Since the 1800s, freight trains have coursed through Bellevue, Ohio. Now, this railroad town has a new distinction: It is home to Norfolk Southern’s largest and North America’s second-largest railcar classification yard. With a $160 million investment, NS has nearly doubled the size of Bellevue Yard, positioning it as a key nexus for handling freight on the railroad’s busy Northern Region. “It changes our game in the Midwest,” says Terry Evans, vice president transportation.
During the past year, Norfolk Southern has been on a hiring spree across northern Ohio to beef up operations at Bellevue Yard, with 160 new employees hired in 2014 and more being added. All of NS’ operations departments, transportation, engineering, and mechanical, are hiring.
Some employees call Bellevue Yard the windiest place in the world. To combat prevailing westerly winds that can disrupt yard activity, NS plans to install a series of wind fences – the first time a railroad has tried using fences to block wind in a rail yard.
When it comes to getting railcars over the hump and onto outbound trains, yardmasters at Bellevue Yard do everything by the numbers. So maybe it’s no surprise that yardmaster Jessica Mosley was a former high school math teacher, or that yardmaster Joe Schettine was planning to become a math teacher before joining the railroad three years ago.
Perry Brown arrives at Bellevue Yard before sunrise with one main task: To safely move as many railcars as he can “over the hill.” Brown works atop Bellevue Yard’s 31-foot high earthen “hump:” Using a remote control locomotive device, Brown moves blocks of cars over the hump and “cuts” them loose at the crest, letting gravity carry them down into a network of classification tracks to be assembled into outbound trains.
Brandi Oney considers herself a beneficiary of the Bellevue yard expansion. She hired on last year as a conductor trainee, leaving a job as a tow motor operator at an Ohio plastics company. Since promoted to conductor, Oney works on a second-shift “pullback” crew – a yard job that involves coupling and pulling blocks of rail cars out of the yard’s classification tracks to build outbound trains.
When it was launched in 1999, Norfolk Southern subsidiary T-Cubed had a lot going for it: a catchy name, a smart leader who later would become CEO, and thousands of miles of potential business opportunity. T-Cubed buried fiber-optic conduits along some 1,500 miles of track rights of way, aiming to serve a rapidly growing telecommunications market – then the telecom industry went bust. Now, more than 15 years later, T-Cubed’s early investments are starting to pay off.
Watching for rattlesnakes while preparing first responders
Since last summer, Norfolk Southern and other Class I railroads have converged on a remote training center in the Colorado flatlands to help train community emergency responders on safely responding to train derailments involving crude oil tankers. In 2014, NS sponsored training for 126 first responders from 11 states on its network, and more will receive training in 2015.
Norfolk Southern’s Thoroughbred Code of Ethics has a new look, but the purpose of this “old friend” remains the same: To outline the company’s high standards of business conduct – and provide a guide to help employees make the right decisions.
A new book, “African American Railroad Workers of Roanoke,” features on its cover a photograph of more than 100 black employees who worked on steam locomotives for Norfolk & Western. The book, which received assistance from the Norfolk Southern Historical Collection, is the product of an oral history project undertaken by the Roanoke, Va.,-based African American Norfolk and Western Heritage Group.
GeneratioNS, Norfolk Southern’s newest employee resource group, aims to give NS a competitive advantage by tapping the expertise of long-serving employees and sharing institutional knowledge across all generations of NS employees.