Watco at one month in West Virginia

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A local freight from Nitro to Dickinson Yard arrives in Belle, W.Va., with WAMX No. 3921 leading a short freight consist. Four-axle GP39-2s will supply power to local freight moves on the new Kanawha River Railroad.
Chase Gunnoe
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It’s not very often that a railroad underestimates demand for Appalachian coal today — but that’s a problem that Watco and its new Kanawha River Railroad are grateful to be experiencing in West Virginia.

The Kanawha River Railroad will log its first month of operating Norfolk Southern’s former West Virginia Secondary and Princeton-Deepwater District on Aug. 31. In four weeks, Watco has operated trains on an almost daily basis, re-opened 100 miles of idled tracks in southeast Ohio, and moved more than a dozen coal trains across its 308-mile route.

“Coal traffic is more than we anticipated — the domestic utility coal is up right now,” Kanawha River Railroad General Manager Derrick Jackson tells Trains News Wire.

In its first month of operation, the uptick in coal traffic has prompted the railroad to expand locomotive and manpower. Twenty-three employees are currently qualified in train service and two more are in training.

“We are settling in and getting more people qualified,” says Jackson, adding that the railroad has hired more people than they originally thought were needed.

The railroad has also added more lease power to its growing fleet of locomotives. Originally, Watco leased seven Norfolk Southern EMD SD60s that NS had placed in storage, but that number has since increased to 10 SD60 locomotives. The extra NS locomotives are being used to handle the railroad’s steady coal business, while Watco’s three SD40-2s and four GP39-2s will handle freight and local traffic.

While coal business is steady, Watco is also looking at the prospects of growing local freight business.

“We are very open and optimistic and very interested in trying to help our local customers grow,” Jackson says. “We are open to any and all opportunities.”

To improve the fluidity of rail operations, Watco has worked aggressively to re-open idled tracks on the north end of the West Virginia Secondary in southeast Ohio. NS idled and cut the main line in February, which moved all rail traffic to the south.

“Opening up the north end is a huge plus,” Jackson says.

The railroad ran its first coal train north earlier this week and additional traffic is scheduled to be routed north in the upcoming weeks, including chemical traffic which will run north to NS’ Watkins Yard in Columbus, Ohio, from Dickinson Yard near Charleston.

As the railroad presses forward with building its manpower and infrastructure, Jackson says their priority will be addressing the sheer volume of rail traffic and getting more people qualified on the road.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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