Chesapeake and Ohio Railway

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The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (CO, C&O) is a former Class I railroad company in the United States . It goes back to the Louisa Railroad founded in Virginia in 1836 , which was called Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad from 1868 and finally Chesapeake and Ohio Railway from 1878 . The railway company existed until April 30, 1987 and was part of CSX Transportation .


Start time

The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway was founded on February 18, 1836 as the Louisa Railroad . They built a 36 mile (58 km) long branch line, which branched off in Taylorsville from the main line Richmond - Washington of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad (RF&P) and led to Louisa . The company was run by RF&P until 1847, after which the railway company acquired its own vehicles and took over management of the route. Three years later, the name was changed to Virginia Central Railroad .

The railway line was extended in 1851 to the east parallel to the RF&P to Richmond and to the west over the Blue Ridge Mountains . The Blue Ridge Tunnel (see picture on the right) was at that time one of the longest tunnels in North America with a length of 1299 meters. The 27-kilometer section over the Blue Ridge Mountains from Mechums River to Waynesboro was built by the state Blue Ridge Railroad , which went to Virginia Central when the line opened in 1858.

The railway was badly affected by the Civil War in the early 1860s. Some sections have been dismantled to keep the rest operational. In 1865, however, the line was fully operational again. In 1867 the railway reached Covington, Virginia in the Alleghany Mountains . The state of Virginia wanted to build the western extension of the railway to the Ohio River under the name Covington and Ohio Railroad , but this was not carried out by the war. Virginia Central merged with this company on August 31, 1868 to form the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad .

Expansion of the network

The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway network in 1873

In 1869, Collis P. Huntington took over the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. He planned a transcontinental railroad and drove the western extension of the C&O line. On January 29, 1873, the railway line reached the newly founded city of Huntington on the Ohio River. In 1875, however, the railway company went bankrupt and further construction initially stalled. The company was reorganized on July 1, 1878 as the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway . In 1882 the main line was extended beyond Richmond to Newport News , an up-and-coming seaport, where coal is the main destination.

On October 1, 1888, Huntington sold the train to the Vanderbilt Empire. In the same year the main line along the Ohio River had reached Covington, Kentucky , and the railroad company leased the Richmond and Allegheny Railroad , which it bought on January 20, 1890. This line had opened in 1881 and led from Richmond westward over relatively flat terrain via Lynchburg . At Clifton Forge , she met the C&O mainline again. This enabled the trains to bypass the mountainous route through the Blue Ridge Mountains. In 1890 a connection line from Gordonsville (Virginia) to the Virginia Midland Railway was opened, over which the C&O trains went to Washington, DC. The Elizabethtown, Lexington and Big Sandy Railroad was also bought. It had built a line from Huntington to Lexington (Kentucky) from 1872 and had joint use rights for the Louisville and Nashville Railroad to Louisville (Kentucky) .

In 1909 and 1910, the C&O acquired several smaller railroad companies in West Virginia and Virginia as well as the Chicago, Cincinnati and Louisville Railroad , thereby expanding their network to Chicago. In 1911, the C&O acquired the majority of the Hocking Valley Railway , whose main route in Ohio ran from Toledo via Columbus to Athens . To connect this railway with the C&O main line, the Chesapeake and Ohio Northern Railway was founded . The link from Limeville (Kentucky) over the Ohio River to Waverly (Ohio) went into operation in 1917. From there to the Hocking Valley Railway, the C&O received joint use rights over a stretch of the Norfolk and Western Railway . Since the capacities of the Norfolk & Western route were insufficient, the C&O built the Chesapeake and Hocking Valley Railway from Greggs to Valley Crossing parallel to this line , which was incorporated into the C&O in 1926, as was the Hocking Valley Railway itself in 1930.

"Big Mike" No. 2705, built 1943, in the Baltimore & Ohio Museum in Baltimore (Maryland)
Class L streamlined locomotive of the C&O

In 1923 the brothers Orris Paxton and Mantis James Van Sweringen had acquired 30% of Chesapeake & Ohio. They planned to merge them with the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad , the Erie Railroad and the Pere Marquette Railway , creating another major rail company in the eastern half of the United States to compete with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and New York Central Railroad to justify. In 1928, however, the plans were finally rejected by the Interstate Commerce Commission . Due to the onset of the global economic crisis , however, the Van Sweringen empire collapsed and the far-reaching plans could not be realized. The Van Sweringen brothers' interlude had an important consequence for C&O. In 1928 the company acquired the majority of the Pere Marquette Railway, with which it finally merged on June 6, 1947. As a result, the C&O network expanded over the entire lower part of Michigan and as far as Saint Thomas (Ontario) .

The George Washington operated for the first time in 1933 . The fully air-conditioned express train from New York via the C&O to St. Louis was advertised with a sleeping kitten, which was popularly called Chessie , derived from the name of the railway company, a name that would later become the official name of the railway company.

From the Chesapeake and Ohio to the Chessie System

The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad survived all economic crises and world wars without major economic problems. It therefore sought in the 1960s to merge with other companies in order to expand its route network. As early as 1960, C&O offered the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad a takeover. The Interstate Commerce Commission approved this in late 1962, and in February of the following year, C&O bought the majority in Baltimore & Ohio. By 1973 it had acquired over 90% of the shares.

A planned merger in 1965 with the Norfolk and Western Railway and numerous railway companies in the northeastern United States failed due to the economic situation of some of the companies. On February 26, 1973, Chessie System Inc. was founded in Virginia , which on June 15 of that year acquired the C&O as well as the Baltimore & Ohio and the Western Maryland Railway . C&O continued to exist as a subsidiary. It was not until the formal merger of the subsidiaries with the Chessie System on April 30, 1987 and the merger of these with CSX Transportation on August 31, 1987, that the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company ceased to exist. The name Chessie lives on to this day with the C in the name "CSX Transportation".


  • George H. Drury: The Historical Guide to North American Railroads. 2nd edition. Kalmbach Publishing Co., Waukesha, WI 2000, ISBN 0-89024-356-5
  • Thomas W. Dixon Jr. (Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Society (Eds.)): The Chesapeake & Ohio railway: a concise history and fact book. Clifton Forge, VA 2012, ISBN 978-0-939487-94-3

Web links

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