CSX rolls out distributed power on unit coal trains in Appalachia

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A 220-car loaded CSX Transportation coal train with mid-train distributed power rolls into St. Albans, W.Va., on Jan. 27, 2018.
Chase Gunnoe
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Unit coal trains in Appalachia are now running with distributed power less than two weeks after CSX Transportation officials indicated the increased use of the mid-train technology.

Ed Harris, CSX’s newly appointed executive vice president of operations, told investors during the railroad’s fourth quarter earnings report that CSX was now running its coal service more effectively with the use of distributed power.

On at least three separate occasions in the past week, CSX has run 200-plus-car coal trains east on former Chesapeake & Ohio trackage through eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. The coal trains, including a mix of company-owned and leased hoppers, are running between Appalachian coalfields and export facilities near Newport News, Va.

As part of its operational pledge to run fewer trains with fewer locomotives, the use of distributed power allows the railroad to double the size of unit coal trains originating from rural terminals in south-central West Virginia. Coal trains that used to be 110-cars long are becoming 220-car trains with the use of mid-train locomotives. The longer trains, sometimes exceeding 30,000 tons, also eliminate the need for a second train crew.

While distributed power seems to align with the railroad’s operational motto of fewer trains with fewer locomotives, this isn’t the first time CSX has experimented with distributed power in the coalfields of West Virginia.

In January 2016, the railroad, along with the assistance of General Electric representatives, successfully led an experimental 220-car distributed power train across the former C&O mainline into Richmond, Va., and south into the Carolinas.

A few experimental trains would follow, but the concept did not become part of normal operations, and thus, 110-car and 150-car coal trains returned with the assistance of Ronceverte, W.Va.,-based helper locomotives on CSX’s Alleghany grade.

It’s unclear if distributed power is here to stay, but sources familiar with the matter say CSX is in the process of training area crews on the use of distributed power just a week after Trains News Wire reported that much of the railroad’s Appalachian coal network is part of the 8,000-miles currently under review for potential sale.

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