JAMES E. CASTO ∙ For the State Journal
HUNTINGTON — CSX Corp., a major player in the West Virginia economy and an integral part of the state's transportation network, has historic roots that reach deep into an era even before there was a West Virginia.
The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad was the nation's first railroad. Chartered in 1827, it inched its tracks eastward from Baltimore, reaching Harpers Ferry in 1834 and Wheeling in 1852. The railroad's management sided with the North during the Civil War, influencing many people in the northern part of the area that became West Virginia to support statehood. Once the war started, the route of the rail line even affected the shape of the new state that was formed in 1863.
In the 1870s, rail tycoon Collis P. Huntington pushed the tracks of his Chesapeake & Ohio Railway from Virginia over the mountains and across the then-new state of West Virginia to the Ohio River, where he founded his namesake town of Huntington. Initially, Huntington was the C&O's western terminus, but the new town quickly lost that status as the railroad extended its tracks into Kentucky and across the Ohio River in Cincinnati.
Just as the B&O served the coal mines of northern West Virginia, the C&O was a major force in opening up the southern West Virginia coalfields. It provided the impetus for the growth of Huntington in the west and White Sulphur Springs in the east, along with towns in between such as Hinton and Thurmond.
For decades the C&O and B&O were rival railroads but in 1969, the C&O took over the financially troubled B&O in the first of what would become a relentless wave of railroad mergers.
For the next few years, the two railroads continued to operate under their original names, but in 1972 they came together in a new corporate entity named the Chessie System. In 1980, the Chessie System and the Family Lines (a loose affiliation of the Seaboard Coast Line, the Louisville & Nashville and their predecessor lines) merged into the new CSX Corp. In 1999, CSX absorbed much of Conrail, then the major railroad in the northeast.
Thus, today's CSX, headquartered in Jacksonville, Fla., is one of four giant railroad systems that are the survivors of 50-plus years of railroad mergers. (CSX and Norfolk Southern dominate east of the Mississippi River, along with the Union Pacific Corp. and Burlington Northern Santa Fewest of the Mississippi.)
The CSX rail network encompasses about 21,000 route miles of track in 23 states, the District of Columbia and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. CSX boasts that nearly two-thirds of Americans live within its service territory. Nationwide, the rail line employs 32,000 workers.
CSX has 1,600 employees in West Virginia, including 550 in Huntington.
Huntington is home to a divisional CSX headquarters and a sprawling locomotive repair shop that originally was established in the city's earliest years. CSX operates major rail yards in Huntington, Charleston, Logan and Parkersburg and TRANSFLO rail-truck transfer terminals in Clarksburg and South Charleston.
West Virginia coal remains vitally important to CSX, Michael Ward, the company's chairman, president and CEO, said in a speech to the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce on April 30.
Speaking at the Huntington Chamber's annual dinner meeting, Ward said the downturn in coal in recent years has been a blow to the railroad. Ward said CSX's peak year for coal shipments was 2006, and the company's shipments are down to about half that now. "We think domestic coal will be down 5 to 10 percent this year and then will level out." Although domestic coal sales are down sharply, Ward noted that coal exports to countries such as China and India are strong.
With its access to the Ohio River and its abundance of coal and natural gas, West Virginia has been and will continue to be an important part of the rail industry, Ward said.