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Established in 1907, the Virginian Railway quickly became a serious competitor with the long-established Chesapeake & Ohio and Norfolk & Western railroads as a major transporter of coal from southern West Virginia. The Virginian allowed the development and expansion of the Winding Gulf Coalfield of Raleigh and Wyoming counties, the last of West Virginia’s famous ‘‘smokeless’’ coalfields.

Using $30 million of his own money, Massachusetts-born business tycoon Henry Huttleston Rogers planned and built the Virginian by combining the small Deepwater Railway Company in Fayette County with the Tidewater Railway Company in Virginia. The Virginian, completed to its ocean docks in 1909, was built in the face of active opposition of the C&O and N&W. The town of Glen Rogers in Wyoming County, site of one of the largest coal mines on the Virginian line, was named in honor of Rogers, who died at age 69 just two years after the Deepwater-Tidewater merger. Col. William Nelson Page of Ansted in Fayette County was the Virginian’s first president.

Known for its massive locomotives and 120-ton gondola coal cars, the Virginian moved the world’s longest and heaviest coal trains through large rail yards at Mullens and Princeton to ship-loading facilities on the Atlantic Ocean at Sewalls Point, near Norfolk. Eventually the route of the Virginian from Deepwater to the ship-loading piers at Sewalls Point covered a distance of 443 miles. At its peak the port of Hampton Roads handled 88 percent of the coal exported from the United States, and the Virginian produced its share of this impressive tonnage.

The Virginian Railway began electrification of its trains in 1925 from Mullens to Clark’s Gap in Virginia. The electric trains moved at twice the speed of their predecessors and could haul 6,000 tons of coal from Wyoming County to Clark’s Gap. Trains with 9,000 tons of capacity were used for the remainder of the 134-mile electrified zone between Mullens and Roanoke, Virginia.

The Virginian merged with the Norfolk & Western Railroad (now Norfolk Southern) in November 1959. The rail yards at Princeton were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

This Article was written by Karl C. Lilly III

Last Revised on July 24, 2012

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Cite This Article

Lilly III, Karl C. "Virginian Railway." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 24 July 2012. Web. 25 November 2017.

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