Burlington Northern Santa Fe BNSF 7859 GE ES44DC leading a grain train on the CN Centralia subdivision passing under the old Illinois Central coaling tower in Reevesville, Illinois on January 2, 2021.

Coaling towers were constructed of wood, steel-reinforced concrete, or steel. In almost all cases coaling stations used a gravity-fed method, with one or more large storage bunkers for the coal elevated on columns above the railroad tracks, from which the coal could be released to slide down a chute into the waiting steam locomotive’s coal storage area. The method of lifting the bulk coal into the storage bin varied. The coal usually was dropped from a hopper car into a pit below tracks adjacent to the tower. From the pit a conveyor-type system used a chain of motor-driven buckets to raise the coal to the top of the tower where it would be dumped into the storage bin; a skip-hoist system lifted a single large bin for the same purpose. Some facilities lifted entire railway coal trucks or wagons. Sanding pipes were often mounted on coaling towers to allow simultaneous replenishment of a locomotive’s sandbox.

As railroads transitioned from the use of steam locomotives to the use of diesel locomotives in the 1950s the need for coaling towers ended. Many reinforced concrete towers remain in place if they do not interfere with operations due to the high cost of demolition incurred with these massive structures. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia