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Coal Shipments Continue To Hit Rail Roadblocks, Lawmakers Say

Curtis Tate
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
A CSX coal train rumbles east through Charleston, West Virginia.

In the spring, coal producers told lawmakers that railroads weren’t providing adequate service. In a legislative meeting on Sunday, those complaints continued.

For months, coal has been in high demand. But the region’s coal producers have not been able to take full advantage. They say poor rail service constrains them.

That’s what state legislators told Department of Transportation officials Sunday at a meeting of a joint legislative oversight commission for the department.

Del. Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, told DOT officials that he’s at least gotten updates from CSX, which blankets about two thirds of West Virginia.

Linville said he hasn’t received any information from the state’s other major rail carrier, Norfolk Southern.

“We will be happy to use the power the legislature has, the power that we as chairs have and that we may be able to bestow to you all to hold these railroads accountable,” he said.

State governments have limited power over railroads, which are regulated at the federal level.

Railroads say they lack a sufficient number of workers. They eliminated a lot of jobs during the worst of the pandemic. They also haven’t invested in coal infrastructure in several years.

Now, they’re facing pressure on two fronts. First, electricity use increased last year, driving demand for coal.

Second, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has increased demand for U.S. coal, but the trains that connect the mines to the ports haven’t been moving fast enough to meet it.

Energy & Environment Reporter, ctate@wvpublic.org, 202-679-8470, @tatecurtis

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