Roanoke Area Branch

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at
Tue Dec 1 16:33:51 EST 2015


That would be the Catawba Branch, originally chartered and built by the Catawba Valley Railroad and Mining Co. It comes off the mainline about 350 feet east of the Salem passenger station. 

At one point, the branch ran all the way up the side of Catawba Mountain to a silica sand loadout, called, appropriately, Sandston. The sand was taken to a plant near the junction with the main to a glass plant. It would also serve the Catawba Sanatorium on the other side of the mountain. Passenger service was discontinued about 1935, and the line from Hanging Rock to Sandston was abandoned and removed beginning in July 1943. The line truncated at a coal trestle and tiny freight house at Hanging Rock. The coal was dumped there and trucked up the mountain to the Sanatorium. It was about 4.5 miles long at that time, from junction to Hanging Rock.

The line along Kessler's Mill Road was badly damaged during the flood of 1985, and I honestly never, ever, expected to see it put back in service. But it was, with welded rail, probably only to run the cost accounting up for maintenance to allow for easier abandonment.

Late summer of 1995, the line was removed from just past the steel plant to Hanging Rock and converted to a walking trail. Probably about a mile or so was removed. Sadly, I did not take any photos, but I remember the date because I was flying to California out of Roanoke, and could look down and see the track in stages of dismemberment.

You can still track most of the line up the side of the mountain in aerial views, even though it has been gone more than 75 years.

The branch was once a busy line, with the Salem Shifter working the branch 6 days a week as well as other industry around Salem. Today it is a mere shell of itself as far as service goes. As far as I know, only two places get cars on the branch today, the steel plant occasionally, and the Yokahoma Tire plant near the junction. The Shifter crew is usually not on the branch until late in the afternoon. In the steam and early diesel era, they were at the junction setting up their cars usually at 7 or 7:30 in the morning. 

The shifter was easily my father's favorite job on the railroad, you were home at night, some days you got home by 2 pm, and it was a switching challenge, which fit his love of puzzles. 

He loved customer service, and spotting cars for them. Even years after he was on the road mostly, he'd have folks come up to him out at the mall thanking him for helping get their cars in the right place at the right time.

It was a big enough shifter job, that it carried three brakemen for a number of years, and occasionally came out of Roanoke with as many as 35-40 cars. Today, the shifter services Yokohoma, a chemical plant on the mainline and the Koppers tie plant. The motive power was class M, then Class Z1b while Koppers was being constructed, then S1/S1a, finally GP9s and other four axle power.

At one time, they served a Kroger warehouse, Associated Grocers, several small coal yards, a meat packing plant, a freezer locker plant, lumberyards and more. The last steam on the branch was January 1959, S1a No. 230.

Way more detail than you ever could care for, I'm sure!

Ken Miller

On Dec 1, 2015, at 2:28 PM, NW Mailing List wrote:

> Just curious to know about the N&W branch line that crosses Route 460 at its intersection with Kesler Mill Rd.  Where it starts, and how far does it go.
> Jeff Morfit
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