The Covel Trestle is located along the former Virginian Railway mainline in Covel, West Virginia.
The Virginian Railway (VGN) was conceived in the early 20th century by William Nelson Page and Henry Huttleston Rogers with the goal of transporting high-quality “smokeless” bituminous coal from southern West Virginia to ports on Hampton Roads near Norfolk, Virginia.
Page had begun a small logging railroad in Fayette County, West Virginia, in 1896 called the Loup Creek and Deepwater Railway, which extended from an interchange with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway (C&O) at Deepwater southward along Loup Creek to reach a sawmill at Robson. 1 The line was operated by the C&O under a verbal agreement. The Deepwater Railway was incorporated in 1898, and an extension was planned to reach coal deposits at Page.
Assisted by Rogers in 1902, Page expanded his plans for the Deepwater to be extended to Mullens, Matoaka, and Princeton. 1 In March 1907, the Deepwater was acquired by the Tidewater Railway to form the VGN. (The Tidewater was formed in 1904 to cross the southern tier of Virginia from Giles County to a coal dock at Sewell’s Point in Norfolk County.) Work progressed on connecting the Deepwater and Tidewater segments, with the last spike being driven at the site of a massive bridge over the New River at Glen Lyn in January 1909.
The VGN constructed the Covel Trestle at milepost 366, which is a 17-span curved bridge stretching 738 feet long over the Left Fork of Gooney Otter Creek. 7
The VGN’s mainline faced a challenge when it opened due to the 2.07% grade from Elmore to Clark’s Gap. 7 To overcome this, the railroad acquired powerful steam locomotives and developed the “Hill Run” plan to transport 4,000 to 6,000 tons of coal up the grade to Clark’s Gap several times a day. Trains traveled at a slow speed of 7 MPH, and workers faced health concerns due to poor ventilation in tunnels 9 through 13.
In 1923, VGN employees went on strike to demand better working conditions. 7 As a response, the railroad decided to electrify 133.6 miles of the mainline between Mullens and Roanoke. The electrification project was completed in 1925, and the Alco-Westinghouse EL-3As, operated in sets of three, could transport a 6,000-ton coal train at 14 MPH over Clark’s Gap.
The Norfolk & Western Railway acquired the VGN in December 1959, and by July 1962, the electrified locomotives were replaced with diesel locomotives. 7 Much of the infrastructure invested in the electrification efforts was scrapped or sold. The Norfolk & Western Railway merged with the Southern Railway in 1982 to form the Norfolk Southern Railway (NS).
The last revenue “Hill Run” traveled between Elmore and Clark’s Gap on October 9, 2015, 8 and the Clark’s Gap yard was used to store coal hoppers until April 15, 2021. 9
- State: West Virginia
- Route: Norfolk Southern Railway
- Type: Plate Girder
- Status: Active - Railroad
- Total Length: 738'
- Tams, William Purviance. The Smokeless Coal Fields of West Virginia: A Brief History. West Virginia University Press, 1983, pp. 20-23.
- Bridge plaque.
- Murray, K. Foster. “Virginian Railway’s Need for Bridge at Deepwater Outlined by President.” Virginian-Pilot and Norfolk Landmark, 9 Jul. 1929, pp. 1-7.
- “Virginian All Ready for Starting Work on New Bridge, Says Hix.” Virginian-Pilot and Norfolk Landmark, 22 Dec. 1929, pp. 1.
- “Merger of Railroads Into 19 Units Recommended by I.C.C.; Kanawha Bridge Favored.” Virginian-Pilot and Norfolk Landmark, 22 Dec. 1929, pp. 1-5.
- “Officials of the Virginian to See First Train Cross Bridge Connecting with N.Y. Central.” Daily News Leader [Staunton], 14 Mar. 1931, p. 1.
- Phillips, Samuel. “The climb to Clark’s Gap via the former Virginian Railroad.” Trains, 16 Apr. 2013.
- Hager, Billy. 769261. Railpictures.net, 15 Apr. 2021.
- Biehn, Michael. 549635. Railpictures.net, 9 Oct. 2015.