Norfolk & Western Railroad Twelvepole Line

Dingess Tunnel

The Norfolk & Western Railroad (N&W) Twelvepole Line was part of the original alignment of the N&W between Lenore, West Virginia and Ohio. It was replaced by the 59-mile Big Sandy Low-Grade Line through Mingo and Wayne counties.


The Norfolk & Western Railroad (N&W) was formed in 1881 as the result of the bankruptcy of its predecessor, the Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio Railroad, which had been formed to connect Norfolk to Bristol, Virginia. 1 5 10 The N&W, interested in accessing vast underground coal deposits in the Flat Top Mountain region along the Virginia and West Virginia border, constructed the 75-mile New River Extension between Radford and Pocahontas, Virginia in the 1880s. The first carload of coal along the New River Extension carried coal from the Pocahontas Coalfield and arrived at Atlantic Ocean ports in Norfolk on March 17, 1883.

Although West Virginia passed a law in 1895 preventing railroads from engaging in the business of buying and selling coal, efforts to break the linkage between railroads and mine owners proved to be fruitless endeavors. 1 In order to develop the coalfields, Philadelphia bankers that had backed the N&W’s extension into West Virginia formed the Flat Top Coal Land Association which acquired and developed many coal mines in the area. The association eventually became the Pocahontas Coal & Coke Company, a subsidiary of the N&W.

Coal mines were readied in anticipation of the extension of the N&W towards Bramwell and Welch, and between 1884 and 1887, the railroad was extended via the Bluestone Extension to Elkhorn which required the blasting of a tunnel through Flat Top Mountain. 1 5 North of the tunnel, the N&W was proposed to follow the Elkhorn Creek, Pinnacle Creek, Clear Fork, Coal Creek, and Mud River valleys to the Ohio River via the Ohio Extension, but surveys declared the route unfit in 1888. A new route via the Elkhorn Creek and Tug River, passing by Keystone and Welch, to Twelvepole Creek, was soon adopted. The N&W would follow Twelvepole Creek to the Ohio River at Ceredo, where a bridge would eventually be built across the river to connect to Coal Grove, Ohio. 4 5

Construction of the Ohio Extension began in December 1890, with trains operating regularly between Kenova and Dunlow by mid-December 1891. 10 The first train operated through the 3,327-foot Dingess Tunnel north of Lenore on September 25, 3 with the remainder of the line opening on November 12 after the Hatfield Tunnel near Williamson was completed. 1 4 The northern expansion proved to be far more useful than the N&W had expected it to be as it opened up undeveloped coal fields in southern Wayne County. Although not as massive in output as its more southern counterparts, it provided a sizeable amount of traffic for the railroad.

Confronted with the need for double-tracking along the increasingly busy Ohio Extension, the Big Sandy Low-Grade Line, a new 59-mile single-track alignment along the Big Sandy River between Naugatuck and the Ohio River at Ceredo, was built 5 and opened on December 15, 1904. 4 The original Twelvepole alignment (now Twelvepole Division) was used as an eastbound track for empty coal cars and local freight and passenger traffic while the new Big Sandy Extension was used for loaded cars heading westbound and through freight and passenger traffic. 4 10 11

In the 1910s, the N&W rebuilt many of the bridges, manufactured either by the Virginia Bridge & Iron Company of Roanoke, Virginia or the American Bridge Company of New York, to accommodate heavier trains and added additional passing sidings along the Twelvepole alignment to keep pace with traffic demands, 1 10 11 but it ultimately did not resolve the biggest obstacle on the route: the long, steep grades approaching Dingess Tunnel and the tunnel itself, 4 5 along with 34 bridges over Twelvepole Creek. 10 11 It made the Twelvepole alignment unfavorable for long-haul coal trains. Its utility diminished further when a second track was added along the Big Sandy Low-Grade Line in 1925. 10 11

In 1933, the N&W petitioned to the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to abandon the Twelvepole Division between Lenore and Wayne, keeping intact the remainder north of Ceredo to serve coal mines primarily at East Lynn. 2 10 The ICC granted the request, and the final day of operations on the Twelvepole Division was September 1, 1933, with tracks removed between October and November. 10 The remainder of the track from Kenova to Wayne and from Wayne to the mines at East Lynn became the Wayne Branch of the N&W.

The East Lynn coalfield was developed in 1891 by the East Lynn Mining & Manufacturing Company and in 1902, the East Lynn Coal Company was developed in conjunction with the Big Sandy, East Lynn & Guyan Railroad which connected the mines to the Twelvepole Division at Wayne. The mines remained operational until the 1960s which greatly diminished traffic on the Wayne Branch.

In the late 1970s, the Monterey Coal Company, a division of Exxon Coal USA, developed a large coal mine along Camp Creek near East Lynn that commenced production in 1981. 6 The mine was mothballed in 1983, reopened in 1995, 7 and closed in 2015, 8 ending all traffic along the Wayne Branch.

Reuse as a Highway

Much of the Twelvepole Division between Lenore and Wayne was reused as a roadway by the West Virginia Department of Transportation, eventually becoming a part of US Route 52 (today’s WV Route 152) and county routes 52/55, 52/16, and 52/56 in Wayne County and county route 3/5 in Mingo County. 3 10

In 2019, the Dingess Tunnel underwent a $5.5 million rehabilitation that required the replacement of the steel liner, adding new drains, repaving the roadway, and installing LED lighting. 9


The bridge and tunnel galleries are shown south to north along the Twelvepole Division.

Canterbury Bridge

The Canterbury Bridge at 37.82172, -82.25662 over Laurel Fork was replaced in 2009-10.

Dingess Tunnel

The Dingess Tunnel at 37.86435, -82.18038 is a 3,327-foot one-lane tunnel at Dingess that opened on September 25, 1892. 3 In 2019, the Dingess Tunnel underwent a $5.5 million rehabilitation that required the replacement of the steel liner, adding new drains, repaving the roadway, and installing LED lighting. 9

Baisden Family Memorial Bridge

The Baisden Family Memorial Bridge at 37.89422, -82.22240 is a 96-foot Warren pony truss built in 1911.

Big Sang Kill Bridge

The Big Sang Kill Bridge at 37.89353, -82.23984 was a 105-foot Warren through truss built in 1911. It was later replaced.

Breeden Tunnel

The Breeden Tunnel at 37.91247, -82.25332 is a 347-foot tunnel built in 1890.

Breeden Bridge

The Breeden Bridge (30-003/05-016.65) at 37.91247, -82.25332 is a 75-foot plate girder structure over West Fork Twelvepole Creek that was built in 1890. It is being replaced in 2021.

Marcum Bridge

The Marcum Bridge at 37.92182, -82.25483 was a plate girder structure over Twelvepole Creek near Breeden that was replaced in 2009.

Mill Branch Bridge

The Mill Branch Bridge at 37.92381, -82.26412 was a plate girder structure over Twelvepole Creek near Breeden that was built c. 1890. It was replaced in 1991. An Warren deck truss is still extant on the south side; it is unknown if this was a crossing used by the railroad.

South Bull Branch Bridge

The South Bull Branch Bridge at 37.93916, -82.28709 was a 130-foot plate girder structure over Twelvepole Creek near Breeden that was built in 1890.

Boardcamp Branch Bridge

The Boardcamp Branch Bridge at 37.94268, -82.30433 was a 123-foot plate girder structure over Twelvepole Creek near Breeden that was built in 1890. It was replaced in 2011.

Dunlow Bridge

The Dunlow Bridge at 38.02396, -82.43155 was a plate girder structure over Twelvepole Creek in Dunlow that was built in 1911. It was replaced in 2006.

Genoa Bridge

The Genoa Bridge at 38.11405, -82.46051 is a 142-foot plate girder structure with twin 70-foot spans, over Twelvepole Creek in Genoa that was built in 1911.

Fleming Bridges

The Fleming Bridges at 38.08831, -82.47072 feature two plate girder structures over Twelvepole Creek in Fleming that were built by the Virginia Bridge & Iron Company in 1911. 10 11 They measure 103 feet and 146 feet in length.

The northernmost plate girder bridge was rehabilitated in 2014 to meet current design standards and better protect the superstructure from corrosion. 11 From the West Virginia Department of Transportation: “The wood decking was removed and replaced with an asphalt deck. Top lateral bracing and some diaphragm components were removed and replaced with a continuous central steel stringer and steel floor beams that were bolted to the existing girders. Guardrails were affixed to the bridge via steel extenders (posts) bolted to the outer sides of the existing girder.”

The town was named for Robert Fleming (1845-1933), a Scottish financier and one of the major stockholders of the N&W. 11 The village had its own station in 1891 that closed by 1903, and its own post office between 1892 and 1901. A small coal mining operation, operated by Henry J. Toudy, was located along the line.

Further Reading


[su_spoiler title=”Sources” icon=”caret”]

  1. “Norfolk & Western Railway.” West Virginia Railroads. N.p., 31 Jan. 2008. Web. 6 Jan. 2010. Article.
  2. “Abandoning the twelve pole line from Wayne to Lenore.” ImageBase. Virginia Tech, n.d. Web. 6 Jan. 2010. Entry.
  3. “History of Mingo County.” Mingo County Redevelopment Authority. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Jan. 2010. Article.
  4. Krebs, C. E., D. D. Teets, Jr., and I. C. White. “Historical and Industrial Development.” West Virginia Geological Survey: Cabell, Wayne and Lincoln Counties. Wheeling: Wheeling News Litho, 1913. 4-5. Print.
  5. Frey, Robert L. “Norfolk & Western Railway.” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 01 Aug. 2016.
  6. Caudill, Donna. “Foundation’s Rockspring Camp Creek: full speed ahead.” Mining Monthly, Jun. 2009.
  7. “Fatal Roof Fall Investigation Report.” West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training, 10 Apr. 2002.
  8. Pasley Testimony, United States Senate, 2016.
  9. Spence, Robert Y. “Dingess Tunnel.” West Virginia Encyclopedia, 20 Nov. 2019.
  10. Bakic, Tracy D. “Fleming Thru Girder.” West Virginia Historic Bridge Inventory, 4 Apr. 2013.
  11. Bakic, Tracy D. “Fleming Deck Girder Bridge.” West Virginia Department of Transportation, 3 Apr. 2015.



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