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The Appalachian & Ohio (A&O) is a newcomer in the coalfields. When coal traffic on the CSX’s 120-mile long Cowen Sub declined, the CSX decided to sell the line. Watco Companies bought the line and began operating it as the Appalachian & Ohio on March 25th, 2005. A little more than a year later, the line was sold to Four Rivers Transportation who also operates the shortlines Paducah & Louisville and Evansville Western.
Coal Lines and Operations
The A&O essentially acts as a branch line of the CSX from Grafton, WV to Cowen, WV. The A&O’s 153 miles of track was originally part of the Baltimore & Ohio’s Cowen and Pickens Subdivisions. The B&O lines extended beyond Cowen and also had a major branch from Tygart Jct. to Elkins, WV and from Gilmer to Clay, WV. The line from Tygart Jct. now belongs to the West Virginia Central (WVC), and the line from Gilmer was bought by the Elk River Railroad (ELKR). A third short line, the Beech Mountain Railroad, shuttles cars several miles from the Star Bridge loader to a connection with the A&O at Alexander, WV. The A&O is currently the only outlet for all three shortlines.
Coal Loaders. In the steam era and then again during the coal boom, the Cowens Sub was home to dozens of loaders of all sizes. These decreased to only a handful in the last days of CSX but have rebounded slightly under the A&O. As of December 2010, there were 7 loaders on the A&O, plus the loader at Star Bridge (known as “Carter Roag” in the CSX coal directory) served by the Beech Mountain RR. The WVC and ELKR do not currently have any active coal loaders. The loaders are all considered unit train loaders, though they are a mixture of capacities and loading times as shown in the following table.
A&O Loaders – Dec 2010
|Loader Name||Near Map Location||Capacity (cars)||Loading Time|
|Cowen||Cowen, WV||80||4 hr|
|Evergreen||Cowen, WV||80||4 hr|
|Brooks Run No. 1||Erbacon, WV||80||4 hr|
|Carter Roag (BEEM)||Star Bridge, WV||80||24 hr|
|Sawmill Run||Hampton Jct., WV||110||4 hr|
|Rawhide||Buckhannon, WV||80||24 hr|
|Century 102||Tygart Jct. WV||80||24 hr|
|Sentinel||Philippi, WV||130||4 hr|
Operations. The A&O exists to move coal to its connection with the CSX at Grafton. Multiple unit trains per day load on the branch and are served by turns out of Grafton. The 4-hour loaders are out-and-back affairs which keep their cars. The 24-hour loaders and the Beech Mountain interchange are served by more traditional mine runs which drop empties and pick up loads. The A&O has a zig-zag profile. Rails from Cowen run downgrade to Burnsville. From Burnsville to Frenchton, the A&O climbs for 17 miles on a 1.8% runing grade. Until the sale of the Cowen Sub to the A&O, this grade was the steepest faced by coal loads on any CSX branch. Of course, it means helpers are required for unit trains loading south of Burnsville. The most common helper set in recent years has been a pair of leased SD90s based out of Burnsville. If operations follow those of the CSX, these helpers are also used to serve the large Weyerhauser plant at Heaters, WV. From Frenchtown to Buckhannon, the line runs mostly downgrade to Grafton making it much easer on unit trains loading on the north end of the line.
There is a trickle of non-coal traffic on the A&O as well. In addition to the Weyerhauser plant, there are several industries served by a team track at Buckhannon and a pair of plastics manufacturers in Philippi. The WVC, primarily a tourist line, interchanges a few revenue cars a week at Tygart Jct., but the Elk River RR is currently inactive. The most recent movements to the ELKR were primarily cars for storage on the line.
Motive Power. The A&O’s motive power has been a little bizarre in its short history. The line was initally powered by several WAMX ex-Union Pacific SD50s still in armour yellow. Since the Four Rivers Transportation takeover, units have included mostly borrowed or leased 4-axle power. The most colorful were the borrowed Paducah & Louisville GP40/slug sets, and the most common from 2006-2010 appear to be the GATX/GMTX leased GP38-2/3s. The most powerful leased units are the pair of CEFX SD90s in helper service out of Burnsville. As of 2010, most trains on the A&O simply keep their CSX power out of Grafton with A&O crews.
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- A&O Railroad home page http://www.a-orailroad.com/
- CSX Corporation “Coal Loading Facilities by Origin” 4th Qtr 2010 http://csx.com/index.cfm/customers/commodities/coal/origins/
- “CSX Cowen Sub” on Northern WV Railroads website http://www.wvrail.railfan.net/cowensub.html