by Mason Y. Cooper, Norfolk & Western Historical Society

(Opinions and choices of references here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the N&WHS.)
Many of the books referenced here are available from NWHS Commissary.

Company History

The Norfolk & Western Railway was a unique operation of modest proportions that achieved recognition beyond contemporary railroads of similar size. In actuality, Norfolk & Western had two differing styles. Before 1964, it was a coal hauler known for its excellent financial performance, and which operated arguably the finest fleet of steam motive power at the head of long coal trains. The routine tonnage carried on these trains would be considered records elsewhere. Changes began first with dieselization and then merger with Virginian Railway in the late 1950's. In 1964 Norfolk & Western leased, merged with, or purchased several other railroads to expand its operation becoming a major midwestern carrier. As such it operated routes from Norfolk VA and Buffalo NY to Chicago IL and St. Louis and Kansas City MO. On June 1, 1982 the Norfolk & Western, along with the Southern Railway, became subsidiaries of Norfolk Southern Corporation, a newly formed holding company. Finally on September 1, 1998 Norfolk & Western's corporate existence ended as it was merged into Norfolk Southern Corporation.

(Click here to see a detailed timeline of corporate mergers and acquisitions.)

General References

The standard historical reference book is "The Norfolk & Western: A History" by Pat Striplin. This book was originally published by Norfolk & Western Railway just prior to the Norfolk Southern merger. The book has been out of print and difficult to obtain until recently when it was reprinted by the N&WHS.

Steam Locomotives

The Norfolk & Western Railway operated some of the best examples of steam motive power ever constructed. In was a leader in the development of compound articulated locomotives. It continued to improve and construct the economical Class Y 2-8-8-2 design until 1952. In the process it turned what most other railroads believed to be a slow pusher locomotive into a moderate speed engine with high tractive effort, whose many wheels allowed its weight to be spread over a larger area. This converted the engine into a go-anywhere pull-anything workhorse.

Likewise, the demands for higher train speeds lead to the development of the high-drivered simple articulated 2-6-6-4 Class A. Capable of developing enormous amounts of steam, equipped with cast frames, roller bearings and the latest advances, the railroad constructed 43 examples of these engines as late as 1950. Similarly the need for a new passenger engine lead to the development of the Class J 4-8-4, with enough power to maintain track speed in the mountains yet race like a greyhound on the more level sections of the line. These three classes of locomotives are only a part of the fascinating story of N&W steam motive power.

The standard reference for steam motive power was "Norfolk & Western Railway Pocahontas Coal Carrier" by Richard E. Prince. Other more recent general references include "Norfolk & Western in Color Volume 1:1945-1964" by Jim Nichols and "Guide to North American Steam Locomotives" by George H. Drury. N&W's Class A 2-6-6-4s have singly been the subject of a book "The A Norfolk & Western's Mercedes of Steam" by Ed King. Although out of print, this book is worthy of your consideration and can still be occasionally found in hobby shops, at model or railroadiana shows, and on-line book dealers. Two differing Norfolk & Western books of classification diagrams are available from The Commissary or directly from TLC Publishing.

Click here for a listing of surviving Norfolk & Western steam locomotives.


Beginning in 1913, Norfolk & Western instituted a program to electrify a portion of its double-track mainline in the Pocahontas coal fields westward from Bluefield, West Virginia. By 1926, this had been extended to cover 52 route miles between Iaeger and Bluefield in order to increase the capacity of a section that included 2 percent grades and a cramped tunnel at the summit. The project was the first use of an AC-powered electric system in a heavy duty mountainous setting. As such it was widely copied in applications the world over. Electric power was supplied by a coal-fired power plant at Bluestone WV. The boxcab-style locomotives were initially built by a consortium of Baldwin-Westinghouse and later supplemented by improved models from Alco-Westinghouse. A line relocation and a new Elkhorn tunnel eliminated the need for the electrification in 1950.

The best available reference book on the N&W electrification is "When the Steam Railroads Electrified" by William Middleton, published by Kalmbach. Although out of print, copies can occasionally be obtained from book dealers at model or railroadiana shows, and from on-line auction or used book dealers. Classification diagrams of N&W electric locomotives are currently available in two differing books of N&W steam/electric power available from the NWHS Commissary or direct from TLC.


Norfolk & Western's late entry into dieselization enabled it to avoid the mistakes made by other railroads. Initial motive power consisted of the four axle road switcher type, purchased from two different builders, EMD and ALCO. The EMD model was used in both passenger and freight service. The N&W settled on one model of a switcher locomotive, the relatively uncommon Alco T-6, which helped to maintain N&W's distinctive character. As new and improved diesel designs were introduced, the railroad added examples. In 1964 the roster exploded to accommodate many different models acquired from leased, merged or purchased railroads making up the expanding N&W system. Again the process of sorting out the power began with N&W now purchasing the six axle road switcher model, again from three builders (EMD, GE and ALCO) until the latter firm ceased production). This process continued in place up to the Norfolk Southern merger.

The standard reference for diesel motive power was the two-volume set "Norfolk & Western First Generation Diesels" and Norfolk & Western Second Generation Diesels" by Paul Withers and Robert Bowers. You may still be able to find a copy of one or more of these volumes through your local hobby shop or book dealer, and well as railroadiana shows and online used book dealers. A set of N&W classification diagram reprints has been released by TLC. These are available from the NWHS Commissary, under "Books by Other Fine Publishers".

Freight Cars

Freight rolling stock is increasingly an area of interest to both the historian and the model railroader. The amount of prototype information on this subject though limited is fortunately increasing daily. The N&WHS publication THE ARROW frequently publishes articles on various classes of rolling stock.

The best general references are two Freight Car classification diagram books produced by TLC and available directly from them or from the NWHS Commissary. For the specialized study of the freight train caboose, the only standard reference is "Cabooses of the Norfolk & Western" by Robert Bowers and James Brewer, available directly from NWHS Commissary.

Passenger Cars

Despite the small contribution it made to Norfolk & Western's operating revenue, the company offered a wide variety of passenger trains to serve the public. Although there were relatively few people in its service area from which to draw patrons, N&W put its best foot forward. Named trains such as the "Pocahontas", "Cavalier" and the famed all coach "Powhatan Arrow" were but a part of a fleet including joint operations with other companies as well as branch line accommodations.

The best general reference is the booklet "Norfolk & Western Passenger Service 1946-1971" by William Warden. This book is out of print, but copies do on occasion appear through book dealers at railroadiana shows or through on-line auctions and used book dealers. Also worthy of consideration is "The Norfolk and Western Handbook" by Conley Wallace and Aubrey Wiley. This booklet contains a comprehensive snapshot of passenger operations around 1950.

Click here for a listing of wooden N&W passenger cars.
Click here for a listing of steel N&W passenger cars.
Click here for a listing of former Nickel Plate passenger cars.
Click here for a listing of former Wabash passenger cars.

Structures and Right-of-Way

N&W structures and right of way material is an area of interest both to the modeler and historian. The amount of this information is increasing daily. Articles frequently appear in the N&WHS magazine, The ARROW. In addition several specialized books focus on different sections or branches of the N&W.

The standard reference for N&W Structures and Right-of-Way is "Norfolk and Western Standards Drawings" compiled by Thomas Dressler and James Brewer. A good deal of specialized information can be obtained in the following books. "Norfolk & Western's Shenandoah Valley Line" by Mason Cooper, "The Norfolk & Western Railway: Williamson Terminal-1953" by Vern French, "Norfolk & Western in the Appalachians" by Ed King, "Norfolk & Western Railway Company North Carolina Branch" by Munsey Webb.

Click here for a listing of surviving Norfolk & Western stations.


A good understanding of the Norfolk and Western cannot be gained without consideration of the service it rendered. Perhaps N&W is most widely known for its coal traffic. In addition the railroad offered time freight and other specialized types of moves. Unfortunately these latter types of service do not yet have a body of information proportional to the level of interest.

The best general reference on coal traffic is "Coal and the Norfolk and Western" first published in 1927 and recently reprinted by the N&WHS. Also of interest is "The Story of Fuel Satisfaction" published in 1938 and also recently reprinted.


Modelers of the Norfolk & Western have in the past suffered from the hard truth of the commercial marketplace. Never as numerous as modelers of the Pennsylvania Railroad or the Union Pacific, few truly accurate N&W offerings are available on the market at any one time. The good news is that more excellent models are becoming available all the time. At present the N&WHS has worked with several manufacturers to bring models to market and has on its own brought additional prototype models to market. Several of these are currently available through the N&WHS Commissary .

The best general reference on models is "The Norfolk and Western Handbook" by Conley Wallace and Aubrey Wiley. Although out of print, the N&WHS Commissary occasionally has a few copies, or you can check with railroad book dealers at railroadiana shows, or through on-line auctions and used book dealers.


Books marked "*" are available through the N&WHS Commissary.

Books marked "OOP" (out of print) can sometimes be found at hobby shops, used book dealers, model train shows, railroadiana shows, or through online book auctions.

* [Brewer/Bowers] "Cabooses of the Norfolk & Western", NWHS, 1994

* [N&W/Coal] "Coal and the Norfolk and Western", NWHS, 1996

[Dow] "N&W Hopper Cars, 1998

[Drury] "Guide to North American Steam Locomotives", Kalmbach,1993

"Norfolk & Western First Generation Diesels", Withers Publishing, 1990

"Norfolk & Western Second Generation Diesels", Withers Publishing, 1989

[King]"Norfolk & Western in the Appalachians", Kalmbach, 1998

[Nichols] "Norfolk & Western in Color Volume 1:1945-1964", Morning Sun Books, 1997

"Norfolk & Western Passenger Service 1946-1971", TLC Publishing 1990

[Webb]"Norfolk & Western Railway Company North Carolina Branch", self-published, 1985

[Prince] "Norfolk & Western Railway: Pocahontas Coal Carrier" self published, 1980

[Cooper] "Norfolk & Western's Shenandoah Valley Line", N&WHS, 1998

* "Norfolk and Western Standards Drawings", NWHS, 1992

* Reprints of N&W "Classification Diagrams and Data", TLC Publishing, 1997-1998

*[King]" The A (Revised Edition) Norfolk & Western's Mercedes of Steam", NWHS, 2009

* [Striplin] "The Norfolk & Western: A History", NWHS, 1997

* [Wiley/Wallace]"The Norfolk and Western Handbook", W&W Publications, 1980

[French] "The Norfolk & Western Railway: Williamson Terminal-1953", Rocky Mtn, 1992

* "The Story of Fuel Satisfaction", NWHS, 1995

"When the Steam Railroads Electrified", Kalmbach, 1974

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