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The plan to eliminate the “hump yard” will reduce Norfolk Southern’s regional work force by about 7 percent.
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times
Norfolk Southern Corp. is cutting 140 of its 1,870 Roanoke area employees. The Roanoke Terminal "hump yard" will continue to be a hub for through-train operations and service local customers.
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times
The Ashley Plantation neighborhood, with $400,000-plus homes on a golf course in Botetourt County, contains signs like these along Greenfield Street, because a convicted sex offender’s wife is building a home in the community. The husband, Calvert Anthony Thompson, has a history of sexually assaulting young women but was released from prison in June and has reconciled with his wife of 20 years. ]
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Derailing 140 jobs, Norfolk Southern Corp. is ending regional rail car sorting at its Roanoke “hump yard,” an operation that railroad experts estimate is about 100 years old.
The railroad said the changes announced Monday will bring greater efficiency by phasing out a poorly laid-out facility in a non-prime location.
The plan will trim about 7 percent of the company’s regional work force of 1,870 by eliminating train carmen, who inspect and repair rail cars; train crews, who conduct switching operations in the yard; and track maintenance personnel. The company said the workers could apply for other positions at NS.
The hump will stay open for the benefit of local train customers, but its days as a regional railroad pivot point will end during the next several days, the railroad said. Somewhat fewer trains will pass through Roanoke as a result, said NS spokesman Robin Chapman.
The Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union is “severely disappointed” with the railroad’s decision to cut jobs, Patrick Corp, Virginia legislative director, said in a prepared statement.
The decision involves a piece of local railroad history. A hump yard is a matrix of track with a high spot to which rail cars are pushed under engine power. At the apex, they roll downhill to their place in the next train out. Brakes built into the track manage rail car movement so they contact the car ahead at the proper speed for coupling.
While coal trains and double-stacked container traffic bypass the hump, general merchandise traffic that is either local or long-distance goes through the Roanoke hump for rearranging. Just as airline passengers often change planes to reach a destination, rail cars change trains for the same reason.
But Chapman said general merchandise traffic has shifted away from Roanoke, resulting in a 30 percent reduction in such traffic at the Roanoke hump since 2006, the company said. Meanwhile, the railroad has “freed up network capacity” elsewhere. It accomplishes the sorting long performed in Roanoke at other, superior facilities, including Linwood, N.C., Harrisburg, Pa., and Knoxville, Tenn., Chapman said.
In the final analysis, in spite of its dedicated work force, “the geographical location and layout of the hump yard make it not only expensive but redundant within our network,” said Terry Evans, a company vice president, in a prepared release.
Railroad workers have been “humping” cars at the sprawling facility near 19th Street and Westview Avenue since “the first decade of the last century,” said Salem railroad historian Ken Miller.
“It’s sad to see it go,” Miller said.
Miller said the man-made hump, perhaps a dozen feet over the prevailing grade, was rebuilt in about 1942 and about 1969. There are more than 50 track positions beneath it.
For a prominent hub of railroading, the loss of the yard for regional operations in the Roanoke Terminal of the Virginia Division “certainly does take away a little bit of the importance of Roanoke,” said Jeff Sanders of Salem, a former locomotive conductor.
Some nearby residents will welcome any reduction in noise, be it the screech of the brakes, known as retarders, or the clunk of coupling.
“It’s totally loud,” resident Gracie Witherspoon said.
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