Trains Vlog: Who says rail traffic is dead in coal country?

Posted by Chase Gunnoe
on Thursday, February 16, 2017

Who says rail traffic is dead in coal country? A downturn in freight business plagued the rail industry for much of 2016. Coal declines impacted Class I railroads from the deepest roots of Appalachia to as far west as the Powder River Basin. Coal, coupled with a slump in energy products, such as crude oil, left a lot of workers on furlough and even more railcars parked.

If you look at the data, U.S. railroads are making a return. A railcar data report published by the Association of American Railroads notes that freight and intermodal traffic is up about 2 percent when compared to the first six weeks of 2016. Coal, interestingly, has been leading other commodity groups in carload numbers for much of this year. Is it long-term? No, I don’t believe so – but it is nice to see an occasional rebound in traffic for my friends here in West Virginia and Appalachia.

Grain has been a solid commodity as well. The AAR reported a slight decline in grain shipments for the week of Feb. 11, but overall, railroads are benefiting from a strong 2016-2017 harvest season.

In this first Trains Magazine video blog series, we find ourselves in Kenova, W.Va., at the crossroads of West Virginia. CSX Transportation’s Kanawha Subdivision, a former Chesapeake & Ohio line between Russell, Ky., and Richmond, Va., meets Norfolk Southern’s ex-Norfolk & Western route between Portsmouth, Ohio, and Williamson, W.Va.

Both lines handle similar traffic. CSX moves export and domestic coal trains as well as unit grain trains for the Carolinas. An average of four daily freight trains handle freight traffic for customers throughout West Virginia, while the occasional ammonia or phosphate train adds a splash of variety. On Norfolk Southern, you see a little more diversity. In addition to all of the other commodities mentioned, NS’ line through Kenova is part of its Heartland Corridor. As a result, double stack container trains, trailer trains and autoracks can be seen on this line each day.

The video accompanying this blog represents the rail scene in Kenova during the evening of Feb. 15. Yes, all of these trains were filmed in a single day – in a span of about two hours, actually. Which brings me back to my original question.

Who says rail traffic is dead in coal country?


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