Norfolk Southern Coal Port Returns to Normal

Norfolk Southern Railway's large coal loading port terminal is back to normal at Norfolk, Va., and the railroad on Jan. 5 lifted its "force majeure" declaration on coal moves.

The company said operations at its Lamberts Point terminal, the largest facility in North America for transloading coal from trains to ocean ships for export, have been restored and NS "is working to clear the current backlog of shipments."

A spokesman said 11 ships were waiting on Jan. 4 to load coal from Lambert's Pier 6, a large facility that blends coal and has twin ship loader conveyor belts to fill two vessels at a time. But a mechanical problem damaged one belt Dec. 26, knocking that loader out, and a separate problem shut down the other belt the next day.

NS on Dec. 18 invoked force majeure - a service interruption clause for events outside its control -- to lift delivery guarantees as a major snowstorm swept into the Appalachian coal mine region and delivered record snowfalls from there to the NS port area. It kept the clause in effect after the Lamberts Point belt problems arose.

NS restored one conveyor to operation by Dec. 31, but the other took longer than originally expected. A spokesman said that was not the only thing delaying ships, as some were waiting for mines to send their coal or for coal that was in transit from the distant mountains to reach the port.

Even after the loading terminal was back to normal operation, NS said unloading of coal trains "remained hampered by weather conditions."

Lamberts Point typically takes about 36 hours to fill a ship's hold, and averages more than six ship loadings a week or up to 26 a month.

- John D. Boyd.