by 1913, the Southern Railroad used the old routes of the Orange and Alexandria railroad and the Richmond and Danville railroad to link Washington, DC/Richmond to Atlanta
Source: Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, Southern Railroad, 1913 (Plate 141f, digitized by University of Richmond)
Norfolk Southern is the corporate descendant of the Norfolk and Western Railway and the Southern Railway, which merged in 1982. There was an earlier railroad called the Norfolk Southern, which in 1883 linked Norfolk to Edenton, North Carolina. A portion of that original Norfolk Southern survives today as the modern Chesapeake and Albemarle Railroad.
Before their merger, the Norfolk and Western Railway and the Southern Railway had connections at six Virginia locations (Bristol, Altavista, Danville, Lynchburg, Norfolk and Norton). They were united in 1982, after the Staggers Act of 1980 deregulated much of the transportation sector. The Chessie System and Seaboard Coast Line Industries had merged two years earlier to create CSX, which is the major railroad competitor for Norfolk Southern east of the Mississippi River.
Corporate officials chose Norfolk as a neutral site for their new headquarters. Top executives of the Norfolk and Western moved from Roanoke, while Southern executives moved from Washington, DC.1
in 1882, the Norfolk and Western (N&W) railroad crossed Virginia east-west and north-south
Source: Library of Congress, Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia Air Line Railroad (1882)
The State of Virginia has funded expansion of the Norfolk Southern railroad through the Crescent Corridor. The public subsidy to a privately-owned corporation is justified in part by the effects of shifting containers off long-distance trucks on I-81 to transport via trains.
Reducing the number of trucks offers public benefits by reducing traffic congestion. In addition, rail infrastructure upgrades has facilitated expansion of passenger rail to Roanoke and potentially to Bristol.
the Crescent Corridor, in green
Source: Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, DRAFT 2013 Virginia Statewide Rail Plan Overview (p.32)
the junction of the Manassas Gap Railroad and the Orange and Alexandria Railroad was built near the Weir plantation home (Liberia) before the Civil War, with no awareness of how that might shape military strategy in a civil war
Source: Library of Congress, Map and profile of the Orange and Alexandria Rail Road with its Warrenton Branch and a portion of the Manasses [sic] Gap Rail Road, to show its point of connection
in contrast to CSX, Richmond is almost a dead end for Norfolk Southern
Source: Norfolk Southern, System Overview
Norfolk Southern's trains loaded with containers go through Crewe on their way west to the Heartland Corridor or Crescent Corridor
Source: Norfolk Southern, System Map