Today’s Norfolk Southern Railway (reporting marks, NS)
was created partially out of desperation. The 1970s witnessed a flurry of merger activity which continued into the 1980s. In 1980 the Chessie System railroads and those of the Family Lines formed CSX Corporation. The now much smaller Southern and Norfolk & Western, while profitable, realized that without merging themselves the two would be completely dwarfed by this gargantuan
new railroad. Informal talks for their own merger began during the late 1970s and formally agreed to create the Norfolk Southern Railway, a division of Norfolk Southern Corporation, in 1982. Since that time NS has further expanded, adding a little more than half of the Conrail network to its system in mid-1999.
Today, the railroad is one of the most well-managed Class Is in the country and its future looks very strong. It ranks fourth in annual revenue at $11.296 billion as of 2019 while employing nearly 31,000 individuals across a wide range of sectors via a network of 21,500 route miles. For railfans, the company has largely ended its nod to heritage with the sale of the F units (pictured below) and discontinuance of the steam program. In addition, it is unknown if the locomotives wearing predecessor liveries will retain those schemes once they're scheduled for overhaul.
Aside from the creation of CSX, another event led to the birth of the modern day Norfolk Southern system; deregulation. On October 14, 1980 President Jimmy Carter signed the Staggers Rail Act into law, which greatly freed the railroad industry from stifling government oversight. Its most notable benefits included the ability to more easily set freight rates and abandon or sell unprofitable trackage. With less meddling by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) in a railroad's general affairs it brought about another wave of mergers during the 1980s such as CSX, NS, and the many takeovers Union Pacific carried out that decade (Western Pacific, Missouri Pacific, and the Missouri-Kansas-Texas). Although Norfolk & Western and Southern overlapped in some regions, particularly the Midwest, they proved a good fit for one another. Perhaps the one most important factor was their similar management styles, allowing for a rather smooth transition following the merger.
According to Mike Schafer's, "More Classic American Railroads," formal talks between two the commenced in June of 1980. The name eventually chosen was the Norfolk Southern Railway. Interestingly, this proved somewhat of a problem. On January 1, 1974 the Southern had acquired the original Norfolk Southern Railway, a 623-mile historic system which stretched from Norfolk, Virginia to Charlotte, North Carolina with other lines snaking throughout the Tarheel State's eastern region. The road's earliest history traces back to 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). In 1883 the first use of Norfolk Southern Railroad appeared and it went through a few more name changes until the Great Depression brought about bankruptcy and it became the Norfolk Southern Railway. With NS still a subsidiary at the time of the merger it was decided to change its name as the Carolina & Northwestern Railway (this name itself was resurrected from another NS predecessor).
On March 25, 1982 the ICC approved the new Norfolk Southern Railway (officially a subsidiary of Norfolk Southern Corporation) and the system began operations a few months later on June 1st. The new Class I was better able to compete against CSX although was still at an overall mileage disadvantage. In 1996 its rival announced intentions to acquire Conrail; such a move would have surely doomed future prospects for NS and it quickly entered a counter-bid for the Northeastern road. Finally, on June 23, 1997 the two agreed to mutually split Conrail; it was approved by the ICC on June 6, 1998 with NS gaining 58% while CSX picked up the other 42%. The 1999 acquisition of Conrail was perhaps the most important and critical time in the company’s history. If CSX had been allowed to purchase Conrail outright NS would have been entirely surrounded and likely forced into an eventual merger with another railroad.
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.
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 Great Western/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. 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.
Alas, the heritage aspect has been greatly truncated since the 21st Steam Program ended in December, 2015 following Moorman's retirement. The heritage liveries are unlikely to be reapplied once the units are ready due for a repaint. In addition, the handsome set of F units, beloved by enthusiasts and the general public, survived for only a decade on the Class I before it was announced on November 12, 2019 they would be sold. When initially acquired the covered wagons (the two A units were former Baltimore & Ohio F7's manufactured in 1952 while the two B units were ex-Chicago Great Western built in 1950) were rebuilt to GP38-2 specifications at the former PRR shops in Altoona, Pennsylvania. In addition, they featured Positive Train Control and the A's included a camera on the windshield to allow passengers back in the train to see the crew's view from the head-end. The A's were numbered 4270-4271 and the B's #4275-4276. In 2019 the group was renumbered 270-271 and 275-276 respectively to make way for new units entering the railroad's rebuild program, notably new AC44C6M's (AC) overhauled from older C40-9's (DC). Thanks to the locomotives' many perks they sold quickly; F9A #270 and F7B #275 were purchased by Reading & Northern on November 23rd for passenger service. Just a few weeks later it was announced on December 13, 2019 that North Carolina short line Aberdeen Carolina & Western would acquire F9A #271 and F7B #276. The railroad states the unit will be painted in their standard magenta, gold, and green and pull their Economic Development/Corporate Train.