The Lamberts Point Coal Terminal, the big Virginia coastal site where Norfolk Southern Railway trains deliver Appalachian coal that can be loaded onto ships for export, should have the first of its two damaged conveyor belts back in operation overnight, an NS spokesman said Dec. 30.
“There are currently 10 ships waiting to be loaded, and we expect to be able to catch up in fairly short order,” said Robin Chapman. NS expected to put the first ship-loading belt back into service about 11 p.m. on Dec. 30, and the second sometime in the evening of Jan. 1.
Chapman said Pier 6 of the railroad’s Lamberts Point terminal, on the Elizabeth River at Norfolk, Va., is the largest coal transloading facility in North America, with separate loaders to feed two ships simultaneously and a capacity to dump 8,000 tons of coal an hour into their holds.
At Lamberts, NS can blend different grades of coal to supply each ship or coastal barge with the properties their customers require.
Barges, for instance, might take steam coal for electricity production to U.S. power plants. Most of the ships loaded there take metallurgical coal to Europe and South America; also called coking coal, it is often used as a high-heat fuel for metals production.
Norfolk Southern, like other railroads and highways in the eastern U.S., was hit hard by a massive snowstorm on Dec. 19, and declared “force majeure” to lift normal service guarantees due to events outside its control.
The railroad was pretty much back to normal after digging out during the Christmas week, when on Dec. 26 at Lamberts Point a bearing overheated in the conveyor system of one of the ship loaders and caused two rollers to catch fire. That melted a hole in the conveyor belt, and shut it down.
Then “coincidentally, on Dec. 27 the conveyor belt in the other ship loader ripped apart,” Chapman said. Repairing them is no small matter, as each belt is 132 feet long.
As of Wednesday, NS officials had not decided when to lift their force majeure declaration – either once the terminal was running again or only after both conveyors were back to normal. “We’ll post a service alert on our Web site and email our service alert list when we do lift it,” the spokesman said.
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