The Norfolk and Southern Railroad Bridge opened in 1910, and trains traveled across it until January 1987. Known as the “longest continuous railroad bridge in the world,” it cost $1 million to build and spanned 28,000 feet across the Albemarle Sound.
During the late 1800s, the Norfolk and Southern Railroad connected market places in Norfolk with northeastern North Carolina. To cross the Albemarle Sound, however, the railroad company also used a massive railroad ferry named John W. Garrett. By the early 1900s, railroad executives realized that a bridge would increase rail car traffic and allow more passengers and goods to cross the 5-mile span of water.
The construction of the Northern and Southern Railroad Bridge lasted, with intermittent periods of work, from 1907 until 1909. Once built, the bridge required constant maintenance, and the Norfolk and Southern, according to historian Fred Harrison, “operated numerous ships, warehouse, sawmills, etc., on both sides . . . to keep both train and trestle in running order.”
During the latter half of the twentieth century, different transportation modes and a rail accident contributed significantly to a decline in the bridge’s use. In 1986, railroad executives considered any future renovation or maintenance to be entirely a liability.
The bridge closed on January 3, 1987.