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Wyoming & South Dakota Trains (1 of 4)

by Lewis Bogaty

Added 9/2008; Copyright 2008 Lewis Bogaty

In August 2008, we spent some time in Wyoming and South Dakota. Here's a look at a Powder River Basin coal mine in operation, coal trains in the heart of the Saudi Arabia of coal, and other action in Wyoming and Rapid City, South Dakota

 

A Day In The Powder River Basin

August 15, 2008


 

Above: A BNSF coal train comes off the northern end of the Orin Line triple track at Donkey Creek Junction, heading east.
The northern end of what is mostly a BNSF/U.P. "joint line" is owned by BNSF.
Union Pacific generally comes in at Shawnee Junction near the south end.
 

Gillette, Wyoming
 

Above & Below: Foundation Coal's Eagle Butte Mine, north of Gillette.
The smoke visible in the pictures is from coal dust catching fire, a common occurrence in the mine.

The coal seam, 70-120 feet thick, is below a layer of dirt approximately 250 feet thick. The pit is always moving, and the land behind it is being reclaimed continually. (We would never have realized that the land around us had ever been touched.) In the next several years, the mining company is going to move Highway 14-16, which runs alongside the mine, onto reclaimed land so that the coal under the road can be mined!  Information courtesy of Foundation Coal.   


Above: A coal truck heading out of the pit.
 

Above: A full dirt truck.

The tires on the trucks are 12 feet tall. Both the yellow dirt trucks and the gray coal trucks weigh 240 tons empty and carry 253 tons (so their total weight when full is nearly 500 tons.) But since dirt weighs nearly twice as much as coal, the coal truck bins are larger. (1 cubic yard of dirt weighs 2920 pounds. 1 cubic yard of coal weighs 1720 pounds.) Information courtesy of Foundation Coal.
 

Three Below: A BNSF coal train being loaded at the mine.



 


 

The train moves through the silo at .6 miles per hour and is computer-loaded in approximately 2 hours. Each car holds about 120 tons of coal. Each train carries about 15,000 tons of coal (in 125 cars). The trains are between 115 to 150 cars long and stretch for about a mile and a half.

An average of 5 to 6 trains a day are loaded at Eagle Butte Mine. In 2007, 3,481 unit coal trains carried 51.6 million tons of coal from Eagle Butte and its sister mine, Belle Ayre.

There are 14 active coal mines in the Powder River Basin. (Among the biggest are Peabody Energy's North Antelope/Rochelle, Caballo, and Rawhide Mines and Arch Coal's Black Thunder Mine.) 85 to 90 coal trains a day move the coal out of the Powder River Basin, virtually all of them using the Orin Line.

 Information courtesy of Foundation Coal.


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