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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.