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Norfolk & Whey Corporate History

The Norfolk & Whey Railroad traces its history back to just before the United States’ involvement in World War II.  In 1940, an Ohio businessman named Noah Fitzgerald Newton Whey operated an automobile frame-making business that was plagued by untimely shipments of steel.  So in an effort to improve the supply of raw steel for his manufacturing plant, he purchased a struggling steel mill in the Cleveland area.  Initially the investment almost led him to bankruptcy, but by late 1942 he was producing vast quantities of steel at the mill and manufacturing military equipment parts at the auto frame plant for the war effort.  Both plants were operating at capacity by early 1943.  Following the war, Noah F.N. Whey strived to keep both businesses producing at capacity and eyed more expansion.  By 1950, he had purchased a second steel mill in Pittsburgh and incorporated his businesses into the Whey Corporation (Whey).  In the 1960s, Whey purchased two coal mines and a coke processing facility in West Virginia to provide fuel for his steel mills.  Noah F. N. Whey continued to serve as president and chairman until his death in 1972.  From the 1970s through the early part of the new millennium, Whey continued to focus on steel making and natural resources.  While the auto frame plant was sold in 1975, Whey continued to purchase coal mines, aggregate mines, iron ore reserves and coke processing facilities.  In 1998, Whey Corporation rebranded the iron ore, coal, and aggregate mines as a subsidiary, Whey Natural Resources Group (WNRG), and all other Whey-owned companies under the umbrella subsidiary Whey Industries.  Whey Corporation is a Fortune 500 company headquartered in Cleveland, OH and traded on the New York Stock Exchange under stock symbol WHEY.

The economic conditions that dictated the creation of the Norfolk & Whey Railroad (NFW) began in 1999.  As Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation were splitting Conrail, Whey Natural Resources Group was purchasing the last of six coal mines located on five separate NS branch lines that feed into the Pocahontas mainline.  While NS’s absorption of their portion of Conrail is widely viewed as a success, there were some blatant cutbacks to maintenance along many of NS’s branches, including those serving the six mines owned by WNRG.  By 2001, track conditions along portions of the branches had deteriorated to the point that trains were restricted to 10 mph or less.  Whey could no longer tolerate the level of service offered by the NS on these branches. 

Whey Corporation decided the only way to improve service was to own the railroad outright and search for a means of funding the necessary upgrades to improve the branch lines serving the coal mines.  After hiring a team of experienced railroad industry people, a former lobbyist, and an ex-U.S. Congressman, Whey Corporation formed the Norfolk & Whey Railroad in 2003 and negotiated a deal with NS to purchase the five branch lines, serve as operator of Iaeger Yard, and dispatch the NS main between Bluefield and Williamson.  Whey Corporation felt it was key to serve as the yard operator of Iaeger in order to create the desired level of service for its needs as well as other industries located on the branch lines.  The railroad also requested and received trackage rights over the NS not only from Williamson to Bluefield, but Bluefield east to Norfolk, Virginia.  The latter segment was requested to gain access to the Port of Norfolk, although those rights have never been utilized.  The NFW began operating on November 11, 2005 over a system of 170 miles of track.  The system consists of the six branch lines (55 miles), Iaeger Yard (8 miles), and the NS mainline from Bluefield to Williamson (107 miles).  The NFW also took control of dispatching duties over all of this trackage.

Once the NFW management team was in place, the group moved quickly to secure a $75 million loan through the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program for track improvements.  The loan was granted to the railroad in 2004 and soon thereafter miles of welded rail from Whey’s Cleveland steel mill began to be installed along its branches.  The following year, the NFW received further assistance thanks to Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) through a $34.5 million earmark added to the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) legislation of 2005, which provides federal funding for surface transportation.  The additional funding assured that all six branch lines received welded rail in their entirety and necessary improvements to bridges completed.  All work was finished by early 2007.  The result is that the six branches now host trains traveling at up to 30 mph. 

The Norfolk & Whey Railroad has been a success for the Whey Corporation, online shippers, and the state of West Virginia.  For Whey Corporation, ownership of the branch lines has resulted in 99% on-time delivery of coal to its coke processing facility and other coal-consuming customers.  Because of this performance, the NFW was able to secure long-term contracts with two power plants in the state of West Virginia.  One of the plants formerly received coal from a mine not owned by WNRG.  The other existing power customer extended its contract with WNRG.  Other industries along the branches have seen increased service performance.  Of any of the towns served by the NFW, no other has benefitted more than Lomax, WV.  As part of the funding received through the assistance of Senator Byrd, the NFW agreed to locate its headquarters in a West Virginia town served by the railroad.  The town of Lomax was selected due to its ample space for building a locomotive servicing facility and the fact that one of the railroad’s largest non-coal customers is located there, a shingle factory.

The future looks bright for the NFW largely due to a great physical plant.  The NFW refers to this railroad as its “Pokey Division” instilling speculation that given the history of its parent company, the Whey Corporation is not yet done expanding its railroad empire.

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