Two Unit Trains

Now on the Bloomfield Connector, the sand train reversed at Fields to CP-Bloom on the NS Pittsburgh Line, where it will proceed west just a few more miles to the interchange point at Island Ave, Pittsburgh, Pa. Feb 26, 2012Now on the Bloomfield Connector, the sand train reversed at Fields to CP-Bloom on the NS Pittsburgh Line, where it will proceed west just a few more miles to the interchange point at Island Ave, Pittsburgh, Pa. Feb 26, 2012
AVR unit empty sand train crosses the Allegheny River with the rear helper AVR 2002 visible.AVR unit empty sand train crosses the Allegheny River with the rear helper AVR 2002 visible.
AVR 3003 SD40-2 leading 60-car empty unit sand train from Evans City to Island Ave. Sample, Pa. Feb 26, 2012AVR 3003 SD40-2 leading 60-car empty unit sand train from Evans City to Island Ave. Sample, Pa. Feb 26, 2012
AVR Sand Train approaching Mars, Pa on the B&P RR. Feb 26, 2012AVR Sand Train approaching Mars, Pa on the B&P RR. Feb 26, 2012
AVR Sand Train at Evans City, Pa. on the B&P RR. Feb 26, 2012AVR Sand Train at Evans City, Pa. on the B&P RR. Feb 26, 2012
AVR 2007 leading light power returning from assisting a loaded unit sand train to Evans City, Pa. Etna, Pa. Feb 26, 2012AVR 2007 leading light power returning from assisting a loaded unit sand train to Evans City, Pa. Etna, Pa. Feb 26, 2012
RJ Corman RBS Coal Shuttle, Clearfield, Pa. Feb 3, 2012RJ Corman RBS Coal Shuttle, Clearfield, Pa. Feb 3, 2012
RJ Corman RBS Coal Shuttle, Clearfield, Pa. Feb 3, 2012RJ Corman RBS Coal Shuttle, Clearfield, Pa. Feb 3, 2012
RJ Corman coal gons, Curwensville, Pa.RJ Corman coal gons, Curwensville, Pa.
RJ Corman RBS Coal Shuttle, Curwensville, Pa. Feb 3, 2012RJ Corman RBS Coal Shuttle, Curwensville, Pa. Feb 3, 2012
RJ Corman RBS Coal Shuttle, Mahaffey, Pa. Feb 3, 2012RJ Corman RBS Coal Shuttle, Mahaffey, Pa. Feb 3, 2012
RJ Corman RBS Coal Shuttle, Burnside, Pa. Feb 3, 2012RJ Corman RBS Coal Shuttle, Burnside, Pa. Feb 3, 2012
RJ Corman RBS Coal Shuttle, Burnside, Pa. Feb 3, 2012RJ Corman RBS Coal Shuttle, Burnside, Pa. Feb 3, 2012
  • Now on the Bloomfield Connector, the sand train reversed at Fields to CP-Bloom on the NS Pittsburgh Line, where it will proceed west just a few more miles to the interchange point at Island Ave, Pittsburgh, Pa. Feb 26, 2012
  • AVR unit empty sand train crosses the Allegheny River with the rear helper AVR 2002 visible.
  • AVR 3003 SD40-2 leading 60-car empty unit sand train from Evans City to Island Ave. Sample, Pa. Feb 26, 2012
  • AVR Sand Train approaching Mars, Pa on the B&P RR. Feb 26, 2012
  • AVR Sand Train at Evans City, Pa. on the B&P RR. Feb 26, 2012
  • AVR 2007 leading light power returning from assisting a loaded unit sand train to Evans City, Pa. Etna, Pa. Feb 26, 2012
  • RJ Corman RBS Coal Shuttle, Clearfield, Pa. Feb 3, 2012
  • RJ Corman RBS Coal Shuttle, Clearfield, Pa. Feb 3, 2012
  • RJ Corman coal gons, Curwensville, Pa.
  • RJ Corman RBS Coal Shuttle, Curwensville, Pa. Feb 3, 2012
  • RJ Corman RBS Coal Shuttle, Mahaffey, Pa. Feb 3, 2012
  • RJ Corman RBS Coal Shuttle, Burnside, Pa. Feb 3, 2012
  • RJ Corman RBS Coal Shuttle, Burnside, Pa. Feb 3, 2012

During the month of February, I had the opportunity to “give chase” to two unique unit train operations in western Pennsylvania.  The first is RJ Corman’s RBS shuttle train, operated for Rosebud Mining between Cherry Tree, Pa. and Bigler (near Clearfield, Pa).  Rosebud operates an underground mine, working the Upper Freeport coal seam, that was opened at Cherry Tree in 2010.  Three to four trains per week shuttle the raw coal from Cherry Tree, approximately 45 miles northeast to a “prep plant” at Bigler where the coal is washed and sorted by size, and then loaded onto trucks or “system” (usually Norfolk Southern” coal hoppers for delivery to the consignee.  Since these trains operate in captive service – meaning that the trains don’t leave RJ Corman’s territory, special gondola cars were purchased for this service and painted in Corman’s trademark bright red colors.

The second unit train is a very recent occurrence, and much less is known about it – the impact of the Marcellus Shale gas “play” has been well-documented in rail journalism circles over the last three years.  Unlike traditional gas wells, where the bore goes more or less straight down, these wells drill down about a mile, and then horizontally up to a mile or so away from the well, in several directions.  Water is mixed with special chemicals – which causes some consternation with environmental groups – and is used to break the shale apart and release the gas.  To fill the void left by the drilling, sand is pumped in.  Lots of sand.

Pennsylvania’s railroads have benefited hugely from the rise in sand and other Marcellus-related shipments, such as brine water (the waste water generated from the drilling process), chemicals, drilling equipment, and pipe.  Several truck-to-rail transload facilities have popped up in western PA over the last few years.  The Allegheny Valley Railroad has been observed to handle some sand traffic between Norfolk Southern and the Buffalo & Pittsburgh – and recently, unit sand trains featuring 60 covered hoppers, have been observed grinding up Bakerstown Hill.  Here, we show a few images from an empty sand train returning over AVR back to NS.

Galleries: Pennsylvania.