Norfolk Southern trains arriving at Bellevue Yard from the east roll by farm fields and red barns before easing under the Route 4 overpass bridge. From the west, they sidle by Bellevue’s small-town Main Street and picturesque two-story brick storefronts.
Since the 1800s, freight trains have coursed through Bellevue, a hub for NS predecessor roads Nickel Plate, Pennsylvania, and Norfolk & Western. Now, this railroad town has a new distinction: It is home to Norfolk Southern’s largest and North America’s second-largest freight car classification yard – only UP’s Bailey Yard in North Platte, Neb., is larger.
With a $160 million investment, NS has nearly doubled the size of a hump yard N&W opened in 1967, positioning Bellevue as a key nexus on the railroad’s busy Northern Region for at least the next generation. The expansion project, launched in spring 2012, added 38 new classification tracks to the yard’s existing 42 tracks and equipped it with a unique capability: It is the only one of NS’ 12 major yards able to classify and sort rail cars from two tracks simultaneously.
Bellevue began humping cars into the expanded yard on Nov. 11, months ahead of schedule – a testament to the planning and teamwork demonstrated by NS’ operations departments.
“We had to keep an old system working while cutting over to a new system,” said Paul Johnson, control system engineer with NS’ Communications & Signals Department. “To be able to keep the existing yard moving with very little delay while constructing a brand new yard in the middle of that was an impressive thing to watch.”
Bellevue’s added capacity is a big deal for NS.
“I can’t tell you how important this is for us – it changes our game in the Midwest,” Terry Evans, vice president transportation, told NS marketing employees during January’s marketing kickoff meeting in Roanoke.
The yard’s management team and employees are enthused about the opportunities.
“I feel very fortunate to be a part of this,” said Wil Washington, a 21-year NS veteran who became terminal superintendent in early 2013. “When I think about the SPIRIT values, this project has given me and my team the opportunity to truly live what those values represent – safety, performance, teamwork – all of that.”
Yardmaster Jodi Barber, a Bellevue native, has worked in NS’ Bellevue and Sandusky yards for 17 years. Her father is a retired Bellevue locomotive engineer. “I think this will bring business and people to Bellevue,” she said. “This is job security for us.”
Trainmaster Bill Krzyzak asked to be transferred to Bellevue from a small flat-switching NS yard in Manassas, Va.
“Bellevue now is the largest hump terminal on NS’ system, and I wanted to be a part of something like that,” he said. “There’s a lot riding on Bellevue being successful. We want to be the No. 1 hump terminal in performance, not only in the Northern Region but across the entire network.”