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N&W Signs and Markers


This page illustrates a number of the signs and markers that the N&W utilized along it's right of way.  Titles and descriptions are per the N&W Standards Drawings book published by the N&W Historical Society.  All items are listed in alphabetical order by their title. 

If you have any information or photos you'd like to contribute, please contact me at jl.hawkins@comcast.net.

Bridge Identification Post


The N&W assigned each bridge throughout it's system a number for identification purposes. They were numbered in sequence by the engineering department and had no relationship to milepost  locations.  For example, in the Tidewater area Bridge 5 was the bridge over the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River and Bridge 7 was the bridge over the Southern Branch.  Several short bridges in the Petersburg, VA area were numbered 24 through 31.  The concrete posts were painted black with the bridge number painted in white on each side.   
N&W expert Louis Newton explains: "Numbers continued west on the main line, but each district had it's own group of numbers.   The bridges on Winston-Salem District, for example, were numbered in the 1800 series going south from Roanoke.  On the Clinch Valley, they were in the 1300 series, with Bridge 1301 at Bluefield, VA, and Bridges 1396 and 1397 being a couple of the big trestles on Bull Mountain. On the Cincinnati District they were in the 2000-series, with No. 2001 being the Scioto River bridge at Vera and No. 2080 the Little Miami Bridge at Clare."


Shown above are bridge identification markers located on the former Bluestone Branch, which was last used in the mid-1980's.  The marker on the left is weathered so heavily that any evidence as to it's number has long been erased.  Seen on the right is the marker for Bridge 2305 in Matoaka, WV, also on the Bluestone Branch.   The webmaster is aware of numerous other bridge markers on abandoned lines, but only two that still stand along active NS tracks. 


Today Norfolk Southern identifies a bridge by it's location in relation to the mileposts.  These numbers are usually painted on the bridge.  For example, the bridge over US 52 at Maybeury, WV on the Pocahontas District is marked "N378.64".  


Both photos by Jeff Hawkins (Left: October 21, 2010 - Right: October 18, 2009)




Bridge Trespass Sign


The no trespassing signs were installed at each end of bridges over 100' in length or where the greatest distance from the top of the bridge to the ground exceeded 12'.  The sign read "DO NOT WALK NOR TRESPASS ON THE BRIDGE" and was made primarily from scrap iron.  Earlier signs were made of wood as evidenced by this photo from Maybeury, WV.  The cast iron signs were mounted on posts that consisted of old 56 or 67 pound rail.  The raised letters were painted black with the background being white.  The specimen above stands at one of the many bridges along the former N&W Bluestone Branch.  A good many stood alongside mainline bridges into the late 1980's with some surviving on branch lines into the mid 1990's.  One sign was even photographed in 2005 along the Tug Fork Branch in Welch, West Virginia which has since been removed.    


Top photo by Jeff Hawkins (October 18, 2009)

Bottom photo by Jeff Hawkins (September 24, 2016)








Curve Sign


These were placed 1,200' from curves where speed is restricted, on the right hand side of the track.



Standard Concrete Mile Post


The standard N&W mile post was a three sided, solid concrete fixture.  Originally the entire structure was left a natural finish with the engraved letters painted black.  In later years a black band was painted around the top portion and the letters were painted white to add contrast and enhance visibility.  The posts were 7'-6" long and weighed a substantial amount.  Standard placement was between 7' and 12' from the nearest rail.  


Every N&W line used an alphanumeric prefix such as "N415" as seen on this milepost located between Roderfield and Iaeger, West Virginia.  The "N" designates that this location is 415 miles from Norfolk.  Another example would be the main line between Hagerstown, MD and Ronaoke, VA.  Mileage along this route was measured from Hagerstown, thus each milepost has an "H" prefix. 


Secondary and branch lines were also measured from their point of orgin as well.  Two examples are the Dry Fork Branch and the Spice Creek Branch.  The Dry Fork originates in Iaeger, WV so the mileposts along this line are "I1" to "I44".  On the long abandoned Spice Creek line which originated in Roderfield, the mileposts were "R1" through "R4". 


While there are still plenty of authentic N&W mileposts in existence, many are being replaced and/or supplemented by modern signs that are much easier for crews to identify. 


Photo by Jeff Hawkins (August 5, 2007)



Standard State Line Post


Beginning in 1909, the N&W installed these markers where their tracks crossed a state line.  The two white wooden signs at the top featured the state names.  Two posts were installed, one on each side of the track 20' from the center of the gauge.  In the photo above, "VIRGINIA" and "WEST VIRGINIA" are barely discernable.  The severely weathered metal signs about mid-height on the post were marked with the name of the county.  "TAZEWELL CO." and "MCDOWELL CO." at this particular location.  The marker pictured here stands in Bishop, WV on the Jacobs Fork Branch, and is only one of four known to still exist. 


Photo by Jeff Hawkins (December 30, 2012)



Coal 1 Mile Sign


This was placed one mile from and on the right hand side of the track approaching a mainline coaling station.  The sign and post weighed a combined 130 pounds and were placed between 9' and 13' from the rail.  The bottom photo shows the later version that was introduced in 1948.  This sign was bolted to a post via four bolt holes drilled into the back of the sign.   Weight of the actual sign itself was 31 pounds.  Click here to view a photo showing a coal sign in advance of the coaling station at Vicker, Virginia.  The sign is visible in the bottom center of the photograph. 



Speed Limit Sign


The N&W placed speed limit signs in advance of curves where the speed was reduced from the normal track speed.  These signs were made in the Roanoke Shops Foundry.  Some signs contained a single speed restrictions while others had two sets of numbers with the bottom number relevant to freights while the top number applied to passenger trains.  If the sign was applicable to more than one consecutive curve speed, there would be a small square with the number of curves covered under the speeds. The signs were painted yellow with black lettering on one side and black with white lettering on the other.  An example of a speed sign can be seen on the far right edge of this photograph.



Station 1 Mile Sign


This was placed one mile from the outer switch(es) of any passing tracks, and one mile from the semaphore signal at and on the right hand side of the track approaching a station.



Stop Sign


The stop sign was placed on the right hand side of the track approaching non-interlocked railroad crossings at grade.  The sign was to be located not less than 200' or more than 800' from crossing.



Right-Of-Way Monument


The N&W placed what they called right-of-way monuments at all intersections of their property lines.  The monuments were set in a manner so that the blank side was facing the adjacent property owner.  Made of Portland Cement, the monuments were 4' tall, with only 1'-8" protruding above ground level. 


Photo by Kevin Simpson (January 2015)



Slow Sign


This sign to be placed one (1) mile from and on the right hand side of track approaching points at which speed is reduced by special instructions.  Measurements: 19" wide x 11" tall



Sub-Division Sign


Measuring 20" wide and 9" tall, these cast iron signs were placed at the dividing line between sections on the same side of the track as the milepost.  The numbers indicated the section gang responsible for maintaining the track.




Water 1 Mile Sign


This was placed one mile from and on the right hand side of the track approaching a mainline water station.  The original version had a short post cast into the bottom of the sign.  It would then be bolted onto the main vertical post.  The sign and post weighed a combined 143 pounds and were placed between 9' and 13' from the rail. 


The bottom photo shows the later version that was introduced in 1948.  This sign was bolted to a post via four bolt holes drilled into the back of the sign.  Weight of the actual sign itself is 37 pounds.    


Top Photo by Anonymous Contributor (November 2013)

Bottom Photo by Jeff Hawkins (November 2013)




Whistle Post


The whistle post is one of the most common signs found along railroads throughout not only the United States, but the world.  Aside from instructing the engineer to sound an audible warning at a grade crossing, they were also located in advance of tunnels (as seen above) and bridges.  It was common for railroads to employ their own unique style of whistle posts and the N&W was no exception.  Typically mounted on a section of rail driven into the ballast, these unique signs were painted white with a large black "W".  The letter W wasn't just painted on, but rather forged into the material so it was a raised surface, as were the edges of the sign.  What makes the N&W's whistle posts unique is that the "W" matches up with the design of the pentagon shaped sign quite well.  Fortunately the N&W's whistle posts are still plentiful and can still be found throughout the system.  The original version had a short post cast into the bottom of the sign as seen in the top photos.  The newer style whistle post, which had the post bolt onto the back of the sign, is pictured above near the west portal of Twin Branch Tunnel #2 just east of Davy, West Virginia with the "Marytown" signals visible in the distance.   


Top Photos by Tish Adams (December 2013)

Bottom Photo by Jeff Hawkins (August 5, 2007)



Yard Limit Sign


Located at the yard limits on the right side of the track.  



Copyright 2002- | Jeff Hawkins

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