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New steam locomotives were built there until 1953, long after diesel-electric had emerged as the motive power of choice for most North American railroads.
About 1960, N&W was the last major railroad in the United States to convert from steam to diesel power.
Roanoke is the largest municipality in Southwest Virginia, and is the principal municipality of the Roanoke Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which had a 2010 population of 308,707.
It is composed of the independent cities of Roanoke and Salem, and Botetourt, Craig, Franklin, and Roanoke counties.
Roanoke's location in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in the middle of the Roanoke Valley between Maryland and Tennessee, made it the transportation hub of western Virginia and contributed to its rapid growth.
The Roanoke Shops, with its workforce of thousands, is where the famed classes A, J, and Y6 locomotives were designed, built, and maintained.At the foreclosure auction, the AM&O was purchased by E. Clark & Co., a private banking firm in Philadelphia which controlled the Shenandoah Valley Railroad then under construction up the valley from Hagerstown, Maryland.The AM&O was renamed Norfolk and Western Railway (N&W). Kimball, a civil engineer and partner in the Clark firm, headed the new line and the new Shenandoah Valley Railroad.The Great Indian Warpath which later merged into the colonial Great Wagon Road, one of the most heavily traveled roads of eighteenth century America, ran from Philadelphia through the Shenandoah Valley to the future site of the City of Roanoke, where the Roanoke River passed through the Blue Ridge.The Carolina Road branched off in Cloverdale, Virginia to Boones Mill, Virginia, and on to the Yadkin River Valley.
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Following the Roanoke River, the VGN was built through the City of Roanoke early in the twentieth century. The opening of the coalfields made N&W prosperous and Pocahontas bituminous coal world-famous.