THE COAL AND RAILROAD INDUSTRIES have been at loggerheads for years.

Coal men complain the rails have a monopoly service and can set rates without regard to competition. The rails say their services are priced fairly.Even foreign coal buyers have gotten into the act over the years, telling coal industry meetings that they'd love to buy U.S. coal if the railroads didn't charge so much to get the stuff to dockside.

One suspects, though, that with the railroads' ability to write contracts, the situation isn't all that bleak for coal shippers.

Burlington Northern Railroad, a major hauler of Western coal, has been spending considerable time courting coal buyers in the Far East, and recently convinced Taiwanese utility officials to take a test cargo of Powder River Basin coal, the first export ever from the massive sub-bituminous deposit in Wyoming and Montana. BN did the 1,500 mile haul to tidewater.

A source involved in the marketing effort said that BN had some missionary work to do toget the perception out of the heads of these people that overland transport costs are too high in United States.

Well, he was asked, does he think the coal industry shot itself in the foot by constantly carping about rail rates?

I think they blew the foot off, he replied.

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THE DAYS ARE NUMBERED for a venerable gasoline brand.

The striking orange disc of Gulf Oil has been a roadside fixture throughout the United States and Canada for more than 50 years.

Chevron Corp. acquired Gulf Corp. in 1984 and began divesting assets. Gulf-brand gasoline and other products are sold by at least five companies in the United States and Canada. The authority of a sixth company to use the name expired in January, and a seventh company uses the trademark, but doesn't sell branded products.

Sohio Oil Co., now a unit of BP America Inc., bought Gulf's southeastern retail marketing network from Chevron in 1985. At the time, industry wisdom held that Gulf had such entrenched brand recognition in the region Sohio would be wise to keep it, which they did.

But now Sohio is looking at unifying its four brands - BP, Sohio, Boron, Gulf - under a single BP label. The change is expected by the middle of next year; the Gulf name will be retired, even though Sohio has rights to use it through 1993.

Chevron, which sells under the Gulf sign in the Southwest and West Coast,

plans to phase it out, as it has done on the East Coast.

As for the other companies, Cumberland Farms, Canton, Mass., sells Gulf- branded gasoline in the Northeast. American Home Products Co., New York, sells Gulf-branded charcoal and fireplace starters.

Petro-Canada, the Canadian national oil company, has rights to the name in western Canada that expire in September, and Ultramar Ltd.'s authority to the Gulf name in eastern Canada expired in January.

And, Gulf's old Canadian affiliate, Gulf Canada Resources Ltd., is now strictly a producer of crude oil and natural gas. Its majority owner is Olympia & York Development Ltd., Toronto.