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Building up Bellevue's forces

Winter 2015

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Machinist Dan Duckles changes oil filters in an SD40-2 locomotive engine.

 

During the past year, Norfolk Southern has been on a hiring spree across northern Ohio to beef up operations at Bellevue Yard.

“We’ve done interviewing sessions at midnight,” said Wil Washington, terminal superintendent. “Expanding the yard, hiring new people, running the operation – it’s been challenging over the past year, to say the least.”

During 2014, Bellevue added more than 160 new employees. The majority, 110, have been conductor trainees, in high demand to handle the yard’s rising freight volume. Working with NS’ Human Resources Department on a workforce diversity initiative, Bellevue formed a Thoroughbred Recruiting Outreach Team – called TROT – that included female operations employees.

“Part of that was to get as many female applicants as possible, and we’ve gotten a really diverse group of new people on board,” Washington said.

NS’ senior management has projected that 275 new jobs will be created by the expansion – a nearly 40 percent increase over the 700 employees who reported to Bellevue before the expansion.

While transportation has had the most hires, mechanical and engineering forces are growing as well.

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Carmen Eric Frost, left, and John Perry
work on the coupler of a multilevel auto car.

More cars + locomotives = more mechanical work  

During 2014, the Mechanical Department added 10 new employees on the locomotive side with plans to hire at least 17 more in 2015. The hires include machinists, electricians, firemen-oilers, and storehouse clerks, said Asa Smith, manager Bellevue Locomotive Shop.

In addition to maintaining and repairing more locomotives, local mechanical crews are playing another role to improve yard traffic flow. After servicing locomotives, they now have yard space to build more locomotive consists for outbound trains. With consists ready to go, road train and engine crews reporting for duty simply board the consist, couple up to their train, and depart the yard.

“We’ve done a lot of problem solving with transportation on how we can add value to our overall system operations,” Smith said. “It allows mechanical to service our customer, which is transportation, with more urgency, and that translates into better service for our freight customers.”

In another step to reduce delays, mechanical has added electricians to fuel pad crews to improve troubleshooting of inbound engines. “The goal is to find out everything we need to know before a locomotive goes to the shop – that way, we can make sure there’s a spot for it, that we have the people available to work it, and that we have the material needed to repair it,” Smith said. “The end result is to get the locomotives back to our customer in a more timely fashion.”

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Yardmaster Jessica Mosley coordinates
the work of conductors at the hump.

On the rail car side of mechanical, the department added 16 carmen in 2014 to expand car inspection and repair capabilities, said Jim Roskovics, senior general foreman of Bellevue Car Shop. As part of the expansion, mechanical constructed office and storage buildings to support inspection operations and a new repair track to expedite work on cars needing only light repairs.

To streamline the traffic flow, carmen now conduct inspections on inbound trains, a change from the previous practice of inspecting cars after they were humped into the yard. Identifying cars in need of repairs before they go over the hump avoids delays in moving them out of the class yard or from blocks of cars on outbound trains

“It’s a culture change for a lot of people,” Roskovics said, “but our employees are onboard and excited about the opportunities.”

C&S doubles in size

The Engineering Department’s communications and signals group has added about 10 signal maintainers, essentially doubling Bellevue’s C&S staff, said Rob Leck, supervisor C&S.

Leck oversees the “brains” of Bellevue yard – the computerized process control system used to hump and sort cars into classification tracks. The automated system records every car humped at the yard, including commodity, weight, and roll speed.

With 162 new automated power switches, more than 145 miles of new underground cable to support signals, and eight miles of main-line track, Leck’s forces stay busy.

“Everything comes back to our department one way or the other,” Leck said. “We get called for about 99 percent of everything that happens in this yard.”

Leck, with five years at NS, moved to Bellevue in August 2013 from Pittsburgh. “To be involved in a project like this is a very big deal. I probably won’t see another project on this kind of scale in my career, and I’ve still got 34 years to go,” he said, laughing.

Bellevue's new track
NS’ Engineering Department oversaw design and construction of Bellevue’s expansion, which included adding 39 miles of new track.

 

A new track section crew

Engineering has hired seven new employees for Bellevue’s maintenance-of-way forces, providing a section crew for weekend coverage, said Doug Adams, terminal track supervisor.

Before the expansion, track crews worked a Monday-Friday week, with a supervisor on weekend call. The new crew, comprised of laborers and a supervisor, works a Saturday-Wednesday schedule.

The expansion added 38.5 miles of track, including yard classification tracks and main-line track, and 149 track turnouts.

“It essentially doubles your walking track inspections, doubles your small maintenance items, and doubles your chances for major maintenance items,” Adams said.

A plus comes with having two hump tracks instead of one: Track maintenance crews now can get track time to maintain the hump without halting operations. If the north hump track needs maintenance, transportation can hump cars over the south track to keep rail cars flowing, and vice versa.

“Transportation can continue to operate and we can still have a hump outage,” Adams said. “It gives us a chance to co-exist, really.”

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Nathan Logsdon, senior general foreman, right, discusses maintenance items with electricians Scott Burns, left, and Eric Troike during a six-month inspection of an SD40-2 locomotive inside the yard’s new expedited maintenance facility.