Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Roanoke, railroads and coal -- oh my?

One of Salt Lick's readers pondered how the anti-big coal philosophy of new Roanoke Times editor Dan Radmacher might affect SW Virginia's railroads. After all, Norfolk Southern Railway Company, a big employer in Roanoke...

"...operates 21,500 route miles in 22 eastern states, the District of Columbia and the province of Ontario. The most common commodity hauled on the railroad is coal from mines in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky." (from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

Salt Lick doesn't know, since the interplay of media and mega-industries is way beyond his kin. He does see, however, what the reader is driving at. Nevertheless, at least one article says Norfolk Southern has been a declining influence in SW Virginia for almost 20 years now.

The railroad has reduced its presence in Roanoke from 5,000 employees in 1987 to about 1,800. The major share of NS north-south shipping now follows its Piedmont corridor from Atlanta through Greensboro, N.C., and Lynchburg to Harrisburg.

NS says the Piedmont corridor is its fastest north-south route. Its track in the I-81 corridor is slow, has too many curves and too few sidings where oncoming trains can pass each other.

Still, 1,800 jobs is plenty in a region hurting for industry, and that coal has to get through the Appalachian mountains before it gets to the nice, flat Piedmont. Maybe Dan will also come out against the horrible scarring of the land inflicted by railroads. When you think about the implications, there is a kind of logic to it. Once we run out of fossil fuel the old tracks would make great bicycle hiways.

Can you say "rails to trails?"