Five years following the end of the Civil War the Shenandoah Valley Railroad (SVRR), a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), wanted to build a track from Hagerstown, Maryland, where it would connect with the Cumberland Valley Railroad (another PRR subsidiary), to Salem, Virginia, where it would connect to the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. Construction didn't begin until 1879, however, within three years connection was made to the Norfolk & Western Railroad (N&W) in a small town called Big Lick, Virginia.
Passenger service on this new line began in May 1882 with four trains, Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4. Travelers could connect to routines from this line that would take them as far North as New York and as far South as New Orleans.
Unfortunately, by 1885 the SVRR was forced into receivership and five years after that they foreclosured and were reorganized as the Shenandoah Valley Railway. Later that same year, in December 1890, the Shenandoah Valley Railway is acquired and absorbed by Norfolk & Western Railroad. To keep everyone confused, the Norfolk & Western Railroad sold under foreclosure and reorganized as Norfolk & Western Railway.
In 1892 trains number 1 and 2 were eliminated to make room for two new trains, Nos. 5 and 6 known as the "Washington and Chattanooga Limited." Train nos. 1 and 2 returned as the "Shenandoah Special" in 1900. That same year trains Nos. 5 and 6 were eliminated. Entirely Pullman service, a dining car was added to the route between Shenandoah and Roanoke line in 1920.
Because of strong ridership between Hagerston and Bristol a buffet broiler parlor car with "comfortable modernistic furniture and indirect lighting for night reading" was added. These new steel and aluminum alloy Pullman observation cars contained a broiler, coffee urn, and a refrigerator and featured an observation parlor located at the rear round-end of the car seating six people. The buffet broiler parlor car also included a lounge with sofas and seats for another 20 passengers.
There were many trains that ran this route in the early days. However, following the depression, ridership had declined so much, that only a few trains remained. By later May 1931, trains Nos. 1, 2, 13 and 14 were all that was left.
Automatic Train Control (ATC), a train protection system making possible the use of cab signalling instead of track-side signals, was installed on passenger trains in February 1925 following a ruling by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) three years earlier mandating such equipment for all passenger trains.
Finally, in 1982, Norfolk & Western Railway is consolidated with the Southern Railway to form what is known today as Norfolk Southern Corporation. Finally on September 1, 1998 Norfolk & Western's corporate existence ended as it was merged into Norfolk Southern Corporation.
In spit of all the corporate changes in ownership, the line built in the 1880's between Hagerstown, Maryland and Back Lick, Virginia (now known as Roanoke) is still in operation today. We know in 1886 N&W converted all it's track from 5 foot gauge to the new standard of 4 foot 8 1/2 inches, but it is not clear if the Shenandoah Line conformed to this standard from the very beginning or not.
In the 1930's Shenandoah was one of five Divisions. The others were Norfolk, Radford, Pocahontas, and Scioto. Today the Shenandoah Division is comprised of three districts; the (1) xxxx district, (2) Radford district, and the (3) Hagerstown District. Running from Hagerstown to Roanoke, this line had roundhouses in at each end as well as the Town of Shenandoah, which is sort of the half way point. Because steam locomotives required lots of water, large water towers were strategically located every five miles along the entire line.
Originally all of N&W's engines were steam powered. They arguably had one of the finest fleets of steam locomotives in the country, electing to manufacture it's own engines out of Roanoke -- something not done by any of the other major railroad companies. From 1913 to 1950 some of N&W's equipment is electrified, but steam locomotives moved the majority of cars on all it's track until 1952 when diesel engines took over the fleet.
The Norfolk and Western Official Guide, dated March 1962, shows Shenandoah Valley service down to trains -- Nos. 1 & 2, making a connection with Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad in Waynesboro. Shortly after this passenger service on this line came to a close. Similarly, the Western Maryland Railroad ended their passenger service to Hagerstown in 1959. Bother railroads saw a marked decline in ridership following WWII.
The last passenger run on this line was February 2, 1963.