no more new trains for coal, ever

Coal trains by Flickr user Kimon Berlin (Used under CC License)

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The industrial revolution that began around 1750 was powered in large part by coal, and the carbon-rich fuel had 200 good years after that.

By the middle of the last century, however, serious studies had begun of its deleterious effects on human health—and that was before the climate-change impact of human emissions of carbon dioxide became known.

Transportation will slowly electrify over the coming decades, while coal’s share of electric power generation will wane worldwide.

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That’s the conclusion of numerous studies and analyses in the automotive, energy, and utility industries.

Now that conclusion has been underscored by the CEO of a company that has profited greatly from coal: the railroad CSX, an amalgamation of lines that includes one founded to haul bituminous coal from the seams of Appalachia.

“Coal has no future,” said Hunter Harrison, the chief executive of CSX, in a presentation to industry analysts last week.

And the CEO went further, according to an account in the British Financial Times (subscription required).

“Fossil fuels are dead,” he elaborated, following his statement that CSX would buy no more coal-hauling locomotives or other equipment.

The death sentence, he added, is “a long-term view. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s not going to be in two or three years.”

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But in Harrison’s view, coal is “going away” and will represent a declining portion of the railroad’s business into the future.

The reason is simple, and it has relatively little to do with environmental issues or carbon emissions.

Instead, coal is simply too expensive against increasingly cheaper domestic natural gas produced through new technologies like hydrofracturing, known as “fracking.”

Coal’s share of U.S. electricity generation,…

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