The Original Norfolk Southern Railway, "East Carolina Dispatch"

Long before there was today's well known Class I railroad another held the very same name and it literally had to be dissolved by the powers wishing to merge the Norfolk & Western and Southern Railway to do so. The original Norfolk Southern Railway was based in central and eastern North Carolina connecting a handful of the state's largest cities with service stretching from the Piedmont to the state's northeast coast (and southeastern Virginia).  It operated independently for nearly 70 years before being dissolved to form today's Norfolk Southern.  The NS as we now know it continues operating small sections of the original but most that remains is in the hands of short line Chesapeake & Albemarle (a Genesee & Wyoming property) based in eastern North Carolina.  And, thanks to NS the history of this classic carrier is kept alive through a heritage unit that adorns its venerable livery.  

The history of the original Norfolk Southern begins on January 20, 1870 when the Elizabeth City & Norfolk Railroad was chartered to complete a line running from Berkley, Virginia (present-day Norfolk) to Edenton, North Carolina via Elizabeth City (a distance of about 73 miles).  It took 11 years but the line was opened for service in 1881.  Two years later during 1883 the railroad had changed its name to the Norfolk Southern Railroad to better reflect the railroad’s intentions.  As with most railroads of the day, the NS grew predominantly through expansion. Right after its renaming the company acquired several systems including the Albemarle & Pantego Railroad (extending it further south into North Carolina); the Norfolk, Virginia Beach & Southern Railroad in 1899 (reaching both Norfolk and Virginia Beach); the Chesapeake Transit Company in 1904; and the Washington & Plymouth Railroad in 1902 (reaching even further south into North Carolina).  

Then, on November 24, 1906 the Norfolk & Southern Railway was created when the Norfolk Southern Railroad and Raleigh & Pamlico Sound Railroad (whose main line stretched from Washington, North Carolina west to Raleigh) merged, along with several other small companies. These other railroads included the Virginia and Carolina Coast Railroad; the Pamlico, Oriental & Western Railway; the Atlantic & North Carolina Railroad; and the Beaufort & Western Railroad.  In 1910 the new railroad went through another name change, back to the Norfolk Southern Railroad following receivership in 1908.  More growth followed in 1914 when NS added more than 136 miles to its network when it built from Varina to Charlotte.  This would be the extent of the road's main line, which stretched 383.3 miles from Norfolk to Charlotte. 

However, there was some additional expansion to the system after this time, most notably the Durham & South Carolina Railroad acquired on May 27, 1920, which gave NS another 40.5 miles.  This branch ran from the main line at Duncan and extended northward to Durham where additional connections were made with the Norfolk & Western, Southern, Durham & Southern, and Seaboard Air Line (later Seaboard Coast Line).  At its final length NS operated over 623 miles with a main line serving Norfolk and Charlotte.  Its notable secondary lines included a 17.1-mile branch between Norfolk and Virginia Beach; a 17.0-mile branch between Pinetown and Belhaven; a 10.4-mile branch between Norfolk and Shelton (Little Creek); a 31.1-mile branch between Chocowinity and New Bern; a 31.5-mile branch between Phosphate Junction and Lee Creek; a 16.5-mile branch between New Bern and Bayboro; a 42.9-mile branch between Varina and Fayetteville; a 33.3-mile branch between Star and Aberdeen; and finally the aforementioned Durham line.

Times were not always good, however.  The company had trouble between the 1930s and 1940s including receivership during the Great Depression (where it defaulted on its lease to the Atlantic & North Carolina Railroad).  NS again fell into bankruptcy during World War II when it was reorganized (for a final time) in early 1942 as the now well-known, original Norfolk Southern Railway. The system carried on for the next three decades until the Southern Railway purchased it on the first day of 1974 and merged the Carolina & Northwestern Railway into its new subsidiary. Interestingly, when the Southern and Norfolk & Western proposed to merge they needed the NS name. To accomplish this the Southern renamed its Norfolk Southern Railway as the Carolina & Northwestern Railway (the very railroad it had just a few years earlier merged into the NS!).

Diesel Locomotive Roster

Road Number Manufacturer Model Type Date Built Other Notes
1-17EMDGP189-10/63Entered the Southern roster with new high, short hood.
661-663BaldwinDS4-4-6601-5/47Retired in the 1960s.
701-703GE70-Tonner6/48Retired by Southern in 1978 save for 702, sold to Montpelier & Barre Railroad in June, 1967.
1001-1002BaldwinDS4-4-10001/46Retired in the 1960s.
1501-1510BaldwinDRS6-4-150010/47-3/48Retired in the 1960s.
1601-1605BaldwinAS4165-7/51Retired in the 1960s.
1606-1617BaldwinAS4169/52-12/55Retired by Southern following merger.
2001-2007EMDGP386/66-6/67Entered the Southern roster with new high, short hood.

Steam Locomotive Roster

The NS only operated a small contingent of steam locomotives, mostly 4-6-0 Ten-wheelers and 2-8-0 Consolidations. However, it also rostered a small fleet of 2-8-4 Berkshires.

Class Type Wheel Arrangement
9, 10, 16Mogul2-6-0
31, 38, B-5American4-4-0

To give you an idea where the original NS was located and in the region it operated please take a look at the system map above, dated to around 1969 just a few years prior to the railroad's merger with the Southern Railway.   Per capita NS had to one of, if not the largest rosters of Baldwin diesel locomotives, mostly operating its AS416 model. Even more interesting is that the Baldwins remained in use all of the way until the Southern Railway merger of the mid-1970s, long after other railroads had sold, traded in, or scrapped theirs due to reliability issues. Following the end of World War II NS began purchasing its first diesels (Baldwins) and had entirely replaced steam during early 1954.  According to the Norfolk Southern Railway Company Historical Society the final revenue run under steam occurred on January 12th when 2-8-0 #538 completed its switching assignments at Glenwood Yard in Raleigh.

A few weeks later on January 29th the last steam locomotive was retired, marking the end of an era.  While Baldwins dominated the NS roster they were not the only such diesels the road owned.  Aside from a small fleet of General Electric 70-ton switchers NS also purchased a crop of eight Electro-Motive GP38s between 1966 and 1967 numbered 2001-2007.  They would prove to be the final new power it ever acquired.  Today, what remains of the original NS is operated by both the "new," Class I Norfolk Southern and shortline Chesapeake & Albemarle. 

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