north end of the O&A RR as part of the Military Railroad of Northern Virginia.  After the war the A&W RR, along with its extension to the B&O RR in Washington, was operated by the Washington, Alexandria and Georgetown RR. 

In 1866, after the end of the Civil War, the B&O began to buy control of the O&A RR.  Then, in 1870 under the control of the B&O RR, the Manassas Gap RR was merged into the O&A RR and the combined line was named the Orange, Alexandria & Manassas RR.  Meanwhile the B&O suffered a serious setback in 1870 when the Baltimore & Potomac RR (B&P RR), a subsidiary of the PRR, built a line from Baltimore to Pope's Creek with a branch line from Bowie  via Benning, Md to Washington and the Long Bridge. Then, through legal tactics, the B&P RR gained control of the Long Bridge.  In the process the PRR severed the B&O's connection to the O&A and the south as the PRR also gained control of the line on the Virginia side of the river from the bridge to Alexandria in 1872.  The B&O's response was to build a new branch line from their main line at Hyattsville, Md. to a point on the Potomac River across from Alexandria, Va.  A car float operation was established to ferry freight cars across the river to connect with the tracks of the Orange, Alexandria & Manassas RR.  This arrangement would remain in place until the turn of the century when the Potomac Yards were constructed.

In 1872 the OA&M RR was merged with the Lynchburg & Danville RR to form the Virginia & North Carolina RR which was renamed the following year as the Washington City, Virginia Midland & Great Southern RR which entered receivership in 1876.  Also in 1876, the Charlottesville & Rapidan RR was incorporated to construct a direct line between Orange and Charlottesville.  This line was eventually merged into the Southern railway and today serves as Norfolk Southern's mainline between the two cities.  The original line between Orange and Gordonsville was leased to the Chesapeake & Ohio RR.

In 1881 the WC,VM&GS RR was reorganized by the B&O RR and the name was shortened to Virginia Midland RR (VM RR).  The VM RR was leased to the Richmond & Danville RR in 1886.  The R&D RR along with the VM RR became part of the Southern railway in 1894.  Today, the original northern end of the line from the Potomac River front south through Alexandria, including the former shops area, has been removed and the area is being redeveloped for commercial purposes.  The north end of the line is now at an interlocking with CSX named AF  TOWER, just south of the Alexandria passenger station.

2.)  Manassas Gap Railroad

The Manassas Gap Railroad was chartered in 1850.  Construction was started westward in 1851 from Tudor Hall (Manassas Junction) toward Front Royal and the Shenandoah Valley.  The Plains was reached in 1852, Linden in 1853, and Strasburg in 1854.  A one mile long spur line was constructed from Front Royal Junction into downtown Front Royal.

In 1854 a grading was started for a new branch line (shown as the Independent Railroad on the Civil War Railroad Map, and also known as the Unfinished railroad).  The line was to be constructed from Gainesville eastward through Chantilly, Fairfax Court House, and Annandale.  It would then follow the Indian Run stream valley to Backlick where it would cross the O&A mainline, and parallel it into Alexandria terminating on the Potomac River at Jones Point.  Grading also began on another branch line that would extend westward from Chantilly to a point near Purcellville.  This branch line, known as the Loudon Branch Railroad, was projected to be later extended from Purcellville to Harper's Ferry and a connection with the B&O RR and the C&O Canal.  A third branch line was projected to extend from a point west of the Shenandoah River crossing at Front Royal to the northwest toward Winchester, eventually terminating at Westernport, MD and another connection with the B&O RR.  Construction never started on this branch line.

An economic downturn in 1858 caused the Manassas Gap RR to halt all construction of the Independent RR and the Loudon Branch RR.  Construction was never resumed on either line.  Remnants of the grading that was completed can still be seen in the Manassas National Battlefield Park and in Annandale in Manassas Gap Park. 

The Manassas Gap RR reached Mt. Jackson in 1859.  When the Civil War started in the following year, all railroad construction ceased.  By the end of the war in 1865 the railroad had been totally destroyed with little more than a trace of the roadbed remaining between Manassas Jct. and Strasburg, and so began reconstruction.

Shortly after the end of the war, the B&O RR began to gain control of the O&A RR.  Then, in 1867, the B&O RR gained control of the Winchester & Potomac RR (Winchester to Harper's Ferry) and sponsored the chartering of the Winchester & Strasburg RR providing a connection with the Manassas Gap RR at Strasburg.  That same year the Manassas Gap RR was merged into the O&A RR to form the Orange, Alexandria, & Manassas RR.  The OA&M RR completed the line between Mt. Jackson and Harrisonburg in 1868.  The following year the Manassas Gap RR resumed operations.

In 1872, while under the control of the B&O RR, the OA&M RR created a separate subsidiary railroad known as the Strasburg & Harrisonburg RR (S&H RR) from the existing line between the two named points.  In 1873 the B&O RR leased and operated the S&H RR as part of their southward expansion down the Shenandoah Valley finally reaching Lexington.  Then in 1896, the B&O RR encountered financial difficulties, and ended all interests south of Strasburg and surrendered the lease of the S&H RR to what by then was the Southern Railway.

Today, the effective western end of the railroad is at Edinburg.  The rail is in place between Edinburg and Mt. Jackson, but has been taken out of service.  The southern end of the line below Mt. Jackson to Harrisonburg is operated by the Chesapeake Western Rwy.

Civil  War  Railroad  Map


3.)  Warrenton Branch

Construction started in 1851 on the branch line from a connection with the O&A at Calverton (see the Civil War Railroad Map), to Warrenton (home of the Piedmont Railroaders) a distance of 8.9 miles.  A small yard and wye track were constructed at Calverton to turn the locomotives.  At the Warrenton end an air operated turntable was constructed to turn the locomotives using compressed air from the locomotive's air brake system.  Both passenger and freight services were provided at a depot built at the west end of the line in Warrenton.  Passenger service ended in 1941 and by the mid 1980s the line was shortened to 5 miles in length to Casanova and continues to serve a stone quarry that ships by rail as needed.

Norfolk Southern donated a retired N&W class 31P caboose #518554 to the Town of Warrenton in 1995.  The railroad delivered the caboose to the quarry on the branch line for storage until a permanent display site could be prepared behind the former depot now serving as a restaurant.  Members of the Piedmont Railroaders along with support from the community and supplies donated by NS, constructed a section of track on the abandoned roadbed.  The caboose was then trucked to the site and set back on the newly laid rails in 1996.  After a complete restoration, inside and out, the caboose (photo) was dedicated as a community landmark at the end of a rails to trails park known as the Warrenton Branch Greenway.  The caboose is open for public tours on Saturdays during the warm weather months.  

4.)  Alexandria, Loudon & Hampshire Railroad (W&OD RR)

After several failed attempts by predecessor companies to raise financial support, the Alexandria, Loudon & Hampshire Railroad began construction in 1855.  Starting in Alexandria with the intention of building westward to the town of Keyser on the Potomac River and a connection with the B&O RR, the line reached Leesburg in 1860 and ten years later was renamed the Washington & Ohio.  Round Hill was reached in 1874.  The company entered receivership in 1878 and was taken over by the Washington & Western RR.  The line was renamed the Washington, Ohio & Western RR (WO&W RR) in 1883.  A connection was established at the eastern end of the line in Alexandria with the Richmond & Danville RR (successor to the O&A RR) which in turn leased the line in 1886.  Rails finally reached Snickersville (Bluemont) the furthest point westward reached by the line.

In 1906 an electric traction line, the Great Falls & Old Dominion Railroad (GF&OD RR), began operation on a line from Great Falls through Roslyn and across the Potomac River to Washington.  The Washington & Old Dominion Railway (W&OD Rwy) was organized in 1911 as the successor to the GF&OD RR and also to acquire the Southern Railway's (R&D RR successor) interest in the WO&W RR.  A connecting track between the WO&W RR at Bluemont Jct. and the W&OD RWY at Thrifton was completed in 1912.  The Washington & Old Dominion Railroad (W&OD RR) was organized in 1935 to assume operation of the W&OD Rwy.  The W&OD RR  in turn was acquired by the Chesapeake & Ohio in 1956.

The line ceased operation in 1968 with part of the eastern end of the roadbed being used as the route in the construction of Interstate Highway 66, and the western end of the line being converted to a hiking & biking trail.  A short segment of the eastern end of the line is still in use today by NS to deliver coal to an Alexandria power plant.  The remaining segment is reached via trackage rights on CSX  (ex RF&P RR),  northbound between AF Tower and an interlocking plant north of Alexandria's Amtrak station which connects to a spur track, to reach the power plant.

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last updated March 2010
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