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Deepwater Railroad Bridge

Deep Water Railroad Bridge

The Deepwater Railroad Bridge, constructed for the Virginian Railroad, carries Norfolk Southern Railway over the Kanawha River in Deepwater, West Virginia.


History

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 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 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 Virginian sought an outlet for coal mined in West Virginia and Virginia with ports along Lake Erie in Ohio. 3 As early as June 1905, the VGN had under its control in excess of 2,300 acres of land for water terminals, and surveys had been completed for a line from Deepwater to Lake Erie. The death of H.H. Rogers, founder and principal stockholder of the VGN, affected the development of the lake terminals and line extension. Nevertheless, the railroad made attempts in 1914 and 1916 to acquire the Kanawha & Michigan Railroad (K&M) and other lines to connect to Lake Erie.

After failing to secure the K&M and other railroads by purchase or lease, the VGN sought a traffic contract with them to obtain eastbound tonnage in exchange for its westbound traffic. 3 A contract was drawn in 1916 that included the construction of a bridge across the Kanawha River at Deep Water, but before any work could be started, the United States entered World War I, and all railroads were taken over by the federal government.

After the war concluded, the VGN was focused on getting its lines back to good condition as they were ravaged by a lack of maintenance. 3 It then sought a connection with the K&M, now a subsidiary of the New York Central Railroad (NYC), so that it could interchange traffic but the proposal faced opposition from the C&O which questioned its competitor’s authority to build that link. The case was taken up with the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) in 1929. In this case, the state of Virginia, and the cities of Norfolk, Virginia, Princeton, Mullens, and Charleston, West Virginia favored the connection. The difficulty for the VGN was that the only connections the VGN had to the west were the C&O and Norfolk & Western Railway, both of which were competitors with it on eastbound traffic from Deepwater to Hampton Roads. The connection with the NYC would give the VGN a non-competitive route to the west. The C&O was also worried that the VGN would merge into the NYC which was proposed at that time. 5

Nevertheless, VGN Chief Engineer Traugott drew up two plans for a crossing of the Kanawha. 3 4 One called for the construction of 1.04 miles of track and a bridge 1,845 feet long at the cost of $786,700, while the other called for 1.94 miles of track with a bridge 1,600 feet long at the cost of $1.2 million. 5 The bridge would save a two-line haul of 10 miles. Revised plans called for a combination through truss and plate girder bridge to be built at the cost of $1 million. 4

In December 1929, the Interstate Commerce Commission signaled its intent to rule in favor of the VGN’s desire to build its long-sought Kanawha River crossing at Deepwater and gave its blessing in January 1930. 4 5 The VGN hired the Virginia Bridge & Iron Company to construct a combination Warren through truss and plate girder crossing, 2 and the first train to cross the new bridge was on March 15, 1931. 6

This is a view of the first train to cross the Deepwater Railroad Bridge on March 15, 1931. Source: West Virginia & Regional History Center.

Gallery


Information

  • State: West Virginia
  • Route: Norfolk Southern Railway
  • Type: Plate Girder, Warren Through Truss
  • Status: Active - Railroad
  • Spans:

Sources

  1. Tams, William Purviance. The Smokeless Coal Fields of West Virginia: A Brief History. West Virginia University Press, 1983, pp. 20-23.
  2. Bridge plaque.
  3. 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.
  4. “Virginian All Ready for Starting Work on New Bridge, Says Hix.” Virginian-Pilot and Norfolk Landmark, 22 Dec. 1929, pp. 1.
  5. “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.
  6. “Officials of the Virginian to See First Train Cross Bridge Connecting with N.Y. Central.” Daily News Leader [Staunton], 14 Mar. 1931, p. 1.

3 thoughts on “Deepwater Railroad Bridge”

  1. As information, the Deepwater and Tidewater railways were merged in 1907 to form the Virginian so the bridge was never a Deepwater Railway bridge. I am somewhat a historian as my maternal grandfather worked for the Virginian as a freight conductor during the 1920s and early 1930s between Page and Deepwater. I have H. Reid’s book as well as others on the Virginian. I also was a photo contributor to Kurt Reisweber’s Virginian Rails book.

  2. In this case you should refer to it as the railroad bridge at Deepwater. This would avoid confusion for those who are not that up to date with railroad history.

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