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NORFOLK (AP) -- Norfolk Southern says it has completed a major upgrade to its Lamberts Point export coal transloading facility in Norfolk.

The railroad operator says the improvements position the Pier 6 facility to be the largest and fastest of its kind in the Northern Hemisphere.

The facility transfers coal hauled by train from Appalachian coal fields to ships bound for markets around the world.

Officials say the $18 million upgrade was completed over a 90-day period beginning in August. It involved overhauls of the facility's system that transfers coal from rail cars to a conveyor system, and its two rolling structures that deliver the coal to the ships.

The upgrades coincide with the 50th anniversary of the facility that has an annual throughput capacity of 36 million tons of coal.

Pier 6 has an annual throughput capacity of 36 million tons of coal. With both sets of dumpers and both loaders operating, Pier 6 can handle up to 8,000 tons of coal per hour. It takes an average of 30 hours to load one ship with a typical load of 80,000 tons. In January 2012, Pier 6 loaded a record 159,941.45 net tons of coal onto a ship bound for China, completing the job in less than 48 hours.

Much of the coal handled by Pier 6 is metallurgical coal, prized worldwide by steel manufacturers for its high-BTU and low volatile content, but has the capacity and capability of trans-loading thermal coal to the world's coal fired power plants as well.

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