Walton Cutoff

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Fri May 4 14:27:36 EDT 2012

I am going to elaborate more on what Jim Nichols said.

You wondered why the three miles was removed along the stretch of track at Pepper. There was a much bigger picture of what was going on. After the Virginian merger and dropping its electrification, the N&W removed 264 miles of track which included passing sidings, the 7.1 mile of triple track from Walton to Christiansburg, and second mains. With this, 106 miles of the old N&W doubled-tracked main line became single track. In practice, the old Virginian main and the new N&W single-tracked main together became a double track operation. This was accomplished by late 1962 and early 1963.

After this restructuring, the old N&W main line east of Bluefield essentally remained double track from Bluefield to Kellysville, and from Walton to about Montvale (east of Roanoke), and east of Burkeville to Norfolk.

Removing track was done to save money -- taxes, maintaining unused or unneeded track, cost of having signals, and operationally having fewer and fewer pasenger trains. Also there was a need for rail elsewhere. The old rail was recycled to make new track connections needed between the N&W and VGN and for extending passing sidings on the old Virginian main to accomodate the change of operations after the merger.

Hope this helps,

Bud Jeffries
----- Original Message -----
From: NW Mailing List
To: NW Mailing List
Sent: Friday, May 04, 2012 11:27 AM
Subject: Walton Cutoff

OK, changing the subject line to keep things straight, now that the location of the photograph has been established, but there may still be some questions in the original thread about the dates of the excursions and the diesels, unless Bud Jeffries' answer took care of the diesel details.

But on to the Walton cutoff, or "New River Connecting Branch" as it is referred to in the 1902 annual report. In the photo with the J and the archive photo that Jeff pulled out, there are two tracks on this line, which was built to reduce distance and eliminate the grades both from Radford and Belspring. As noted by both Ray and Louis, the second track was removed (reportedly by Stuart Saunders) in the 1962-63 timeframe. I know the Southern Railway removed miles of second track for tax purposes, but does anyone know the rationale for removing just under 3 miles of this piece of track? Would there be something in the archives that might shed some light on this? It just seems a little baffling to yank out that small piece of railroad. I'll bet there are times that today's dispatchers would like to have that extra piece of track to free up things around Walton, across the river at Cowan and when there is traffic coming and going on the Bristol line.


Norfolk & Western Railway, 3rd Annual Report, June 30, 1899, pg. 10

Attention was called in our last report to the necessity of reducing grades wherever practicable . . . In pursuance of this policy the construction of a low grade branch line, near Radford, has been authorized. This branch is 7.2 miles in length. It leaves the Main Line near the mouth of Crab Creek, near the 289 mile-post from Norfolk, and rejoins it near the 309 mile-post, near the mouth of Back Creek. The construction of this branch shortens the haul 4.3 miles, and reduces the controlling grades between the points named from 78 feet per mile east bound and 86 feet per mile west bound, to 11 feet per mile east bound and the maximum curvature from 14 degrees to 6 degrees. The work of gradation is heavy and costly, owning to the necessity of bridging New River and piercing the high hill in the bend of that river by a tunnel, about 3,500 feet long. The entire cost of the Branch is estimated at $415,000, of which sum $300,000 has been charged to Surplus Income as above mentioned. . . The work of grading the Branch has been commenced and is being prosecuted with vigor."

Norfolk & Western Railway, 5th Annual Report, June 30, 1902, pg. 12

New River Connecting Branch: This line was opened for traffic October 11, 1900. The Company has accepted an Act of the General Assembly of Virginia, approved February 15, 1901, authorizing the abandonment of the old high-grade line between New River Depot and Back Creek, in Pulaski County.

Pg. 71 Tower and interlocking plant of 40 levers was erected at Walton
Combined freight and passenger station, 24' x 61', was erected at Pepper.


N&W once had a double track main (with a few, short exceptions) from Portsmouth, Ohio to Norfolk. It was said in the 1960’s that Stuart Saunders picked apart in several months what it took Racehorse Smith decades to build. The track around Pepper became single track, I believe, in the 1960’s.

One of the short segments of single track on the otherwise double track mainline was the one mile or so segment from Bluff to Cowan. This was never double track because of the tunnel and bridge.

Ray Smoot

One main track between Walton and Bluff was removed about 1962-63. The New River Bridge and Pepper (now known as "Cowan") Tunnel have always been single track.

Louis Newton


All facts, rumors, and speculation welcome. :-)

Bruce in Blacksburg


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