Written by: Gary Dolzall
Coal-hauling is a rich tradition on Sand Patch Grade, and TSW “CSX Heavy Haul” will put you to work hauling black diamonds
For much of its history, American railroading has been nearly synonymous with coal-hauling, and on the upcoming Train Sim World “CSX Heavy Haul” Sand Patch Grade route, along with handling priority intermodals and manifests, you’ll go to work loading and hauling heavy trains of bituminous coal!
Across the decades, coal has been the single-most dominant staple carried by U. S. railroads, and even today more than one-third of total U. S. rail tonnage is bituminous coal. Indeed, deep in the Allegheny Mountains, hauling “black diamonds” is every bit as much a railroading tradition as steel wheels rolling on steel rails. The Baltimore & Ohio was one of America’s great coal-haulers and for much of the 20th century, coal represented upwards of 60 percent of B&O’s total tonnage. The railroad often totted more than 50 million tons of coal per year, and much of that enormous coal traffic moved over famed Sand Patch Grade.
Mines in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and southern Ohio generated much of the B&O’s coal tonnage, most of which moved – and still moves – eastward. On CSX’s Keystone Subdivision, heavily loaded coal trains are lifted, typically with the assistance of diesel helpers, up and over the Sand Patch west slope, then make a careful descent from Sand Patch Summit to Cumberland Terminal. Among the destinations of the bituminous tonnage is the Port of Baltimore, one of the country’s leaders in export coal volume.
In addition to hauling coal tonnage on the main line, the upcoming Train Sim World Sand Patch Grade route will provide the challenges of loading and toting coal from two lineside facilities, one on the Salisbury Branch (now the Salisbury Industrial Track) near Meyersdale, Pennsylvania, and the other near Rockwood, Pennsylvania on CSX’s “S&C” Subdivision.
Baltimore & Ohio’s Salisbury Branch once extended from the Sand Patch main line at Salisbury Junction 12 miles to the towns of Salisbury and Niverton and a connection with the logging Castleman Railroad (which was closed in the 1950s). The branch, which served several small mines and coal loading facilities, was in the 1980s trimmed back to reaching a single coal-loading facility (Shaw tipple) near Meyersdale. As is often the case of small coal mines and facilities, the Shaw loader has in recent decades gone through periods of both activity and inactivity, based on the market for bituminous coal. That uncertainty notwithstanding, the Salisbury Industrial Track has represented a captivating element of Sand Patch operations.
Operations on the Salisbury branch in recent years typically involved an empties train (the branch can accommodate 90-car consists) moving from Cumberland Terminal to Salisbury Junction, where the track layout requires the train then back down the Salisbury branch to the coal loader. This was often accomplished well into the CSX era with a caboose stationed at Salisbury Junction. Loading a full train from the diminutive Shaw loader could take one or two days, after which the train would proceed (often with extra power from Cumberland, given that the branch includes a 2 percent grade) through Salisbury Junction and westward to the 5,200-foot-long mainline siding between Yoder and Garrett. Because coal loads from the branch were generally destined east, the head-end power would then run around the train, recouple to its east end, and proceed to Cumberland. To reach Sand Patch Summit, it was also common for Sand Patch west-slope rear helper sets to aid in the climb.
Near the western end of the TSW Sand Patch Grade route at Rockwood Pennsylvania stands another coal-loading facility that will test engineers’ skills. Located on the “S&C Subdivision” 1.3 miles north of Rockwood is 4,790-feet long Wilson Creek Siding, which serves the Wilson Creek Coal Preparation Plant. Opened in 2011, the facility primarily handles metallurgical and thermal coal for export and has an 80-car loading capacity. Like the vast majority of all coal tonnage on Sand Patch, coal from Wilson Creek typically moves east to Cumberland Terminal and beyond.
Ready for some challenging and tradition-rich coal hauling? Train Sim World and the “CSX Heavy Haul” Sand Patch Grade route will soon put you to work! – Gary Dolzall ■