NS had been interested in the 11,000-mile Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail) for some time because it would offer important addition the railroad needed, direct lines to the markets of New York City and Philadelphia. After many years of red ink, Conrail eventually turned a profit during the early 1980s and became successful in developing and exploiting a profitable intermodal market (i.e., the movement of ship containers which can be moved via over-the-road trucks as well) by moving containers between Chicago and the Northeast. When the merger split was finalized, a part of the former Conrail network became known as Conrail Shared Assets. This property was located in New Jersey and remains jointly owned with CSX today. With the merger completed NS was able to diversify its traffic base much more broadly as it tapped the lucrative intermodal business. As a result, it became less dependent on the traditional movement of coal traffic within western Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
Norfolk Southern's next major initiative occurred in the mid-2000s; this time it was not another merger but an improvement to its network, the Heartland Corridor. The railroad focused on its former Norfolk & Western main line through western Virginia and West Virginia by improving tunnel clearances for double-stack intermodal service. Previously, the tunnels along the largely-double tracked line could support only single-stacks and the project was expected to cost $150 million. The work began in 2007 and included raising clearances with 28 tunnels while 24 other obstructions were modified or removed. In addition to these efforts, NS shaved 250 miles of travel time from the Norfolk to Chicago corridor (other important cities included Cincinnati, Detroit, Columbus). This cut travel time from four days to three. After three years of intense work it was ready for service on September 9, 2010. NS stated that the public-private partnership, in total, had cost $290 million.
The opening of the Heartland Corridor now gives NS four major, high-speed routes. These include the Crescent Corridor (New York City/Mechanicville, New York - Memphis/New Orleans), Meridian Speedway (running between Meridian, Mississippi and Dallas in conjunction with the Kansas City Southern it acts a link for fast freight service between California, the Southwest, and Southeastern United States), and the Patriot Corridor (operated in conjunction with New England regional, Pam Am Railways, this 155-mile route from Mechanicville to Ayer, Massachusetts provides efficient rail service from Albany to Boston). In addition, there is "CREATE" or the Chicago Region Environment and Transportation Efficiency project, which, if completed, will relieve bottlenecks and severe congestion within the Windy City and surrounding region. Interestingly, following the success of Norfolk Southern's Heartland Corridor, rival CSX launched a similar project in 2008 known as the National Gateway.
It was completed in September of 2013 and cost nearly $850 million to improve service between the East Coast ports of Wilmington, North Carolina; Norfolk; and Baltimore and the Midwest/Southeast gateways of Chicago, St. Louis, Memphis, and New Orleans. The above map gives a family tree of the largest railroads which have made up Norfolk Southern Railway. Those systems not included are the numerous subsidiaries of the Southern, which were part of the railroad for decades such as the Savanna & Atlanta; Alabama Great Southern; Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific; and Georgia, Southern & Florida. In any event, the most important components of today's NS are covered briefly in the inset article below. It is interesting how the additions of the Southern and Norfolk & Western predecessors were added to their networks; the former acquired most of its subsidiaries during the early 20th century while the latter acquired its holdings after the 1959 takeover of rival Virginian Railway.
Notable Norfolk Southern Predecessors
Akron, Canton & Youngstown Railroad: One of the smallest components of the NS system was the AC&Y, "Ohio's Road Of Service." It was organized in 1907 as a small terminal road, the Akron, Canton & Youngstown Railway to serve the Akron region. It grew prodigiously on March 1, 1920 when it formally acquired the Northern Ohio Railway connecting Akron with Delphos. This system had started out as the ambitious Cleveland, Delphos & St. Louis but was only able to complete the above-mentioned section and spent many years under New York Central control before being sold to the AC&Y. The two roads formally merged in 1944 to form the Akron, Canton & Youngstown Railroad, a system covering 171 miles. It was largely profitable and was well-known for operating a fleet almost entirely of Fairbanks-Morse locomotives during the diesel era. After the NS merger most of the AC&Y was sold.
Central of Georgia Railway: The CoG's earliest ancestry traces back to the Central Rail Road and Canal Company of 1833 to connect Savannah with Macon. It opened in 1843, known then as the Central Rail Road & Banking Company of Georgia (1836). In 1892 it fell into bankruptcy, emerging as the Central of Georgia Railway on November 1, 1895. The CoG grew primarily through acquisition with several subsidiaries comprising its corporate heritage during the 19th century. By the 1950s it was operating more than 1,700 miles linking Savannah with Chattanooga, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Dothan via Macon, Columbus, and Atlanta. Much of its network was situated in its home state. On June 17, 1963 the CoG became an official subsidiary of the Southern Railway.
Illinois Terminal Railroad: The IT was a fascinating operation with a long history as a successful electrified interurban, the largest in the country by number of cities served. Its heritage dates back to the Illinois Traction System, created in 1904 as the Illinois Traction Company by William McKinley. According to George Hilton and John Due's, "The Electric Interurban Railways In America," the earliest component was a line linking Danville to Westville, Illinois opened in 1901. During the next decade it continued to grow and reached its peak of more than 400 miles connecting Peoria with St. Louis via Springfield. It also reached Bloomington and Decatur. Through the 1930s the system continued to improve operations by building belt lines for improved freight service. In 1928 it was renamed as the Illinois Terminal and was extremely profitable for an interurban, many of which had died out around World War I (other stragglers would hang on until World War II). By 1958 its electrified operations had ended, in conjunction with the cessation of passenger service. It remained a relatively profitable regional freight line until its 1981 acquisition by Norfolk & Western.
Nickel Plate Road: The Nickel Plate, whose official name was the New York, Chicago & St. Louis, was a successful Midwestern carrier connecting Buffalo, New York with Chicago, Peoria, and St. Louis via Cleveland, Toledo, Fort Wayne and other points across Ohio and Indiana. The New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railway was originally founded on February 3, 1881. With strong financial backing right from that start it opened its original, 523-mile main line between Chicago and Buffalo on October 23, 1882. Shortly afterwards it was acquired by Cornelius Vanderbilt's nearby Lake Shore & Michigan Southern, which saw the NYC&StL as a threat to its future. The LS&MS was controlled by the Commodore's much larger New York Central & Hudson River system. The NYC&StL regained independence in 1916 after the government forced the New York Central to sell one of its holdings due to antitrust issues. The Nickel Plate thrived under the guidance of the Oris and Mantis Van Sweringen, blossoming into a 2,200-mile, high-speed system (earning its nickname as the "Nickel Plate Road"). It remained a successful bridge route until its N&W takeover on October 16, 1964.
Norfolk & Western: One of two key components of Norfolk Southern was the Norfolk & Western, a coal hauling conveyor belt which for many years operated only a few thousand route miles until the late 1950s. It ancestry traces all of the way back to the 1836 chartering of the City Point Railroad first opened for service in 1838 between Petersburg and City Point. It later came under control of the South Side Railroad. In 1870 it joined the Virginia & Tennessee and Norfolk & Petersburg to form the Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio in 1870. While the road served much of central Virginia connected Norfolk with Bristol it struggled to sustain profitably. In 1881 the first Norfolk & Western Railroad was formed but fell into bankruptcy and was reorganized as the Norfolk & Western Railway in 1896. With the discovery of coal in western Virginia during the 1880s and subsequent new lines built into the rich southern coal field of West Virginia the N&W became enormously wealthy. Its original network stretched some 2,100 miles linking Cincinnati, Columbus, Hagerstown, Winston-Salem, Norton (Virginia), and Durham. In 1959 it acquired rival Virginian Railway and followed this up with several acquisitions in the 1960s; the Atlantic & Danville, Akron Canton & Youngstown, Wabash, and Nickel Plate Road while also controlling Erie Lackawanna for several years. In 1981 it purchased one-time interurban Illinois Terminal before merging with the Southern.
Southern Railway: The other primary NS component was the Southern Railway, a system originally formed on July 1, 1894 by the consolidation of the Richmond & Danville and East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia railroads. The system continued to expand during the early 20th century by acquiring the Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific; Savannah & Atlanta; Virginia & Southwestern; Georgia & Florida; Georgia, Southern & Florida; New Orleans & Northeastern; and Louisville, Evansville & St. Louis. There were others but these were its more notable acquisitions. The classic Southern system by the 1950 operated around 6,300 route miles connecting Washington, D.C. with New Orleans via Charlotte, Atlanta and Birmingham. It also maintained key routes north to Cincinnati, west to St. Louis and Memphis, and into northern Florida. The Southern truly lived up to its slogan, "Southern Serves The South," and maintained a high degree of profitably until the NS merger.
Virginian Railway: The Virginian was the first component of N&W's late-era acquisitions, purchased in 1959. It was a constant thorn to the Roanoke road, much smaller but operated a well-built, heavily constructed right-of-way moving millions of tons of coal from southern West Virginia to tidewater at Norfolk by roughly paralleling the N&W. It was financed by the very wealthy Henry Rogers and the system was organized in 1907. Within only a few years the line was opened in 1909 and eventually connected Deep Water, West Virginia with Sewell's Point, Virginia (Norfolk) while numerous feeder lines along the western end of its system tapped many coal lines. It was also electrified between Roanoke and Mullens, which remained in service until 1962 when N&W turned off the power. While a common-carrier the Virginian was largely built to handle exclusively coal, doing so quite successfully for five decades before disappearing into the N&W.
Wabash Railroad: The Norfolk & Western's other major Midwest portfolio was its 1964 addition of the Wabash. The corporate history of the "Flag" is a tangle of predecessors, takeovers, and reorganizations. According to Mike Schafer's, "More Classic American Railroads," its ancestry traces back to 1834 when Illinois organized the Northern Cross Railroad to build a line across the state from Danville to Quincy. It opened its first 8 miles between Meredosia and Morgan City on November 8, 1838 whereby the 4-2-0 Rogers became the first steam locomotive to operate in the state. In 1847 the railroad was sold and renamed as the Sangamon & Morgan. It was again changed to the Great Western Railroad in 1853 and was soon able to complete construction into Danville. Two other early components integral to the later Wabash included the Toledo & Illinois and Lake Erie, Wabash & St. Louis which merged to form the Toledo, Wabash & Western. The TW&W acquired the Great Western, providing for a direct route between Toledo, Ohio and Quincy. The TW&W fell into receivership during the 1870s, emerging as the Wabash Railway in 1877. That year, tycoon Jay Gould acquired the railroad and began an aggressive expansion that pushed it into several important Midwestern markets. However, he overextended its reach and the company fell into bankruptcy in 1884 as he lost control of the property. In 1889 it was reorganized as the Wabash Railroad and new ownership was eventually able to reacquire large segments of the original 3,500-mile network. At its peak in the mid-20th century the Wabash operated 2,400 miles from Buffalo (via southern Ontario) to Kansas City via St. Louis, Toledo, and Chicago. Despite its early corporate troubles the road prospered during its later years.
Finally, NS should be praised for its nod to heritage, going further than every other Class I to date except Union Pacific. During 2005 it gained new leadership when Charles "Wick" Moorman took over as Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Almost immediately he set about bring to life images of the railroad's past. In the spring of 2007 the company unveiled an A-B-B-A set of Electro-Motive cab units to pull its business train. These locomotives, a pair of F9A's (rebuilt from former Baltimore & Ohio F7A's) and a set of F7B's (ex-Chicago & North Western units), were adorned in a beautiful version of Southern's "Tuxedo" livery with NS thoroughbred logo and markings. As an added touch, shop forces countersunk the required ditch lights so they would seamlessly blend with the carbody. Naturally, the locomotives became fan favorites and were regularly captured on film until new public relations endeavors were launched in 2011 and 2012.
The first was the 21st Century Steam Program, bringing back the popular excursions which the railroad had canceled in 1994. This time, however, NS would not take ownership of the locomotives but instead lease them during several trips hosted across its system. The steamers to participate included Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 #765, Southern 2-8-0 #630, Southern 2-8-2 #4501, and finally Norfolk & Western 4-8-4 #611. The N&W's famous "J" was the star of the show, restored to operation in 2015 after a year of hard work. The second incarnation of the NS steam program proved short-lived, finishing up in 2015. However, thus far #611 has remained an ambassador for the Class I and continues to host excursions on its rails through at least 2016. In one, final historical nod, Mr. Moorman had twenty new locomotives painted in authentic, predecessor liveries during 2012.
They were released to the public at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer during the summer of 2012 and included the following companies: Monongahela Railway, Conrail, Southern Railway, Nickel Plate Road, Central Of Georgia, Pennsylvania Railroad, Norfolk & Western, Lehigh Valley, Interstate Railroad, and the original Norfolk Southern Railway (Original), Savannah & Atlanta Railway ,New York Central, Reading Lines ,Erie Railroad, Virginian Railway, Wabash, Jersey Central, Illinois Terminal, Penn Central, and the Lackawanna. In addition, during September of 2015 the railroad repainted SD45-2 #1700 into its original Erie Lackawanna colors. Today Norfolk Southern is a moneymaking machine, much like it was
before Conrail and even during the days of its predecessors, the
Southern and Norfolk & Western Railways. Given the company’s sound
management and business practices the future looks bright for Norfolk
Southern and it will be curious to see what happens with the railroad
when the merger movement begins again at some point in the future.
Books Featured In This Article
Class I Railroads