by Harry J. Dolan (Retired NS Trainmaster)
The N&W used train symbols to identify its trains. Train symbols are different from train numbers. Train numbers are used to designate scheduled trains (those who’s authority to occupy the main track between stations is listed in the Division Employees Timetable). Train symbols, on the other hand carry no timetable authority and do not authorize a train or engine to occupy the main track between stations. Train symbols, at least on the N&W, pretty much reflected the initial and final terminal of the train or perhaps the primary type of traffic handled on that train. For instance, the train symbol “FF-01” stood for “Ford Motor Company Fast Freight” or “Ford Fast” that operated from the DT&I connection at Delta, OH to Kansas City, KS carrying Ford Parts for various Ford assembly Plants at St. Louis, Kansas City, and the West Coast. In the symbol “TC-4”, the “TC” stood for “Trans-Continental” and the number “4” indicated it was an eastbound “TC” train. Likewise train symbol “TC-3” was a westbound trans-continental train. The “TC” trains operated betweenBuffalo, NY and Omaha, NE via Kansas City and the UP.
Other train symbols were simply the first letter of the origin and destination station. BN-51, BN-53. BN-55, BN-57 might be used to symbol empty hopper trains operating from Bluefield, WV to Norton, VA (i.e., the “B” and the “N” stand for Bluefield and Norton), and each day the first empty hopper train was BN-51, the second BN-53, the third BN-55, etc. Loaded eastbound trains out of Norton would carry symbols NB-50, NB-52, NB-54, etc. Mine runs carried symbols based on their origin station and their division. For instance, the first mine run out of Norton might be symboled N01P, were “N” indicated Norton, “01” indicated the first Mine Run, and “P” indicated the Pocahontas Division.
With the advent of computers, system wide monitoring of trains, and the merger with the Southern, the system of symboling and numbering trains went through a number of changes. First of all, the Southern preferred numbers rather than symbols because they still had a great deal of “dark” (Timetable/Train Order) territory. Hence, over the years the first Norton Mine Run on the N&W went from N01P, to P01N, to U44. A mine run on the former Interstate Railroad went from “The Hill Job” (Interstate symbol), to P01V, to U47, etc. Like wise NB-50, first eastbound loaded train, went to P50N, then 886, etc.