Phenix Bridge - Milepost 158
Sponsored by Charlotte & Aubrey Wiley
Just after midnight, December 2, 1957, Virginian’s eastbound time freight number 72 derailed off Cub Creek Bridge in Charlotte County, Virginia, just west of Phenix. Thirty eight cars of the fifty one car train sailed off the south side of the bridge. Miraculously, five freight cars and the caboose came to a stop just short of falling from the bridge. The repaired bridge was back in operation in just under thirteen days. Several of the bridge legs were destroyed as part of the bridge itself fell to stream below.
|Greg Elam Picture|
The wreck site can be seen from the south sie of route 40, one mile west of downtown Phenix. There is space to park off the roadway. It is on private property but the owner allows respectful visitors who are studying the Virginian Railway Heritage Trail.
Brookneal, Va. - Milepost 170.3
Sponsored by Ed Burnett
|Herman Ginther Picture, A. Wiley Collection|
In its prime, Brookneal had a station on the south side of the railroad and a freight house stood beside a house track on the opposite side with a passing siding between. The railroad structures were always painted in the early color scheme of orange with white trim. The west end of the surviving freight house is shown behind the flat car loaded with farm tractors.
|Aubrey Wiley Picture|
The station was razed circa 1958, replaced by a small, gray agent-operator’s shanty, 12 by 24 feet.
Aubrey Wiley Collection
In this 1950 picture, train number 3 passes the freight house as it approaches the Brookneal station. Notice the small dark object on the ground in bottom center. It is the flap cover for the withdrawn Robertson High Speed Train Order device, which is extended in the top picture.
The freight house was purchased by Foster Fuels from N&W after the merger and has been well cared for ever since. Today the VGN Freight House is painted “Barn Red” and is on Old Main Street, of 501 south of downtown, but north of the Staunton River Bridge. The VGN Freight House is privately owned but visitors are allowed. The structure stands beside the old Virginian and today it is a very active NS line. Do not trespass near or on the railroad tracks!
Altavista, Va. Staunton River Bridge - Milepost 200
Sponsored by the Town of Altavista
The town of Altavista, Virginia and the Virginian station are at milepost 199.2. When H.H.Rogers' Tidewater Railroad was bieng constructed a major contractor was an Altavista company run by the English family. In addition to the projected business growth that was projected, there would be a connection and interchange with the Southern Railroad's north-south mainline. In April 1909 after the Rogers' celebration and inspection train reached Altavista, a grand dinner was held. Rogers enjoyed himself so much that he delayed the departure of his train until the following day. That delighted the Altavista hosts but in Roanoke, the city's leaders had planned a grand celebration in N&W's Hotel Roanoke! Hurt feelings were healed and it all went of without a hitch, just one day later.
|H. Reid Picture, A.Wiley Collection|
Altavista, Va., may be reached from the east by route 699, Gladys Rd., and from the north and south by US route 29. The Virginian Heritage Trail sites are all in the downtown area. Enter town on Main Street and turn east on Pittsylvania Ave. to reach English Park. Travel about 200 yards on Pittsylvania Ave. and then turn right onto Third Street. The park is straight ahead. Park near the pavilion or drive a little further and park. To reach the Virginian’s bridge at milepost 200 over the Staunton River, visitors may walk along the trail for about 15 minutes or bike for about 5 minutes. Walk or bike on the paved trail bearing to the right which goes under the old Southern Railway bridge over the Staunton River. The vintage picture above was made from the opposite side of the river while the train's freight cars are shown above the location of the English Park Trail.
When visitors return to the parking lot, the large pedestrian walkway over the old Virginian offers a good picture location for both east and west bound trains. At the north end of that pedestrian walkway, the old brick Virginian station can be seen. A fire destroyed the VGN wood station in the fall of 1957. Today, it is a very active business center for Norfolk Southern. Do not trespass. This structure can also be seen well from the end of South Broad Street, off Main Street.
|A.Wiley six pictures|
Altavista, Va. Caboose 344 - Milepost 199
Sponsored by the Town of Altavista
To see the Virginian caboose 344, from Main Street, travel two blocks north on Broad Street, turning left at the library. Go two more blocks on Washington Street to see the restored Southern Railway station which now houses the local Chamber of Commerce. Beside the station is the VGN caboose.
Roanoke, Va. - Milepost 243.1
Sponsored by the Virginia Museum of Transportation
Virginia Museum of Transportation - Located on Norfolk Avenue in downtown Roanoke is the Virginia Museum of Transportation. It can be reached from Salem Avenue by turning north onto Third Street. The museum is straight ahead. The hours are from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm daily except for 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm on Sunday.
VMT is well known for its variety of transportation items and quality of presentation. Several pieces of equipment used on the Virginian Railway are preserved and displayed here.
· Virginian Steam Locomotive number 4 was built by Baldwin Locomotive Works, August 1910. The Four Spot saw use as a yard engine all over the railroad before being retired in 1957. Primarily it was used at Sewalls Point, in Norfolk, Suffolk, Victoria , Roanoke and Princeton’s yards.
· Producing 3, 300 horsepower, Virginian Electric Locomotive number 135 was built by General Electric in November 1956. Virginian’s electrified territory reached from Mullens, WV to Roanoke, Va., a distance of 134 miles.
· Virginian caboose number 321 is classed C-10 and was built by St. Louis Car Co. for the Virginian in 1949. Serving all over the entire railroad of nearly 600 miles in length, a freight train’s crew called it home while in transit. The train’s caboose crew could consist of as many as five men. Cabooses were typically assigned to a specific conductor who would often personalize his caboose. It was equipped with a propane stove for cooking and heat, electric lights, drinking water and a toilet.
· Virginian Agent/Operator’s shanty from Ellett, Va, milepost 272.4 was built in 1952 by railroad forces of “available materials,” rough cut oak. This structure replaced a traditional station at that location.
· The Virginian Room displays many interesting Virginian items from private collections.
· Other railroad pieces include N&W’s class J locomotive 611 and class A 1218.
Roanoke Passenger Station - Milepost 243.1
Sponsored by C. E. Salmon and the Roanoke Chapter National Railway Historical Society
Jeff Sanders Picture
Virginian Passenger Station – Located beside the old Virginian mainline at the intersection of South Jefferson Street and Williamson Road, SE. is the Virginian passenger station built in 1909. It is said to be constructed from a New York Central Railroad standard plan. The structure is owned by Roanoke Chapter NRHS.
Walnut Avenue Tower - Milepost 243.1
Walnut Avenue Tower – About 100 yards east of the passenger station is Walnut Avenue Tower built to protect the VGN’s crossing with Norfolk & Western’s Winston Salem line. The bridge overhead is Walnut Avenue, hence the name. It is owned and used by Norfolk Southern. Do not trespass on the railroad.
Merrimac - Milepost 278.3
Sponsored by the Montgomery County Dept. of Parks & Recreation
Merrimac operator’s shanty was located on the north side of Virginian right of way at milepost 278.3 and just over a hundred yards west of the west portal of Alleghany Tunnel, 5176 feet long. Between these two features, a bridge carried N&W’s Huckleberry Branch over the Virginian, linking Blacksburg and Christiansburg, Va. A connecting track between the two railroads was near the operator’s shanty.
To reach Merrimac, the traveler may use a paved trail, that was part of the above mentioned N&W branchline, created and maintained by Montgomery County. “The Huckleberry Trail” starts behind the left (south) end of New River Valley Shopping Mall. Enter the Mall by turning off business 460 onto Radford Road and enter the mall parking lot. Turn to the far left (south) end where a roadway loops behind the mall. Signs for the trail and a parking area are very visible in the back of the mall. The distance to Merrimac is about ¾ of a mile, 5 minutes on a bike or 15 minutes by walking. The trail crosses the former Virginian mainline which is now a very active NS mainline. When on the bridge over the railroad, look to the west for the site of the operator’s shanty and look to the east for the west portal of Alleghany Tunnel. About one mile beyond Merrimac is the county’s Coal Mining Heritage Park where anthracite coal was once mined.
The tunnel was 5176 feet long with the crest of grades being at the west portal, 1960 feet above sea level. The grade for westbound trains approaching the tunnel was 1.5% while .6% was the grade for eastbound trains approaching the tunnel. The tunnel was improved with concrete lining and portals in 1924.
Narrows Power Plant - Milepost 317.4
Sponsored by the Town of Narrows
As the coal traffic on the Virginian began to mushroom by 1920, it became clear a better solution had to be found to get the loaded coal trains out of West Virginia. The grade at Clark’s Gap, west of Princeton, was the steepest and a bottleneck to operations. And it was expensive to operate in its then-current condition. Huge steam locomotives were being used and the trains were slow. At the railroad’s Board of Directors meeting in the spring of 1923, it was decided to commence work to electrify a portion of the railroad. Engineering and design work commenced Nov. 29, 1923 after Virginian’s hiring of the engineering firm of Gibbs & Hill of New York City, generally identified as pioneers in railroad electrification. One hundred and thirty four miles of the mainline would be electrified. The firm immediately erected a field office at Narrows before construction of the power plant started. To construct the overhead and functioning electric lines for the 133.6 miles of electrified railroad, the railroad directors approved $5,964,973 for catenary in Virginia and $1,977.292 for catenary in West Virginia.
Geo K. Shands Picture, William Clemons Collection
Narrows, Virginia was chosen as the site for the power plant because of a town already there and it being half way between the extreme ends of the electrified territory; Mullens and Roanoke. The plant’s primary building was 220 feet by 156 feet and roughly 140 feet high. Two brick stacks stood 376 feet tall. There were three turbo generators with a fourth available as needed, each capable of producing 15,000 k.w of electricity. By means of transformers, the power could be raised to 88,000 volts when it left the plant. The 377 transmission towers, arranged along in more or less straight lines but not necessarily adjacent to the railroad, carried two 88,000 volt circuits. Seven step-down transformer stations were located at Elmore, Clark’s Gap, Princeton, Narrows, Eggleston, Merrimac and Wabun. The 88,000 volts current from the transmission lines was dropped down to either 11,000 volts or 22,000 volts to be supplied as needed to the trolley lines directly above the tracks for the electric locomotives.
As an illustration of the output of the Narrows Power Plant operation, the 45,000 kilowatts to 60,000 kw produced at the plant in 1925, before any upgrades or modifications, would be sufficient to power the entire City of Princeton, West Virginia in 2010. (sources - 2010 US census and Appalachian Power Company)
For its initial electric locomotives, the railroad turned to Alco and Westinghouse; Westinghouse specialized in AC transmission whereas at the time, General Electric preferred DC transmission. While rather simple looking in outward appearance, these three section locomotives could provide tremendous amounts of power, 7,125 hp and 231,000 pounds of tractive effort. The locomotive’s tremendous tractive effort was in part due to its large size, weighing in at over 1.2 million pounds with a length of 152 feet and 3 inches. Initially, Virginian received and operated twelve of these three section locomotives, spending $4,646,292. Within a few years, the last one was divided into three single section locomotives for switching and yard work. During the years of their lifespans, a couple others were separated and then reunited again. Virginian added more electric locomotives of different designs in 1948 and 1956-57.
After Virginian’s merger with N&W December 1, 1959, N&W made a token effort to utilize the Virginian’s electric locomotive fleet. The electrics didn’t fit in; they could only be used on a section of the former Virginian line and N&W had cast its lot into the diesel electric locomotive camp earlier. In June 1962, the last train to operate over the old Virginian with electric locomotives made its last run into Roanoke. The engines were a trio of five years old General Electric, 3300 horsepower, class EL-C class locomotives. With no purpose to serve, the Narrows Power Plant was demolished in 1970.
Glyn Lyn Bridge - Milepost 323.4
Sponsored by the Town of Glen Lyn
|Greg Elam Collection|
Vintage newspaper stories date the completion of the last piece of Virginian railroad as being at the west end of New River Bridge at Glen Lyn, Va. on January 23, 1909. The author of one newspaper story reported that the weather was “so cold an Eskimo would freeze.” The bridge was 2155 feet long and about 130 feet above the New River, depending on the water level.
|Steve Summers Picture|
In 1972, after the merger with Norfolk & Western on December 1, 1959, N&W took this area out of service and sold a section of the Virginian right of way to the Virginia Highway Department for a new eastbound lane for route 460.
On January 23, 2009, about a dozen hearty Virginian fans and historians gathered at Princeton and Glen Lyn to observe the centennial of the completion of the railroad. And on that date in 2009, the weather duplicated the conditions of 1909!
Princeton, WV - Milepost 340.2
Sponsored by Princeton Railroad Museum
|Delbert WHitlow Picture|
Elmore Yard - Milepost 374.7
Approaching Elmore from Princeton on route 10, be alert for several often photographed locations along the way. As crossing a large concrete bridge, be aware of the NS railroad facilities below. The old Virginian mainline from Princeton curves in from the east while the Guyandotte River branch passes under the bridge. Virginian’s steam engine servicing facilities were in the area to the east of the north end of the bridge. Turn right onto route 16 to reach Mullens.