After the Civil War, competing railroads finally built connections so freight and people did not need to be unloaded, "drayed" to a competing railroad's station several blocks to a mile away, then reloaded onto a different train. Railroads, when interchanging freight, finally built massive "yards" such as the old Potomac Yard in Alexandria. When interchanging passengers, union stations were built.

railroad gap in 1852 - no direct link between Fredericksburg/Alexandria before Civil War
railroad gap in 1852 - no direct link
between Fredericksburg/Alexandria before Civil War
Source: Library of Congress, Map of the proposed line of Rail Road connection between
tide water Virginia and the Ohio River at Guyandotte, Parkersburg and Wheeling

After the Civil War, with the shift in railroad ownership to non-Virginians, connections were built to move people and freight seamlessly across the state rather than just to feed traffic into the selected port cities of Alexandria, Richmond, Petersburg, and Portsmouth/Norfolk. In 1886, over the course of two days, all rail lines were converted to the Pennsylvania Railroad's 4 feet 9 inch gauge, and later standardized to 4 feet 8.5 inches.9

the Triple Crossing in Richmond is reportedly the only location in the world where three rail lines crossed at one location
the Triple Crossing in Richmond is reportedly the only location in the world where three rail lines crossed at one location
Source: "Rarely Seen Richmond," Virginia Commonwealth University James Branch Cabell Library Special Collections and Archives, 'Is Two over one Railroad Fare?' (Sixteenth and Dock), Richmond, Va.

The Shenandoah Valley Railroad was the first railroad to go entirely through the entire Shenandoah Valley, from north to south. It was financed by Pennsylvania investors after the Civil War. Virginia was desperate for economic development, even if it involved a connection to the Pennsylvania Railroad and Virginia-based traffic could end up boosting business at Philadelphia.

in 1870, Alexandria was connect to Bristol on the east side of the Blue Ridge by railroad - but on the west side of the mountains, there was still no rail line connection through the Shenandoah Valley linking Winchester to Staunton, or connecting Staunton to Tennessee
in 1870, Alexandria was connect to Bristol on the east side of the Blue Ridge by railroad - but on the west side of the mountains, there was still no rail line connection through the Shenandoah Valley linking Winchester to Staunton, or connecting Staunton to Tennessee
Source: Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, Railroads in Operation, 1870 (Plate 140a, digitized by University of Richmond)

After northern capitalists gained control of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, the Shenandoah Valley Railroad was built to connect it to the Pennsylvania Railroad. The Pennsylvania-based investors constructed a new rail line through the entire Shenandoah Valley, without neding to raise capital from Virginians interested primarily in steering traffic to a particular port. The new line ran on the eastern side of Massanutten Mountain. Traffic to Harrisonburg and other towns on the west side of Massanutten Mountain was projected to be less profitable than freight business from the iron furnaces/forges at Shenandoah, Glasgow, Vesuvius, and other locations near the Blue Ridge.

The Pennsylvania investors were willing to let local investors determine the southern terminus of the railroad, the junction where the Shenandoah Valley Railroad would unite with the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. Big Lick property owners contributed right-of-way and funds, with John C. Moomaw delivering commitments to railroad officials in Lexington after a dramatic horseback ride. The consolidated Shenandoah Valley/Virginia and Tennessee railroads, renamed the Norfolk and Western (N&W), located its machine shops at the junction, which grew so quickly that the new city of Roanoke was called the "Magic City."10

the hamlet of Big Lick did not grow significantly when the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad was built through the Blue Ridge, but boomed into the magic city of Roanoke when the Shenandoah Valley Railroad chose that site for its junction with the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad
the hamlet of Big Lick did not grow significantly when the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad was built through the Blue Ridge, but boomed into the "magic city" of Roanoke when the Shenandoah Valley Railroad chose that site for its junction with the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad
Source: Library of Virginia, Lynchburg Tennessee Line Rail Road, Bureau of Public Works collection, BPW 538 (5)

railroads in Virginia, 1855
railroads in Virginia, 1855 (note that Roanoke did not exist before the war)
Source: Library of Congress - Williams' commercial map of the United States and Canada with railroads, routes, and distances (1855)

The Norfolk and Western railroad quickly expanded into the coal fields of the Appalachian Plateau. It built westward, down the New River valley, into West Virginia to gain access to the coal mines. The Virginia Central, which had morphed into the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) after the Civil War, did the same and built west from Staunton into the coal fields. The N&W hauled its coal across Virginia to Norfolk, while the C&O built a new port at Newport News.

Until construction of the coal railroads into the Appalachian Plateau the 1880's, Virginia railroads were mostly farm-to-market transportation corridors, local connections linking the farms and small towns in the western part of the state to Fall Line ports and Norfolk in the east. Curiously, the coal business converted both the N&W and the C&O into rail lines dominated by one-way traffic to competing Virginia ports, echoing the original design of Virginia's freight railroads.

only a few sections of Virginia (Appalachian Plateau, Northern Neck, Eastern Shore) are not expected to receive state funding for rail infrastructure upgrades
only a few sections of Virginia (Appalachian Plateau, Northern Neck, Eastern Shore) are not expected to receive state funding for rail infrastructure upgrades
Source: Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, DRAFT 2013 Virginia Statewide Rail Plan Overview (p.25)

Since World War II, highways and airplanes have successfully competed to peel away customers from railroads. Virginia still has passenger rail, via Amtrak and one commuter rail system in Northern Virginia (Virginia Railway Express). There is one heavy rail transit system in the state: Metrorail is operated by Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, with Blue, Yellow, Orange, and Silver lines in Northern Virginia. One light rail system, The Tide, carries passengers for 7.4 miles in Norfolk.

Today, Virginia has two Class 1 freight railroads (CSX and Northern Southern), several "short lines" carrying local freight (such as the Bay Coast Railroad on the Eastern Shore), one major commuter rail system (Virginia Railway Express), portions of the Washington-area Metrorail network, and the Tide light rail system in Norfolk.

because pipeline capacity is limited, CSX trains carry Bakken crude oil to the storage facility at the formery refinery in Yorktown
because pipeline capacity is limited, CSX trains carry Bakken crude oil to the storage facility at the formery refinery in Yorktown
Source: US Department of Transportation, Crude oil

Freight lines are corporations owned by stockholders, while passenger rail operations are handled by public agencies (including Amtrak). The Virginia Department of Highways has morphed into the Virginia Department of Transportation, with a unit devoted to rail - the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. Public funds are being invested to upgrade the privately-owned rail lines, in order to increase passenger rail capacity. Public funding for private railroads is also designed to increase business at the Port of Virginia, and to reduce highway truck traffic by diverting cargo containers.

Railroads move people and cargo from Point A to Point B, increasing economic activity along their corridors and at their terminals. Because railroads won the competition with canals, railroads were the key factor in determining where population would grow in Virginia until the rail network was completed around 1900. The success of railroads shaped the development of several urban areas in Virginia, especially Alexandria, Danville, and Roanoke, while the failure of railroads stunted population growth in the Shenandoah Valley.

West Point was considered as the terminus for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, before the line was extended from Richmond to Newport News
West Point was considered as the terminus for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, before the line was extended from Richmond to Newport News
Source: Library of Congress, Map of the state of Virginia: showing the advantages of the harbor of West Point as an entrepot for emmigration and the shipment of the products of the southern and western states

Coal and Transportation in Virginia

Heartland Corridor

High Speed Rail in Virginia

Historic and Modern Railroads in Virginia

Light Rail in Virginia

Rail (Metro) to Dulles Airport

Railroad Access and Hampton Roads Shipping Terminals

Railroad Junctions in Virginia

Railroad Cities

Railroads of the Civil War

Railroads Across the Blue Ridge, In the Shenandoah Valley - and Why Isn't Harrisonburg on the Main Line?

Routing a Railroad Through Cumberland Gap to the Wise County Coal Fields

Topography and Coal Railroads

the wooden infrastructure of major railway bridges was protected from rainfall by roofs
the wooden infrastructure of major railway bridges was protected from rainfall by roofs
Source: Illustrated London News, Railway Bridge Over the Rapids of James River (May 31, 1862)

railroads in southeastern Virginia include both Class 1 rail lines (CSX and Norfolk Southern), plus four of the nine Class 2 shortlines in Virginia (Bay Coast Railway, Chesapeake and Albemarle, Norfolk and Portsmouth Beltline, and Commonwealth Railway)
railroads in southeastern Virginia include both Class 1 rail lines (CSX and Norfolk Southern), plus four of the nine Class 2 "shortlines" in Virginia (Bay Coast Railway, Chesapeake and Albemarle, Norfolk and Portsmouth Beltline, and Commonwealth Railway)
Source: Virginia State Rail Map (2012)

the only two railroads in Richmond today are the CSX and Norfolk Southern (with Amtrak for passenger service)
the only two railroads in Richmond today are the CSX and Norfolk Southern (with Amtrak for passenger service)
Source: Virginia State Rail Map (2012)

railroads in Petersburg
railroads in Petersburg
Source: Virginia State Rail Map (2012)

in addition to two Class 1 major rail lines, nine Class 2 rail shortlines provide last-mile service to selected customers and isolated regions in Virginia
in addition to two Class 1 major rail lines, nine Class 2 rail shortlines provide last-mile service to selected customers and isolated regions in Virginia
Source: Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, DRAFT 2013 Virginia Statewide Rail Plan Overview (p.36)

Links

after the Civil War, the train station in Gordonsville was a mixing ground for both whites and blacks in the area
after the Civil War, the train station in Gordonsville was a mixing ground for both whites and blacks in the area
Source: University of North Carolina, The Great South; A Record of Journeys in Louisiana, Texas, the Indian Territory, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland (1875)

Northern Virginia rail connections to the north
Northern Virginia rail connections to the north
Source: National Capital Planning Commission, Freight Railroad Realignment Study (Figure 2-1)

the Virginia Central Railroad build a line between Richmond-Hanover Junction (modern Doswell) in the 1850's, allowing it to compete more effectively with the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad
the Virginia Central Railroad build a line between Richmond-Hanover Junction (modern Doswell) in the 1850's, allowing it to compete more effectively with the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad
Source: Library of Congress, Atlas of the War of the Rebellion, Southeastern Virginia and Fort Monroe, Va. (1892)

the RF&P railroad was linked with the Richmond and Petersburg railroad in 1867 by constructing a tunnel under Byrd Street, to climb the hill next to the state penitentiary
the RF&P railroad was linked with the Richmond and Petersburg railroad in 1867 by constructing a tunnel under Byrd Street, to climb the hill next to the state penitentiary
Source: Library of Congress, Illustrated atlas of the city of Richmond, Va. (Section Q, 1877)

major railroads of Roanoke
major railroads of Roanoke
Source: US Geological Survey, Geo Science Eye Toolkit

References

1. A History Of Roads In Virginia, Virginia Department of Transportation, 2006, p.13, http://www.virginiadot.org/about/resources/historyofrds.pdf (last checked September 3, 2013)
2. A History Of Roads In Virginia, Virginia Department of Transportation, 2006, p.10-11, http://www.virginiadot.org/about/resources/historyofrds.pdf (last checked September 3, 2013)
3. "Norfolk Southern Six Mile Bridge No. 58," National Register of Historic Places registration form, Virginia Department of Historic Resources, August 28, 1995, http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/registers/Counties/Campbell/015-0352_Norfolk_Southern_Six_Mile_Bridge_No.58_1995_Final_Nomination.pdf (last checked September 3, 2013)
4. Charles W. Turner, "Railroad Service to Virginia Farmers, 1828-1860," Agricultural History, Vol. 22, No. 4 (October 1948), p.244, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3739521 (last checked August 18, 2013)
5. George Edgar Turner, Victory Rode the Rails, University of Nebraska Press, 1992 p.68
6. George Edgar Turner, Victory Rode the Rails, p.31
7. J.D Lewis, "North Carolina Railroads - Piedmont Railroad," Carolana website, http://www.carolana.com/NC/Transportation/railroads/nc_rrs_piedmont.html (last checked September 3, 2013)
8. James C. Burke, "North Carolina’s First Railroads, A Study in Historical Geography," PhD thesis, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 2008, p.69, http://libres.uncg.edu/ir/listing.aspx?id=637 (last checked September 3, 2013)
9. Douglas J. Puffert, "The Standardization of Track Gauge on North American Railways, 1830-1890," The Journal of Economic History, Volume 60 Number 4 (December, 2000), p.955, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2698082 (last checked September 3, 2013)
10. "Roanoke," in The WPA Guide To The Old Dominion, Work Projects Administration, 1940 (1992 hypertext version), http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/vaguide/roanoke.html (last checked September 3, 2013)

historic Virginia Central/RF&P interchange at Doswell, in Hanover County
historic Virginia Central/RF&P rail interchange at Doswell (Hanover County)

the Union Army sought to control key rail junctions in eastern Virginia during the Civil War, and the Confederate capital at Richmond was evacuated only after the capture of the rail hub of Petersburg
the Union Army sought to control key rail junctions in eastern Virginia during the Civil War, and the Confederate capital at Richmond was evacuated only after the capture of the rail hub of Petersburg
Source: Library of Congress, Map of the southern states of North America with the forts, harbours & military positions (1862)

railroad network in eastern Virginia, 1910
railroad network in eastern Virginia, 1910
Source: Library of Congress, Railway mail map of Virginia (Earl P. Hopkins, 1910)

railroad network in western Virginia, 1910
railroad network in western Virginia, 1910
Source: Library of Congress, Railway mail map of Virginia (Earl P. Hopkins, 1910)


Transportation Patterns in Virginia
Virginia Places