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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / NS to mothball 50 miles of coal lines in West Virginia NEWSWIRE

NS to mothball 50 miles of coal lines in West Virginia NEWSWIRE

By Chase Gunnoe | September 21, 2015

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On a dreary fall afternoon situated east of Elmore in the hamlet of Garwood, W.Va., depicts Norfolk Southern train U86 struggling to maintain 10 mph as it crawls across a trestle and into Tunnel 9, located beneath the photographer. Evidence of the Virginian electrification is still visible in this section along the old Princeton Deepwater District in October 2012. NS says it will soon mothball the line between Elmore and Princeton, W.Va.
Samuel Phillips
MULLENS, W.Va. – The days of watching loaded coal trains double over the hill to Clarks Gap are numbered, as Norfolk Southern looks to reroute trains and abolish all rail traffic on a section of its ex-Virginian Railway Princeton-Deepwater District in West Virginia.

NS spokesperson Susan Terpay tells Trains News Wire that due to the decline in coal traffic, the railroad is phasing out the use of its mainline between Elmore and Princeton and rerouting traffic so loaded and empty coal trains will move in and out of Elmore via the Guyandotte Branch. Terpay says local customers at Princeton will continue to be served via the connection at Kellysville.

The famed 50-mile route, once the center of Virginian Railway’s electrified operations, features multiple viaducts, tunnels, and a mountainous grade home to heavy tonnage railroading. The line also hosts famous photo locations, such as those seen at Garwood Trestle, Clarks Gap, Matoaka, Princeton, and Kellysville.

All trains to and from Elmore Yard will be routed via Gilbert. Loaded trains will travel west from Elmore Yard via the Guyandotte River Branch to Gilbert and from there, down the ex-Norfolk & Western Gilbert Branch to Wharncliffe, the junction to the Pocahontas District mainline.

At Wharncliffe, trains with eastern destinations, such as export or domestic utility destinations in southeastern Virginia and North Carolina will follow the mainline east to Bluefield and into Roanoke. The routing will be the same for empty trains returning west.

The new routing will add approximately 160 rail miles for trains accessing Elmore Yard. Currently, coal trains with western destinations in Ohio, Indiana, or other Midwest points use this route. Sources close to the railroad say the routing changes may take place as soon as October. 

The Princeton-Deepwater District, a distance of about 50 rail miles was the Virginian Railway’s critical link in accessing the coal operations of south central West Virginia. The picturesque line features several impressive trestles, bridges, and a near two percent grade. Most trains operate between 18,000 to 20,000 tons and feature a unique manned helper operation from Elmore to Clarks Gap. An average of two to four trains operate on the Princeton-Deepwater District in a 24-hour period, excluding light-power helper moves.

The decision to close the district comes as coal traffic on the nation’s railroads decreased from 2014, though an NS executive said earlier this month that he would be surprised if coal traffic declined further for the Norfolk, Va.,-based railroad, citing demand from electric utilities companies.

25 thoughts on “NS to mothball 50 miles of coal lines in West Virginia NEWSWIRE

  1. I suppose some will blame President Obama (and let us all please call him President out of respect) for last winter's snows, deflagate and whatever else some want to pin on him. Oppose for the sake of opposing. The President has nothing to do with commodity prices; if natural gas is cheaper than coal. who can blame customers for switching? Coal has pollution costs far greater than gas, like particulate collection and sulfur emissions, borne by us here in the east. The free market is fine for some until it's their ox being gored. Protectionism has no place in an economy, especially one espoused by those on the right. NS is following their economics, it's not a stupid company. If no money is to be made, move elsewhere.

  2. Re: the Virginian — it probably should never have been built. I love it, but have never visited. Closest I got was the "Bricks" that PC and NH got when they de-electrified. Awesome machines! Yar. Coal traffic is down, here in Montana. Could the EPA executive mandates, subsidized wind turbines, and subsidized "Black Billboards" have anything to do with that? BTW, I have a friend in Vermont, home of many trees, that now heats his home with coal, ILO wood pellets and electric back-up! Shutting down their only nuclear power plant may have contributed to his decision. Heard that they are thinking of converting the old Vermont Yankee nuke to natural gas. Fractavists will have a fit! NIMBYs, too.

  3. Maybe it could become a tourist line. And no I don't think China is going to save it, they are trying to cut their reliance on coal because the air pollution is really very bad. Plus, Beijing takes global warming seriously, melting glaciers in Tibet are effecting water levels in several major rivers. Well if worse comes to worse, perhaps it will become a bike trail.

  4. What part of the monetary advantage of cheaper natural gas than more expensive coal do various US citizens not understand? Are they just plain ignorant and prefer to buy more expensive fuel for their cars? Just to line the big companies pockets? Do they not understand what that Capitalism is? Or do they just like to blame everything on the current POTUS out of dislike for him and the welfare of other US citizens.

  5. Regardless of who blames who, it is sad to see another scenic rail line go down the drain. I grew up within 200 yards of the L&N (now csx) line and watched geeps and f7's haul coal coming out of the western Ky. mines. Fell asleep many a night listening to em struggling up grave-yard hill. Oh well, progress.

  6. Gas is cheaper but retrofitting a plant is not. We are seeing this shift because utilities are afraid of being punished for the continued use of coal by an administration that has made it clear that coal is under assault. Who knows what hoops a coal fired plant will have to jump through if the agenda of the current administration continues. Coal will return.

  7. Braden, It is a sad time,especially for those people in West Virginia (and of course rail-fans). You however have taken the time to GET THE FACTS and I applaud you for that. I believe that because the US has the largest coal reserves in the WORLD, this situation, like you state, is only temporary.

  8. @Martin, While your suggestion of a second opinion on the subject is probably worthwhile, what other institute would be better informed and qualified to address this topic, and what would be their motive to misinform the public ?. Certainly you wouldn't expect an unbiased opinion from a Fed Gov. agency or an evironmental group?
    @ Sidney, You make some very good points and I hope that NS & CSX give them serious consideration.
    Appalachian coal, as I understand it, is highest Quality for metallurgical use, however ' soft ' coal from the west has lower sulfur content and therefore burns cleaner for electric power generation.

  9. Nathan: "Protectionism has no place in an economy, especially one espoused by those on the right."

    Hypocrite? Isn't that what's happening to solar and wind? Why do they need subsidies and fixed KW prices that are above market rates if they are so efficient?

    The alternate sources of energy are being unnaturally forced on the American economy (by the left). Most of the jobs lost will not be recovered by alternate energy either.

  10. NW is looking to close 50 miles of underutilized trackage in Va. BNSF is looking to build new trackage in Montana. The east has mines, the export facilities, and the contracts. The west has none. Sound fishy to anyone?
    Secondly, we are moving (evolving?) to the age of natural gas for power production and away from coal. We didn't run out of coal, the power companies found a cheaper and much more efficient way to generate power all by themselves, not by "gummit" fiat or political regulation. It is economics, not politics. To all of you with a wild hair, would you be upset if you owned electric stock? Or would you be looking to maximize your return on investment? That's what power companies are doing.
    Third, power plants have a usable life, just like any other investment. They get replaced over time. Would you, as an investor looking for solid returns, by maximizing efficiently and long term cost stability offered by natural gas, or would you stubbornly insist on continuing using an antique fuel source and more costly transportation options , based on whimsy nostalgia or irrational animosity toward the current Administration efforts to a saner energy policy that is not fattening your particular wallet at this time?
    In closing, the power companies are doing what is best for their investors, and (hopefully) for their ratepayers. It's the economy, (fill in the blank)!

  11. The point is that this a very expensive piece of railroad to operate and especially to maintain to heavy tonnage standards for four trains a day.

  12. Braden, there are some who charge that the Institute for Energy Research, which produced that report, is funded mostly by oil and coal companies and does not produce unbiased analyses. I don't know if this is true, but it is worth digging deeper into their funding sources and searching for other studies that either corroborate or contradict their conclusions.

  13. Appalachian coal, while highest quality, has two strikes against it, maybe three. Deep mine and destructive strip mine are both expensive to operate. Additionally strip mining has a severe environmental impact or is perceived to. Coal fired plants that continue to operate in the future will have sufficient pollution control that will make lesser quality coal a better economic choice. We are going to see some huge rail realignments in the near term. I expect portions or all of the NS Clinch Valley sub and the Clinchfield to be gone within five years. If NS and CSX were wise they would build the line (surveyed many years ago apparently) between Hinton, WV & Glen Lyn, VA and run joint track. NS could downgrade its main west of Glen Lynn to single track. CSX could abandon almost everything between Hinton and Lynchburg except possibly a branch to Covington. The potential savings would be gigantic. IMHO.

  14. If you check the map the old SAL main, combined with the CN&L, the CRR and the old C&O Big Sandy sub is a straight shot from the port of Savannah to the Ohio River with connections to CSX and potentially NS. This avoids large cities also. Auto racks can already use this line so tunnels would only need to be notched or undercut a little. Downside is there a a lot of tunnels on the CRR there is no practical way to increase speed regardless. I figure just avoiding a roundabout routing would save at least a day though. I would love to see CSX spin off this entire route to an aggressive organization, grant rights to connect with NS and work a feasible per car rate. It might be profitable for everybody. Here's to waiting for the next shoe to fall.

  15. …"(and let us all please call him President out of respect)"…

    Respect is earned, not freely given… And he hasn't…

  16. The issues surrounding coal began long before 2009. The Powder River basin was the first big assault on high sulfur coal. The earlier comment about the costs of coal extraction and transport from deep eastern mines is spot on.
    And Mr. Obama has earned far more respect than his predecessor who protected the skies of danger-filled Alabama before a decade lost to cocaine and booze only to send us to find omnipresent WMDs that did not exist while killing thousands in Iraq for nothing. If respect is earned Kevin, Mr. Bush should have a special place reserved for him and Dick.

  17. Mr. McClure,

    I served on active duty under four presidents, and have some strong negative feelings about each. But I guarantee you W did far more to earn my respect than the current regime that ignores the Constitution, frees terrorists at will, gives Iraq the green light to build the bomb, kills American industry under the fallacy of "climate change", and is decimating our military under the false pretense that the world is safer than ever. A foreign policy of "You better not do that, or I'll make another speech" is not worthy of respect. Being referred to as a potential terrorist by the current administration simply because I am a veteran, along with all other veterans, is insulting at best. But if you think that is worthy of respect, well…

    And you are correct, the attack on high sulfur coal did begin long before 2009. That was started by the Nixon administration, but kicked into high gear during Carter's tenure, effectively ensuring the near total death of the Illinois coal industry.

  18. Let me jut speak my mind on this one Obama is to blame for this one more nuclear is something that is starting to replace coal fired plants and i personally don't like that what if something happens to one what would we do then? Well i don't really believe in that climate control crap we have been burning coal for years and nothing has happened. So coal is king end of story.

  19. Kevin
    In the middle of your frothy rant, did you mean to say "Iran" , instead of "Iraq", when talking about the bomb? Iraq is where all those wmds where most assured to be found. Dick ( multiple deferments) Cheaney told us so! To make such a blatant error kind of throws the rest of your argument into chance territory. I also believe when you take the oath to "preserve the Constitution of the United States", you also recognize the President as the commander in Chief.
    So, whether you like it or not, respect comes with the position.

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