“The mission of the 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 fora and providing opportunities for the lawful exchange of ideas and knowledge with all elements of the coal transportation infrastructure.”.


NCTA was established as the Western Coal Transportation Association (WCTA) in September 1974—a time of great upheaval in both the energy and railroad sectors. The Powder River Basin was then emerging as the largest coal-producing region of the U.S. at the same time that many railroads were on the verge of bankruptcy.

In the early 1980s, cash-strapped rail carriers asked coal shippers to provide the capital to purchase unit trains of railcars, as the carriers did not have satisfactory access to credit. Coal shippers and receivers responded with many billions of dollars of capital to ensure that rail remained a viable option for transporting coal. Coal shipper investments extended far beyond the purchase of modern trainsets to include fast loading and unloading systems, multiple loop tracks, and batch weigh loadout systems.

In the decades since, the member companies comprising WCTA’s successor organization—today’s NCTA—have developed and refined their expertise as entities that produce, repair, and manage all facets of railcar component parts and systems, all while maintaining their position as a shipper’s advocate before Congress and regulatory agencies.

For their part, rail carriers have since consolidated operations through a series of mergers that have left the U.S. with just six Class I freight railroads today. Coincident with this trend, Class I railroads have become more attuned to serving their investors’ interests rather than those of their customers. The institution of practices such as Precision Scheduled Railroading, doubled trainsets, and reduced crew sizes has resulted in the degradation of rail service to shippers—including delayed and missed shipments, lack of system capacity, and safety issues.

Increasingly, NCTA has found itself allied with a widening array of commodity shippers whose operations—and bottom lines—are impacted by rail carriers’ declining services levels. As a result, NCTA’s membership has grown to include not only coal shippers, but also those who transport adjacent commodity groups, including limestone, coal combustion products, cement, gypsum, and aggregates.

NCTA members’ long history of purchasing, leasing, and maintaining private fleets of railcars; installing multiple loop tracks; and accommodating increased train lengths by putting in place rapid loading and unloading systems at origin and destination—including providing locomotive crews and third-party locomotive switching on a 24/7 basis to accommodate railroad schedules—gives our organization unique insight into the issues that commodity shippers of every stripe face in the new world of freight rail transportation.

Today, NCTA members—who run approximately 90 percent of the coal cars in service in the western U.S and 45 percent of the coal cars in service in the eastern U.S.—share a significant interest in the direct and ancillary costs of maintaining and operating a modern fleet of railcars to transport coal and adjacent commodities. Now in our 50th year as an organization, NCTA continues to aggressively and authoritatively promote the exchange of ideas, knowledge, and technologies to ensure the efficient shipment of commodities on the U.S. freight rail network.