Abandoned Rails


< Main Page

The N&W's Old Mainline via Farmville

Burkeville to Pamplin

 

Farmville, Virginia wasn't always destined to become a railroad town.  When initially surveyed by the South Side Railroad in the 1840's, the company intended to utilize a right of way that passed to the south of Farmville.  However a $100,000 offer by the community swayed the railroad to lay their tracks through town.  This decision also resulted in the construction of a large bridge over the Appomattox River east of Farmville.  Known as High Bridge, the structure was considered one of the largest in the world when completed in 1852.  It stands 160' above the river valley at it's highest point and measures 2,418' in length.  High Bridge was the site of the Battle of High Bridge during the Civil War and suffered fire damage during the battle.  The South Side Railroad rebuilt it in 1869 after the war ended. 

 

In the decade following the Civil War the South Side Railroad was merged into the Atlantic, Mississippi, and Ohio Railroad (AM&O).  In the early 1880's', the AM&O fell on financial hardship was purchased by the E.W. Clark & Company of Philadelphia who renamed it the Norfolk & Western Railway.  In the early 1900's the N&W constructed a second route to the south of Farmville between Burkeville and Pamplin.  Often called the "Farmville Beltline" or "low-grade" line, the section from Pamplin to Abilene was completed in 1916. 

 

During the years following the N&W's acquisition of the Virginian Railway in 1959, the old mainline began to play an even more important role in the flow of rail traffic between Tidewater and the coal fields.  Because the Virginian offered a much better route east of Roanoke, all eastbound loaded coal trains were routed over the ex-Virginian mainline to Abilene where a new connection was installed with the N&W beltline.  The N&W's mainline east of Burkeville was double-tracked all the way to Norfolk and could easily handle the volume.  The old mainline hosted mostly westbound traffic which freed up the beltline for eastbound moves.   

 

Even into the final years, a number of businesses along the line continued to utilize rail service, however High Bridge was beginning to become a maintenance concern due to it's age.  That coupled with the fact that traffic volume, especially coal, had decreased a considerable amount meant that the future of the old mainline was in a precarious position. 

 

The beginning of the end came in 2003 when Norfolk Southern discontinued through traffic over the old mainline with a local out of Crewe continuing to serve customers.  Finally in March 2004 the dreaded announcement was made by Norfolk Southern.  It was going to formally abandon the old mainline.  A brief reprieve came during the spring and early summer months of 2004 as local railfans reported many trains, including the circus train, operating over the old mainline.  Through trains continued to use the old mainline sporadically until October 2004.

 

The last revenue movement took place on Friday, July 15, 2005.  NS GP38-2 No. 5098 left Crewe Yard and traversed the line to Farmville to retrieve the last few cars.  There were scores of people on hand to witness the event including a number of local media outlets.  Removal of the track and signals began in late July and was completed by early 2006. 

 

Here is a list of the last customers receiving rail service along the old mainline:

  • Farmers Cooperative Feed Mill - Downtown Farmville

  • Wilhoit Wood Yard - Furnico

  • Steel supplier - Furnico

  • Farmers Cooperative Fertilizer - Furnico

  • Wood yard (seasonal) - Prospect

  • Kyanite Mines - Pamplin

On June 28, 2007, Norfolk Southern officially donated the right of way to the Commonwealth of Virginia for a future rails to trails project.  Today the entire right of way, less High Bridge, is part of High Bridge Trail State Park.  You can visit the park's official website at http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/hig.shtml.  The High Bridge segment is slated to open by the end of 2011. 

 

If you have any material you'd like to contribute, please contact me at jl.hawkins@comcast.net.

 

A lone color position light (CPL) signal faces a grim future as it sits in the material storage yard at Crewe.  This was most likely the eastbound signal for the mainline track at the Shields interlocking near Pamplin.  The CPL signals on the Old Main were replaced with Safetrans signals throughout 1996 with the entire line being completed in December of that year. 

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (February 18, 2006)  

 

 

Visible signals include: 139.2, 141.1 (Rice), 144.2 (East High Bridge), 145.8 (West High Bridge), 151.1 (Furnico), and 160.1 (Prospect).  The water tank dates from at least 1917 and had been recently repainted when this photo was taken.  It was once part of the roundhouse complex in Crewe which was demolished in 1963.    

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (February 18, 2006)  

 

 

The former N154.1 signal.  Note the former N&W trailer behind the forklift.  In the distant right is the centerpiece of the Crewe Railroad Museum, 2-8-0 #606.

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (February 18, 2006)  

 

Atwood (N133.9)

 

The west end of the double track leaving Burkeville heading west was called Atwood.  This view is looking east towards Burkeville near the U.S. 360 overpass. 

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (July 31, 2005)

 

 

Atwood (N134)

 

Looking west from the N134 milepost at the WAS (west absolute signal) at Atwood.   

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (July 31, 2005)

 

 

N138

 

Looking east from State Route 610 located at the N138 milepost.

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (August 2, 2005)

 

 

Rice (N141.7)

 

Looking west from the Orchard Road grade crossing near the Nottoway/Prince Edward County line.

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (July 31, 2005)

 

 

Rice (N141.7)

 

We are in "downtown" Rice in this view peering south along Rice's Depot Road where it crossed the Old Main. 

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (July 31, 2005)

 

 

Rice (N141.7)

 

Looking west from Rice's Depot Road. 

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (July 31, 2005)

 

 

Farmville (N150.1)

 

Looking east from Appomattox Street.

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (July 31, 2005)

 

 

Farmville (N150.1)

 

Looking west from Appomattox Street at the former N&W passenger station.  During the steam era there was a water tank were the caboose is located.  At one time there were also two sidings located to the right of the mainline.   The station began serving the traveling public on April 29, 1903.  Amtrak's Mountaineer traversed the line from March 25, 1975 to September 30, 1979.

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (July 31, 2005)

 

 

Tuggle (N156.4)

 

Looking west at the Hard Times Road (SR 648) grade crossing. 

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (July 31, 2005)

 

 

N158.4

 

Looking east from Oliver Road (State Route 649) grade crossing.  Just east of the crossing is the N158.2 defect detector, one of two that were in operation on the Old Main.

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (July 31, 2005)

 

 

Prospect (N161)

 

Crews were working their way through Prospect in August 2005.  Every other tie was being removed and placed to the side.  The former N&W depot is nearly hidden behind the overgrowth in the center of the image with only the roof barely visible. 

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (August 2, 2005)

 

 

Prospect (N161)

 

Much of the brush seen in the previous photo has been cleared affording a much better view of the Prospect depot.  Unfortunately the station is in extremely poor condition as a result of fire damage.

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (April 6, 2006)  

 

 

Prospect (N161)

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (August 2, 2005)

 

 

Prospect (N161)

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (August 2, 2005)

 

 

Prospect (N161)

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (July 31, 2005)

 

 

Prospect (N161)

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (April 6, 2006)

 

 

N161.3

 

I was quite impressed by how well this land owner kept his property up along the tracks.  This scene was captured on the west side of Prospect. 

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (August 2, 2005)

 

 

N162.3

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (December 20, 2003)

 

 

N165

 

Maintenance of way crews are busy removing ties in this view looking west from State Route 751.

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (July 31, 2005)

 

 

N167.9

 

The scene looking west from the State Route 660 grade crossing near Pamplin.

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (July 31, 2005)

 

 

N167.9

 

Same location four years later.  This is now the western terminus of High Bridge Trail.

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (November 15, 2009)

 

 

Shields (N168)

 

The power had not yet been cut to the signal system as evidenced in this July 2005 photo looking west at Shields.  Shields was located just east of Pamplin and marked the east end of an 11,000' siding which stretched west to Bowler (N170.6).  The interlocking was located at the N168 milepost which is visible in the bottom right corner of the photo.  I've often wondered why these CPL signals were not retired in 1996 when the entire Old Main was upgraded to Safetrans signals. 

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (July 31, 2005)

 

 

Shields (N168)

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (July 31, 2005)

 

 

Shields (N168)

 

By April 2006 the scene at Shields had changed dramatically.  The tracks had been removed and all that was left was ballast.  The signals in the previous photo were located approximately 100 yards west of this location.  

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (April 6, 2006)

 

 

Shields (N168)

 

A third and final view looking west towards what used to be the Shields interlocking.  This and the previous two photos were taken from the State Route 660 grade crossing looking west.  In the center of the photo you can see the end of a string of steel coil cars.  This remaining segment of track is often used for car storage.  

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (November 14, 2009)

 

 

N168.6

 

Just around the curve out of view is Pamplin.  The track to the left was the mainline while the siding was on the right and is still used for car storage.  

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (November 14, 2009)  

 

 

Pamplin (N169.1)

 

What used to be the the mainline has now been severed at Pamplin.  The siding is visible to the right while the Belt Line veers off to the left between the signals and the depot.  Built in the 1920's, the former N&W station was donated to the town in 1996 by Norfolk Southern.  It was converted into a branch of the Appomattox County Library system and is known as the Pamplin Depot Library. 

 

Photo by Jeff Hawkins (November 14, 2009)

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2002- | Jeff Hawkins

All copyrights are the property of their respective owners.