Initially the railroad transported agricultural products when it was formed from the A,M & O in 1881. Kimball, who had a strong interest in geology, led the railroad's efforts to open the Pocahontas coalfields in western Virginia and southern West Virginia. In mid-1881, the N&W acquired the franchises to four other lines: the New River Railroad, the New River Railroad, Mining and Manufacturing Company, the Bluestone Railroad, and the East River Railroad. Consolidated into the New River Railroad Company, with Kimball as President, these lines became the basis for Norfolk and Western's New River Division, which was soon built from New Kanawha (near East Radford) up the west bank of the New River through Pulaski County and into Giles County to the mouth of the East River near Glen Lyn, VA. From there, the new line ran up the East River, criss-crossing the Virginia/West Virginia border several times to reach the coalfields to the west near the Great Flat Top Mountain.
Coal transported to Norfolk soon became the primary commodity for N&W, and led to great wealth and profitability. Kimball became president of the entire Norfolk and Western system, and oversaw continued expansion. Under his leadership, N&W continued west with its lines through the wilds of West Virginia with the Ohio Extension, eventually extending north across the Ohio River to Columbus, Ohio. Acquisition of other lines, including the Shenandoah Valley Railroad (which it had long supported and leased) extended the N&W system west along the Ohio River to Cincinnati, Ohio, south from Lynchburg to Durham, North Carolina and south from Roanoke to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. At the time of Kimball's death in 1903 the N&W railroad had the basic route structure it was to use for more than 60 years. Back
References: Most of the text for this article comes from Wikipedia
Related Links: http://www.lva.virginia.gov/exhibits/political/william_mahone.htm