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It’s not every day you get to see a new railroad start-up, at least not anywhere in the United States. But that’s exactly what happened on the morning of Sunday, July 31, 2016 in West Virginia.

For the first day of operation, I joined Nitro, WV-based railroad photographer and journalist Chase Gunnoe.

After mothballing nearly half it’s West Virginia Secondary in February, Norfolk Southern leased the line to Watco, LLC, a Pittsburg, Kansas shortline operator.

In the last days of Norfolk Southern control over the WV Secondary, NS 9051 does the honors of switching the yard at Nitro, WV. NS 5609 is a engine stationed here to switch the local chemical plants in Institute and Nitro.
In the last days of Norfolk Southern control over the WV Secondary, NS 9051 does the honors of switching the yard at Nitro, WV. NS 5609 is an engine stationed here to switch the local chemical plants in Institute and Nitro.

Watco picked up the interest in the line in mid-Spring 2016, hoping they can rejuvenate railroad service in the region and provide a higher quality of customer service to the many chemical facilities located along its tracks.

On their first day of operation, a yard job was the first movement, with WAMX 4211 (an SD40-2) doing the honors of mixing the freight up in the yard at Dickinson, WV — what they can be considered as Watco’s base of operations for the Secondary.

Later, we would catch WAMX 3291 running north at Nitro, WV on a qualifying run toward Pt. Pleasant, WV, where they would also pick up a few cars from the former CSX/NS interchange.

WAMX 3921, a unit with an actual KNWA logo, heads north at Nitro, WV in a qualifying run to Pt. Pleasant, where they would pick up a few cars from the CSX/NS interchange.
WAMX 3921, a unit with an actual KNWA logo, heads north at Nitro, WV in a qualifying run to Pt. Pleasant, where they would pick up a few cars from the CSX/NS interchange.

On our return from Dickinson to see if the loaded coal train we spotted earlier had moved, we headed back to Nitro when we noticed a train moving near Charleston, it was the local chemical train headed to switch the nearby industries.

After completing switching duties, WAMX 4211 heads north with a chemical train in tow at Dunbar, WV.
After completing switching duties, WAMX 4211 heads north with a chemical train in tow at Dunbar, WV.

We would catch it a few times in Dunbar before the mainline finally drifted away from the road. We then focused our attention on the loaded coal train that was ready to head south from Dickinson about anytime at that point.

Kanawha River Railroad's first loaded coal train passes by a loudout near Belle, WV with the train ID KN20. They put as many crew members as possible on it to qualify them for the run to Maben, WV.
Kanawha River Railroad’s first loaded coal train passes through Quincy, WV with the train ID KN20. They put as many crew members as possible on it to qualify them for the run to Maben, WV.

We caught just outside Dickinson at Quincy, WV and we heard it was assigned the train ID KN20 when they were getting track authority all the way to Maben, WV — their southern terminal. According to Gunnoe, none of the crew members on board were actually qualified for this section of the railroad, which would prove interesting when they faced the near-1.8% grade at Alloy, WV. However, we didn’t chase it that far.

The coal trains will popular with standard cab train enthusiasts as the KNWA will use leased NS power (SD60s) for coal train operations, as well as any run-through freight NS routes.

Kanawha River Railroad's first loaded coal train passes by a loudout near Belle, WV with the train ID KN20. They put as many crew members as possible on it to qualify them for the run to Maben, WV.
Kanawha River Railroad’s first loaded coal train passes by a loadout near West Montgomery, WV with the train ID KN20. They put as many crew members as possible on it to qualify them for the run to Maben, WV.

We finally wrapped up the day when dinner at a local Mexican restaurant and called it quits as the light faded quickly after we grabbed our shots at a coal loadout facility across the river from West Montgomery.

In all, we watched at least four separate train movements on the first day of this new shortline railroad – not too shabby. I think it was more than was CSX ran during the timeframe, which is just across the river in most places.

I hope the new shortline does well and continues to have success in the future. I personally would like to see a tourist operation begin on the line as it snakes its way through some very beautiful parts of West Virginia, a dinner train perhaps, a couple times a week.

What the future holds is unknown, but for the moment it appears to be a little brighter.

-Cory

Written by:

Cory Claxon is a journalist/photographer for the Grayson Journal-Times, he is also a avid railfan and historian.

3 Comments

  1. Dave Santos

    Cory
    Nice stuff.
    Have you ever photographed the orange 25T GE owned by Rescar thats somewhere in Nitro, W.V?
    Do you know if its still there? Used to be owned by the Bay Colony RR here in Massachusetts.

    Dave

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