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Virginian Railway - Signals


As most all railroads did in their early years of operation, the Virginian Railway utilized semaphore signals to govern train movements.  As technology evolved, the company began upgrading it's infrastructure with searchlight style signals manufactured by the General Railway Signal Company (GRS).  This page will examine these GRS searchlight signals.  It is important to note that not all of the Virginian Railway was signaled.  In 1946 signals were installed on the mainline between Sewells Point and Algren, where the Virginian crossed the Seaboard Air Line at grade.  Signals were also installed on the western portion of the railroad between Princeton and Deepwater in the early 1940's.  Additional locations that were signaled included Walnut Avenue Tower in Roanoke and Jarratt, VA, both locations where the Virginian crossed other railroads at grade.  After the 1959 merger with the N&W, signals were installed between Abilene and Princeton, primarily in the form of the N&W's trademark color position light signals.  In 1988 all of the signals between Maben (V381.8) and Deepwater (V435) were deactivated by Norfolk Southern.  Today the number of original Virginian Railway GRS searchlight signals that remain in service is estimated to be less than 25.  A heavy concentration of those remain in the Tidewater area of Virginia.


I would like to thank Aubrey Wiley, Chuck Rippel, Bill Whitbeck, and Samuel Phillips for their contributions to this page.  If you have any photos or information you'd like to contribute, please contact me at jl.hawkins@comcast.net.



Granby Street (A5.5)


Not far outside Sewells Point was the neighborhood of Wards Corner.  This westbound Norfolk & Portsmouth Beltline job has a cut of coal hoppers in tow as it knocks down the intermediate signal at Granby Street.  The women in the foreground have hunkered down for what will likely be a lengthy wait until they are able to cross the tracks.  The large concrete foundation they are sitting on was the base for the crossing watchman's tower which was manned around the clock.     


Photo by Bill Whitbeck (April 1978)



Little Creek Road (A5.4)


The other grade crossing in Wards Corner is Little Creek Road.  A westbound transfer job is seen passing the signal once located here.  The box on which the signal is mounted still remains at this location. 


Photo by Bill Whitbeck (April 1980)



Tidewater Drive (A3.8)


The intermediate signal in the right of the photo stood along the eastbound mainline just below the Tidewater Drive overpass.  Passing the signal is a Norfolk & Portsmouth Beltline transfer job with a cut of empty grain cars enroute from Sewells Point to N&W's Portlock Yard.  Barely discernable in the distance is another intermediate searchlight signal for the westbound main track. 


Photo by Bill Whitbeck (October 1977)

Chesapeake Boulevard (A2.3)


Adjacent to the Chesapeake Boulevard grade crossing in Norfolk is the only remaining intermediate searchlight signal in the Tidewater area.  This installation serves as the distant signal to Coleman Place for the westbound main track. 


Photo by Jeff Hawkins (March 15, 2003)


Coleman Place (A1.5)


Looking west towards the diamond at Coleman Place.  


Photo by Jeff Hawkins (March 15, 2003)



Coleman Place (A1.4)


A typical two head GRS searchlight signal stands guard over the eastbound mainline at Coleman Place in Norfolk.  As was typical on the double track segment in Norfolk, a dwarf signals governs the opposing main track.  Note the multiple Virginian code line poles that were still standing nearly 40 years after the N&W merger.  To learn more about Coleman Place, click here


Photo by Bill Whitbeck (November 6, 1999)



Tidewater Junction (A0.0/V2.3)

This photograph shows the westbound signals at Tidewater Junction.  The overhead bridge carries "The Tide", which is Norfolk's light rail system.  The light rail system was built on the former right of way of the Norfolk Southern Railway's South Beach Route between downtown Norfolk and Virginia Beach.  


Photo by Jeff Hawkins (December 16, 2012)



Tidewater Junction (A0.0/V2.3)


This signal governed movements that were leaving the connection track to enter the Virginian mainline at Tidewater. Click here for a detailed description of Tidewater Junction. 


Photo by Jeff Hawkins (January 16, 2011)




Tidewater Junction (A0.0/V2.3)


The eastbound signal at Tidewater Junction is rather unique.  It held the distinction of being the only three head searchlight signal on the eastern end of the Virginian Railway.  As you'll read farther down this page, a three head signal was transplanted to the South Norfolk interlocking after the N&W merger.  While the mainline is single track by this installation today, it was originally double track up until the 1970's when the original eastbound main track was removed.  During the years of double track, there was a dwarf signal positioned opposite of the searchlight to guard the westbound mainline in a similar fashion to the arrangement of the westbound signals.  Despite it's bleak appearance, the signal is still active today. 


Both photos by Jeff Hawkins (January 16, 2011)


East Branch Bridge (V2.5)


The Virginian Railway spanned the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River just over two miles east of downtown Norfolk.  Known as the East Branch Bridge, the 1,748' bridge was built to accommodate the Virginian's double track mainline between Tidewater Junction and Carolina Junction.  To allow the passage of marine vessels, the center section of the span was a swing bridge.  In the 1970's the structure was damaged by fire.  Due to the line's significant reduction in traffic since the 1959 merger the decision was made that the bridge would be rebuilt with only one track.  In this photo we are looking west along the mainline and there is a two head searchlight signal visible on the right side of the bridge.  This signal was originally for the westbound main track but was left in place after the bridge was reconfigured.  An identical signal was located on the west end of the bridge, both of which have been replaced.  It is easy to see where the westbound track was located both on the bridge and in the foreground.  Also notice the telltales are still configured for two tracks. 


Photo by Marty Bernard (Circa late 1970's)


Carolina Junction (V4.3)


This view looking west at Carolina Junction shows the westbound signals that were replaced in 2008.  The overpasses carrying Campostella Road and Atlantic Avenue were built in the 1990's to replace a busy grade crossing here.  Carolina Junction is where the original Norfolk Southern Railway crossed the Virginian on a diamond just west of the interlocking tower seen in the distance.  The diamond is now gone and two connection tracks facilitate movements.  The Norfolk & Portsmouth Belt Line Railroad operates over the ex-NS line north of Carolina Junction while the Chesapeake & Albermarle Railroad, a subsidiary of Rail America, leases the line south of here.  Carolina Junction was originally the west end of double track when traveling westbound from Sewell's Point.  That changed when the Eastern Branch Bridge suffered a fire in mid-1970's and was rebuilt with a single track capacity thus making the railroad single track between the west end of the bridge and Tidewater Junction.  In the photo above the left hand track is the mainline while the track on the right was utilized as a switching lead for the Ford Assembly Plant which closed in mid-2007.  This view looks west at nearly two miles of right of way.


Photo by Jeff Hawkins (August 2, 2002)



Carolina Junction (V4.5)


We are looking east along the former Virginian mainline in this 1974 view of Carolina Junction.  A Norfolk Southern local heads north across the diamond enroute to interchange with the N&W at NS Junction.  Note the tower has already been boarded up by this date.  To the best of my knowledge, the diamond was removed in the early 1980's.    


Photo by Bill Whitbeck (January 1974)



South Norfolk (V5.1)


The three head searchlight signal seen here was a replacement for the original two head signal that guarded westbound movements across the diamond at South Norfolk.  The old signal would have been located on the west side of the Hoover Avenue grade crossing approximately where the photographer stood to capture this image.  After the N&W merger a new connection track was installed in the northeast quadrant of the diamond and joined into the former Virginian mainline on the east side of Hoover Avenue, thus requiring the signal to be relocated approximately 150 feet east where it is seen in this picture.  In early 2002 it was replaced with a modern Safetrans signal that had been installed but was not yet active in this photo from late 2001. 


Photo by Chuck Rippel (December 23, 2001)




Intermediate Signals (V5.6/7)


This set of former intermediate signals are located a half mile west of South Norfolk at the Rodgers Street grade crossing.  They remain in service as distant signals to the NS Norfolk District mainline to the east and the South Branch Drawbridge (note sign) to the west.  The original searchlight style heads have obviously been replaced with a much smaller device that displays a steady approach indication.  In the top photo, note that the eastbound signal still retains a "6" number plate.  At one time there would have been a "5" above it to indicate this signal location was at mile "5.6".  In fact, although impossible to see in the bottom photo, the bracket holding the number plate is folded over and the "5" is still intact.  The eastbound home signal for South Norfolk would have been just a quarter mile in the distance.  Also note the Virginian whistle post in the distance in the top photo. 


Photo by Jeff Hawkins (April 2003)




Belt Junction (V6.5)


After crossing the N&W mainline at South Norfolk, the Virginian The Norfolk & Portsmouth Beltline Railroad ran down the east side of the Elizabeth River's Southern Branch.  The top photo is looking west towards the South Branch Bridge which is visible to the right of the signal heads.  In the bottom photo we are looking east towards South Norfolk. 


Both photos by Jeff Hawkins (December 2012)



South Branch Bridge (V6.8)


Originally built as a swing bridge similar to the Eastern Branch Bridge, the South Branch Bridge was converted to a lift span in 1974.  This was done so larger ships could gain access to the South Branch of the Elizabeth River beyond this point.  At present GRS searchlight signals still guard each end of the bridge.  The photo above is looking west.  It appears the signal was mounted on a new base as the old base is visible to the right of the current installation.  Norfolk Southern employee timetables identify this as the South Branch Drawbridge. 


Photo by Jeff Hawkins (December 2012)



Algren (V15.4)


This photo illustrates the proximity in which the Virginian and Seaboard Air Line operated in this area.  Between Suffolk and Algren, a distance of 13 miles, the two railroads paralleled each other less than 100' apart.  In this photograph we see the eastbound home signals for the diamond at Algren.  The SAL mainline is in the foreground with a familiar Virginian searchlight signals looming in the distance.  Visible beyond both signals are vehicles traveling eastbound along US 460.   


Photo by Walt Gay (Circa 1970)








Algren (V17.0)

The four proceeding photographs show the remnants of the eastbound distant signal to the diamond at Algren.  As noted by the number plates in the above photo, the signal was located at mile 17.0.  In the third photo you can see the former SAL mainline (now the CSX Portsmouth Subdivision) which ran parallel to the Virginian between Algren and Suffolk.  Many thanks to Bill Whitbeck for braving the elements to capture these images. 

Photos by Bill Whitbeck (March 2010)



Oakvale (V329.5)


Looking west at the searchlights in Oakvale, WV.  This segment of the railroad was not signaled under Virginian ownership, which means these signals were relocated here from elsewhere on the railroad after 1959.  Another telltale sign these aren't premerger signals are the number plates.  The Virginian installed vertical plates as seen on the signal at Algren.  Clearly these are horizontal and more modern in nature.  This August 2005 photo shows the new signals visible in the distance next to the electrical box.  In 2009 Norfolk Southern activated the new signals and the searchlights were removed with only the concrete bases serving as the only reminder of these  


Photo by Jeff Hawkins (August 14, 2005)



Oakvale (V329.6)


The view looking east at Oakvale.  The eastbound signal is displaying it's normal aspect, approach, which indicates a stop signal at the next interlocking, PD Junction.


Photo by Jeff Hawkins (August 14, 2005)



Weyanoke (V358.1)


Weyanoke is the east end of the double track over Clarks Gap.  The searchlight signals here were replaced on December 5, 2012. 


Photo by Samuel Phillips (September 1, 2012)




Copyright 2002- | Jeff Hawkins

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