Perhaps the saddest sight in town this week was the line-up of moving vans parked in front of the Southern Railway System's longtime headquarters building on 15th Street NW between I and K streets. They were loading up desks, hat racks, filing cabinets and documents. This week's move, according to a railway spokesman, includes the large number of tariff books the marketing and pricing department needed for a shift to Roanoke.

It's all part of the merger of the Southern and the Norfolk & Western Railway that created the gigantic Norfolk Southern system, an economic necessity even if it's an emotional wrench--and a very real upset for Southern's personnel who have been stationed in Washington and now must move to Roanoke, Norfolk or Atlanta.

Operationally, we're told, the Southern and N&W remain separate, but all other departments have been combined. The Southern's 15th Street headquarters will be vacated by year's end. There are no disclosed plans for its future.

One guy who came out of the merger smelling especially sweet, so to speak, is my old Mount Vernon Parkway neighbor, Jim Bistline, who has served as an aide to the Southern's chief executives. Not only a railroad payroller but also a railroad fan who has traveled the world seeking exotic trains to ride, Bistline promoted and sustained the Southern's near-legendary steam-locomotive excursions (I've ridden and written about several).

Now Bistline has the title, probably unique in the almost totally dieselized world of American railroading, of "general manager--steam" for the Norfolk Southern.