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    Posted Wednesday, December 11 2013 at 1620 h MST
    Don Strack has digitized and posted 105 photos taken by Emil Albrecht on the UP and D&RGW in Salt Lake City back on April 3, 1949. There's some fascinating stuff in there, like the D&RGW FMs, UP C-liners, steam, vintage freight, FTs, and much more. If you have any interest in railroading from that era, this is one not to be missed. Check it out [here]. - NDHolmes

    Posted Wednesday, December 11 2013 at 1455 h MST
    KVNF, the public radio station for Colorado's western slope, has an interesting news article on their website. They report that Arch Coal's West Elk Mine may be losing their contract to provide the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) with coal. The TVA started sourcing Colorado coal in the early 1990s to comply with lower sulfur emissions standards, and that contract expires at the end of 2013.

    Back in 2011, there was a Clean Air Act lawsuit against the TVA and emissions from their coal-fired generating stations, and the TVA wound up settling out of court. Part of that settlement was the closure of 18 older coal-fired units and investing $3-5 billion in pollution control equipment for the remaining facilities. Then, just a month ago at their November board meeting, the TVA board voted to close eight additional coal units. When you consider these closures with the fact that Arch Coal has not yet announced that it's contract has been renewed, this may indicate that no deal is forthcoming, and lower-cost low sulfur coal from the Powder River Basin may be adequate to meet the TVA's needs until the plants go offline.

    To give you some scope of the impact, I've run some analysis using the EIA-923 Fuel Receipts and Costs monthly data from Jan-Sep 2013, which shows fuel purchases by power companies. For Jan-Sep 2013, the North Fork mines (Bowie, Elk Creek, and West Elk) sourced 3,268,399 tons of coal. Of that, 2,688,031 tons (82%) went to various Tennessee Valley Authority plants. (This is up from 2012, where the TVA consumed 73.3% of the 6,915,792 tons of coal sold from North Fork mines. Some of the difference is from the closure of the Elk Creek Mine, some is due to lower demand, and some is due to the difference plants reporting on a monthly or annual basis.)

    Here's a list of TVA plants that either purchase North Fork coal or have been announced in the most recent round of closures, along with their location, tons purchased from all North Fork mines from Jan through Sep 2013, and any projected closures:

    • Shawnee (Metropolis, IL - 922,246 tons NF coal) - retiring 1 of 10 175MW units by end of 2017 as part of 2011 settlement
    • Colbert Fossil Plant (Tuscumbia, AL - 404,373 tons NF coal, 46% West Elk, 54% Bowie #2) - retire all five coal-fired units by mid-2016.
    • Cumberland (Nashville, TN - 505,763 tons NF coal) - no planned retirements
    • Bull Run (Oak Ridge, TN - 107,039 tons NF coal) - no planned retirements
    • Johnsonville (Waverly, TN - 291,838 tons NF coal) - all ten units planned to retire by end of 2017 as part of 2011 settlement
    • Paradise (Central City, KY - no NF coal) - retire 2 of 3 coal-fired units as part of 2013 closures, replace with new 1GWe combined cycle natural gas turbine unit
    • Gallatin (Gallatin, TN - 22,360 tons NF coal) - no planned retirements
    • Kingston (Kingston, TN - 91,923 tons NF coal) - no planned retirements
    • Allen Steam Plant (Memphis, TN - no NF coal) - has burned NF coal in past years, but none in 2013. No planned closures, highly modernized emissions systems
    • Widow's Creek Fossil Plant (Stevenson, AL - no NF coal) - retire 7 of 8 coal-fired units, 6 as part of 2011 settlement, 1 as part of 2013 closures.

    There's a double whammy here to coal flowing off the former Rio Grande North Fork Branch. There's plants being retired outright and there's a heavy investment into new emissions controls that may allow switching to cheaper coal sources. The lack of a new Arch Coal contract announcement strongly hints at the second being a real concern. If new customers aren't found, traffic on the North Fork and the Rio Grande system may be headed for a substantial downturn in the near future. If you want to go photograph coal traffic south of Grand Junction, it might be a good idea to get out sooner rather than later. It looks like rough economic times ahead for the North Fork communities, which are largely supported by the mines.

    As a note, this is only considering North Fork coal mining. In 2012, the TVA also purchased approximately 189000 tons of coil from Peabody's Foidel Creek mine on the Craig Branch, but none has been reported for 2013. However, that amount is only about 1.7% of the 11,035,677 tons of coal sold by Craig Branch mines in 2012, so the change is significantly less. -

    Posted Friday, December 6 2013 at 1337 h MST
    John Bush announced on NGDF about two hours ago that tomorrow's swap of 484 and 489 between Chama and Antonito has been cancelled. Nathan Z talked to the RR on the phone (when they called to tell us of the cancellation and refund the tickets), and they say the drifts are bit big to bust through easily and they're concerned about ice build-up in the flangeways.

    Oh well, it's colder than a son-of-a-!@#$* out there and I think I'm almost happier to stay inside this weekend. That said, my new 5D Mark III arrived Tuesday, so I might have to sneak out for just a bit to try it out. -

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