Lamberts Point now has a privately-funded living shoreline instead of an industrial bulkhead. Photo: Norfolk Southern Railroad

Coal Terminal’s Living Shoreline Wins Award

“Coal terminal” and “living shoreline” are two phrases not usually found together, but a Virginia railroad company is being celebrated for paying out of their own pocket to restore a badly-eroded waterfront.

Last month, Norfolk Southern Railroad’s Lamberts Point coal terminal took the grand prize at an Elizabeth River Project event that recognizes businesses that voluntarily restore wildlife habitat and reduce pollution.

The Inside Business River Star Hall of Fame award for 2021 went to the railroad for their privately funded restoration of almost 900-feet of eroding shoreline along the Elizabeth River.

The site, which is about 9-acres, had eroded so badly that there was an almost 15-foot drop off from land to the water. The erosion was coming too close to the terminal’s access road to be ignored.

Instead of going with an industrial bulkhead, Norfolk Southern converted the area into a living shoreline. A series of small breakwaters were placed just off the shoreline to break wave action. Approximately 90 cubic yards of recycled oyster shells were deposited on the back of the breakwaters.

With oysters reproducing naturally in the river now, it won’t take long for the recycled oyster shells to be covered with living oysters and other wildlife associated with living reefs. A single oyster can clean as much as
50 gallons a day as it filters the river water for food. The breakwaters and oyster shells are below the water at higher tides, creating habitat for worms and crabs that attract game fish and birds.

The railroad brought in more than 2,300 cubic yards of sand—roughly 200 dump truck loads—to rebuild the eroded shoreline. Nearly 24,000 plantings of native saltwater marsh grass will stabilize the shore.

“This is one of the region’s largest living shorelines created by a business on the river,” said Marjorie Mayfield Jackson, executive director of the Elizabeth River Project. “Norfolk Southern’s project is entirely voluntary and is a great example of a corporation giving back to a river it depends on.”

Norfolk Southern is a leading transportation company in the United States. Their railway operates approximately 19,500 route miles in 22 states and the District of Columbia, and serves every major container port in the eastern United States.

The Elizabeth River Project’s River Star Businesses program is free and comes with technical advice and public recognition for businesses that reduce pollution and/or restore wildlife habitat in the Elizabeth River watershed. For more information, visit

-Kendall Osborne