The Norfolk and Western Railway was a very prominent railroad east of the Mississippi serving 14 states and one Canadian province with over 7000 miles of track. Headquartered in Roanoke, VA, it was formed by an amalgamation of over 200 mergers over its span of almost 150 years between 1838 and 1982.
It started out very humbly as a 9-mile short line in 1838 as the City Point Railroad, which extended from City Point on the James River to Petersburg, VA located on the Appomattox River. In 1854, it became part of the Southside Railroad and interchanged with the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. Then the Southside and the V&T merged to form the Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio (AM&O) Railroad extending from Norfolk to Bristol, VA. During the Financial Panic of 1873, it ran into foreclosure and was purchased by E.W.Clark and Co., a private banking firm. It was then renamed the Norfolk and Western.
Initially, the railroad transported agricultural products until after 1881, when it began taking an interest in the “smokeless” high-quality bituminous Pocahontas coalfields of Virginia and West Virginia. It then acquired four local lines to form the New River Division. Coal then took over as the main commodity and became very profitable.
The Virginian Railway was a long time rival of the N&W, but ultimately the two railroads merged into an even more profitable system in the mid 20th century. It also brought in the Nickel Plate Road and Wabash.
Passenger service was also an important part of N&W’s business, although never as profitable as coal. Its flagship, The Powhatan Arrow was a beauty with maroon and gold colors pulled by a J Class 4-8-4 steam locomotive. Other passenger trains included The Cavalier and The Pocahontas. The railroad also participated with other railroads to form inter-line passenger trains like the Cannon Ball, Birmingham Special, The Pelican and The Tennessean.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s, automobile transportation by rail became a huge success using the autoracks introduced by the Canadian National Railway.
Multiple other mergers took place as the entire railroad industry was consolidated and modernized under the approval of the Interstate Commerce Commission. Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railway and the Akron, Canton and Youngstown Railroad were brought in along with the Illinois Terminal Railroad.
Finally in 1982, the strong and profitable N&W merged with another strong railroad, the Southern Railway, forming the Norfolk Southern, headquartered in Norfolk, VA.
Modeling opportunities with the Norfolk and Western are nearly limitless with regard to era, types of scenery, terrain, locale, types of equipment, etc. Incidentally, the N&W was the last railroad to give up steam.