The energy crunch of the early 70s and the move toward improved air quality left coal-fired power plants and other industries in need of clean-burning, low sulfur coal. Vast deposits were available in the western US, but getting coal to customers was a big logistical problem. Several ideas were suggested, but in the end, railroads became the primary means of transport.
Coal soon represented a considerable part of the traffic on many lines. As a cost-cutting measure, some large power companies adopted the just in time approach to buying coal. This means trains had to deliver on time, as only a small stockpile was maintained, and in essence, the unit trains became a rolling conveyor belt.
In order to meet these tough schedules, a new generation of cars and motive power were introduced, and the methods of loading coal on the trains also changed.
One of the new structures, still in use today, was the flood loader. Served by a network of conveyors, these large buildings are essentially storage bins, which load entire trains on the move. After coal has been washed, crushed to size and graded, it’s delivered from these facilities to the flood loader, which can be quite some distance away.
In operation, a unit train enters the loader at walking speed, about 4 mph. Loading begins when the first car rolls under the chute, a job handled by detectors and computers. In a matter of minutes the car is filled to capacity and loading begins on the next. Some loaders also use their computers to briefly stop the flow between cars, producing a down hill slope to the load. Others run continuously, and a wheel loader is used to reclaim the spilled coal. As the last car clears, the loader stops automatically and begins refilling for the next train. Now fully loaded, the unit train passes over a weigh-in-motion scale, to verify the actual amount of coal being shipped to the customer.
Seen in both eastern and western coalfields, this modern structure is a great way to add variety to coal operations on your line. Since the actual mine and processing operations are often miles away, this small building and conveyor can be placed trackside, to imply the presence of a bigger mine operation located off your layout.
The finished model works very well with the New River Mining Company, (933-3017) which can represent an older type of loader or mine buildings.
Today’s unit trains are a mix of large hoppers and gondolas, like Walthers Bethgon(R)/ Coal Porter(R) (932-5300 series), Trinity RD-4 hoppers (932-7800 series) and Bethlehem 3-Bay Hoppers (932-4900 series), all of which are offered in 6-Packs with different car numbers to model unit trains in minutes!
Coal loads add the finishing touch and one-piece loads (each molded in black resin with realistic texture) are available for the Bethgon in a 2-Pack (#933-1038) or 6-Pack (#933-1039), while #933–1074 fits Trinity RD-4 hoppers.