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From the NS archives

Fall 2015


Efficient service is a constant of Norfolk Southern’s heritage. In January 1957, the Norfolk and Western Railway published an advertisement to show how the railroad was constantly expanding and improving its facilities to ensure better customer service. This ad, one of a series called “The N & W Story,” featured development of an “ingenious” car classification system at its Portsmouth, Ohio, rail yard.

At the time, N&W’s Portsmouth Yard was one of the world’s largest independent classification yards, with a capacity of 8,112 freight cars and handling an average of 3,600 cars daily. The yard had been expanded to include a 13-track receiving yard and a new 35-track class yard.

To sort the cars faster and safer, NS’ Signal Department pioneered what the ad described as a fully automatic electronic classification system. The “brain” of the system was a modified teletype machine. Instead of sending teletyped instructions, this electromechanical typewriter created a punched tape that was inserted into a control unit to route cars onto their assigned tracks. N&W touted the system as the first of its kind in the industry. The railroad promoted the advancement with a poetic-sounding slogan, “Tiny holes in paper tape speed the flow of railway freight.”

Today, that spirit of innovation remains alive and well at Norfolk Southern.

– Jennifer McDaid, NS historical archivist