Norfolk Southern completes major upgrade at Pier 6 coal facility

Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC), owner of one of the two major eastern U.S. railroads, said Nov. 29 that it has completed a major upgrade to its Lamberts Point export coal transload facility in Norfolk, Va., positioning it to remain the largest and fastest coal transload facility in the Northern Hemisphere.

More commonly known as Pier 6, the facility transfers coal hauled by train from Appalachian coal fields to ships bound for world markets. The $18m upgrade, completed on schedule over a 90-day period beginning in August, involved major overhauls of the facility’s dumper system, which transfers coal from rail cars to a conveyor system, and its two loaders, massive rolling structures that deliver the coal to the ships.

“This investment reflects our belief in the long-term prospects for the global coal market and Norfolk Southern’s continuing pivotal role in that market,” said Danny Smith, NS senior vice president-energy and property. “This helps assure that we will remain the premier link to the global market place for high grade metallurgical and thermal coals alike.”

The dumper system consists of two pairs of dumpers, each pair handling two coal cars at a time, that rotate the cars 135 degrees and dump their contents into a conveyor system that transports the coal to the pier. The upgrade involved replacing the structural steel that supports the north set of dumpers and the hopper bins that funnel the coal onto the conveyor belts. The dumpers, weighing in at 500,000 pounds each, were lifted by cranes and placed on the ground. While the steel support structure was being replaced, the dumpers also received a complete electrical and mechanical overhaul. The south set of dumpers will get the same upgrade in spring 2013.

New solid-state drives replaced the generator sets on the north dumper car pushers, which push loaded coal cars into position to be hoisted up onto the dumpers.

Concurrently with the dumper overhaul, both loaders received complete electrical overhauls, including replacement of the main generator sets with solid-state drives and new power transformers and control and monitoring systems, NS noted. The loaders received other significant overhauls, including a new braking system for their numerous moving parts.

The upgrades coincide with the 50th anniversary of Pier 6, which began operations on one loader in December 1962. The second loader came on line in the spring of 1963.

Pier 6 has an annual throughput capacity of 36 million tons of coal. With both sets of dumpers and both loaders operating, Pier 6 can handle up to 8,000 tons of coal per hour. It takes an average of 30 hours to load one ship with a typical load of 80,000 tons. In January, Pier 6 loaded a record 159,941.45 tons of coal onto a ship bound for China, completing the job in less than 48 hours.

Much of the coal handled by Pier 6 is metallurgical coal headed for the world market, but the facility has the capacity and capability of transloading thermal coal, as well.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.