Trains Top 10 stories: No. 1, COAL

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CSX Transportation coal loads roll down the Big Coal Subdivision near Whitesville, W.Va., enroute to the junction to the CSX mainline in St. Albans, W.Va., in August 2014.
Chase Gunnoe
Hauling coal fueled railroads' profits for decades. Now just like the drop doors on the bottom of a hopper, it is giving way.

According to the Association of American Railroads, the carloads for coal numbered around 125,000 a month in January 2012, but has fallen down to less than 95,000 monthly carloads for November of this year.

“This is the fastest changing story in railroading, thanks to cheap natural gas and EPA regulations,” says BNSF Executive Chairman Matt Rose. Rose says that in 2006, BNSF moved 287 million tons of coal from the Powder River Basin in the Western U.S. 

“Less than 10 years later, I don’t anticipate that we’ll see that level of coal volume again. That leaves us with millions of dollars in investment in what will eventually be stranded assets,” he says.

In the east, major arteries for hauling coal have been moth balled. CSX Transportation closed down the former Clinchfield Railroad, and Norfolk Southern has done the same with the former Virginian Railway in West Virginia along with laying off workers at its Lamberts Point coal terminal. Among the railroads, divisions still tied to coal are on shaky ground.

Even worse, the way of life for hundreds of thousands of Appalachian railroaders, truckers, coal miners, and their families dependent on the black rocks has irreversibly changed.

For the long-term negative effects on railroading and railroaders, the erosion of a way of life, and speed of the decline, Trains editors name the decline of coal as the No. 1 story for 2015.

Read all our other Top 10 stories here:

Trains Top 10 stories: No. 2, CP's bid for NS

Trains Top 10 stories; No. 3, The Return of 611

Trains Top 10 stories: No. 4, Amtrak 188

Trains Top 10 stories: No. 5, Tier 4 locomotives
Trains Top 10 stories: No. 6, PTC extension
Trains Top 10 stories: No. 7, Crude oil
Trains Top 10 stories: No. 8, 'Hoosier State'
Trains Top 10 stories: No. 9, Trains and Drones
Trains Top 10 stories: No. 10, Joe Boardman

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