Coal Users Community: NCTA helping to resolve coal transportation infrastructure problems

The Mission of the National Coal Transportation Association (NCTA) is to provide education and facilitation for the resolution of coal transportation issues in order to serve the needs of the general public, industry, and all modes of transportation. This is accomplished through the sponsoring of educational forums and by providing opportunities for the lawful exchange of ideas and knowledge with all elements of the coal transportation infrastructure. NCTA accomplishes its mission by focusing its efforts in three major areas:

  • Encouraging industry cooperation

  • Promoting education

  • Hosting annual conferences

Bringing Supply Chain Links Together

NCTA facilitates inter-industry cooperation to solve real-world problems faced by coal producers, rail service and equipment suppliers, transporters, and coal consumers. Much of this work is done through subcommittee efforts. The Operations & Maintenance Subcommittee seeks to educate utility railcar owners regarding the technology, design, maintenance, operations, and repair of railcars in unit train service.

No other fuel source offers the supply security and price stability that coal does. However, it is not an industry without its challenges.

At the recent Operations & Maintenance Conference held in Tucson, an entire afternoon was devoted to electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes and the economic costs and benefits they will have in unit coal service. Considerable information was provided by our supplier members.

The association’s two Logistics and Planning Committees, one in the East and one in the West, tackle planning and logistical issues as they arise with respect to coal shipments, with the ultimate goal of improving the efficiency of the supply chain. This committee was instrumental in developing a coal forecasting process that allows loading slots to be allocated equitably and traffic flow to be improved on the Powder River Basin Joint Line.

Currently, an ad hoc committee is working on ways to mitigate the fouling of rail ballast, which affects track stability. In addition, this committee is addressing concerns related to overall rail capacity to meet the increasing demand for coal. All the committees work closely with the railroads in addressing industry initiatives. It is this three-way cooperation among the utilities, coal producers, and railroads — as symbolized by the equilateral triangle that serves as the center of the NCTA logo — that has allowed the NCTA to be successful in its mission.

Educating at All Levels

Secondly, the NCTA actively promotes education through conferences and testimony submitted to regulatory bodies and through its scholarship program. Although the NCTA does not lobby, it is well known around Washington for its ability to provide a real-world perspective on coal and coal transportation issues.

The NCTA provides direct support for education through scholarships awarded to transportation students at several North American universities. In addition, four additional scholarships are awarded annually to the dependent sons and daughters of full-time employees of member companies. Through its programs, the NCTA keeps members informed of current challenges while nurturing those who will confront the challenges of tomorrow.

Must-Attend Meetings

The NCTA’s three annual conferences are preeminent events for members of the coal community. The Fall Conference and Business Meeting, traditionally held in September in Colorado, is the most widely attended conference of its type in the coal industry. This year’s conference — September 11 – 13, 2006 — marks the 32nd year for the event. A Spring Conference is typically held in April or May in a location that varies yearly.

Both the fall and spring conferences cover the entire array of industry topics. An annual Operations & Maintenance Conference, held each June, focuses on the nuts and bolts (both literally and figuratively) of moving coal. NCTA’s annual events are well known as "Conferences with Character."

Opportunities and Challenges

The coal industry in North America is vital. Coal is an economic, domestic energy resource that provides over half of the electricity generated in the United States. No other fuel source offers the supply security and price stability that coal does. However, it is not an industry without its challenges.

Every day the industry works to confront issues of mine safety and environmental protection, and progress is being made. In the view of the NCTA, there are no challenges that cannot be overcome if we continue to work together to address problems and develop and implement new technologies. The NCTA will continue to do its part to keep the triangle in balance.