Coal Mining: Boom and Bust (1970's ?)

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NoSmoke
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Post Mon. Oct. 29, 2012 5:29 am

I realize that with just about everything, there are boom times and bust. But when I was out in Illinois working on the railroad, we were in Illinois Coal Country but it had been effectively shut down since the mid-70's. That is a common theme I ran across in Ohio, West Virgina and to a lesser extent, in PA as well.

I was about 2 at the time, so I do not remember too well what happened in those years, but why did coal stop being economical to mine in that era?

samhill
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Post Mon. Oct. 29, 2012 9:12 am

Don't have much of an answer but from what I can remember much as now it was cheaper NG that did coal in even before the 60s back in my hometown (Duquesne, Pa.) before that I think everyone burned coal there was even a ash-man that collected the ashes & I don't know if he sold them or worked for the city but they were used for both fill & traction in the winter, very rarely did they use salt. Then into the late 70s early 80s at least in the Pittsburgh area there was a so called shortage of NG & new homes had to choose between oil or electric, they even made people convert there NG outside pole lights to electric. Seems like a vicious cycle, soon after the big shortage of NG & the price got high enough there was no longer a shortage & homes could once again be built with NG furnaces & the outside lights can be fitted with electronic lighters & be used once again, it's a wonderful world.
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Berlin
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Post Mon. Oct. 29, 2012 3:30 pm

It's not that illinois coal became uneconomical to mine per say, it's that Illinois basin coal typically has a very high volatile content 35 or even 40+ and also has a high sulfur content. As the federal EPA took control of things in the early 70's they instituted regulations (opacity and max sulfur of fuel burned) which significantly reduced demand for much of the coal in the illinois basin especially for existing large plants and smaller spreader-stoker plants all over the midwest which had formerly used Illinois stoker coal. This happened with higher sulfur/volitile coals in northern missouri as well.
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steamup
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Post Mon. Oct. 29, 2012 5:45 pm

Railroads went bust in the late 60's into the 70's due to tough union agreements, high taxes and competetion from the trucking industry. The government formed "Conrail" to deal with it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conrail
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NoSmoke
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Post Mon. Oct. 29, 2012 6:27 pm

Oh I know Conrail, I worked on their tracks during my railroad career, though admittedly not long and only in the West PA area.

I never thought about the Conrail Formation as being part of the issue. I could see where it would have a huge impact.

I read in some places where he St Nicholas Coal breaker was shut down in 1963, and then I read in other places it was shut down in 1976? Which one it is, I have no idea but it seemed the mid 70's were a very difficult time for coal mines.

I wish I could remember where I was in Illinois on the Illinois Central tracks when we sided in an old coal mine there and even saw a few old pieces of equipment rusting above the coal seams.

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