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For Bellevue yardmasters, the numbers add up

Winter 2015

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Yardmaster Jessica Mosley works in the Route 4 tower, a four-story command center that overlooks the hump at Bellevue Yard.

 

When it comes to getting rail cars over the hump and onto outbound trains, yardmasters at Bellevue Yard do everything by the numbers. Incoming rail cars are assigned classification codes – cars destined for Lafayette, Ind., for example, are “2s” – and yardmasters often do quick calculations to ensure that cars headed to the same destination will fit on a particular class track.

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 teach math before joining the railroad three years ago.

Mosley, who hired on as a conductor in 2007, works in the yard’s Route 4 Tower, a four-story command center that overlooks the hump – a hill where inbound rail cars are scanned and then sorted into class tracks. Perched at a console packed screen-to-screen with computer monitors, she coordinates the work of conductors who shove blocks of cars up the hill and then cut cars loose at the top of the hump. The cars roll into class tracks Mosley assigned them based on their destination code – in January, yardmasters had 60 destination codes to work with, up from 43 before the expansion.

Schettine works on the yard’s opposite end in the Ranger Tower, where he overlooks conductors who pull blocks of cars from the class tracks to build outbound trains. He monitors a bank of computers he uses to coordinate the work flow of up to five “pullback” crews on his shift.

On each of three daily shifts, the Route 4 and Ranger tower yardmasters share responsibility for hitting an important number at the expanded yard – the total count of cars that are processed and sent on the road each day to customers.

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Yardmaster Joe Schettine works in the Ranger Tower at Bellevue Yard.

 

In this task, a simple rule of physics applies: You can put in only as many cars as you can pull out of the terminal’s two classification yards, known as “bowls.” Two trains can be humped simultaneously – the yard’s major new capability – only if there’s enough room in the bowls for the cars.

“It’s like putting a puzzle piece together, which I like – it’s a challenge,” said Mosley, who grew up and still lives in Willard, Ohio, a 20-minute drive from Bellevue. “I work with the Ranger Tower yardmaster so it’s easier and faster for the pullback crews to get cars out of the bowls. We work as a team to make sure we’re not in each other’s way.”

As car volumes ramp up, employees have experimented to find the most efficient ways to increase daily production. Since mid-November, yardmasters have been humping cars into the terminal’s 38 new class tracks – known as the south bowl. The existing north bowl has 42 tracks, including two used for quick repairs of rail cars. Each of the class tracks holds anywhere from 22 to 50 cars.

“We’ve been working out kinks to get the system running smoothly,” said Schettine. “We’re finding ways to get the crews lined up so that they can work efficiently and make their moves count.”

The expansion project supplied Bellevue yardmasters and conductors with a variety of efficiency gains. Most of the yard’s manual track switches, for example, were replaced by power switches, which are controlled automatically by a computerized process control system and boost yard productivity.

“I can very easily get outbound trains onto their power without the conductors having to throw any switches – that takes at least five to 10 minutes out of every move,” Schettine said.

Traffic fluidity improves noticeably when the yard is able to move two trains simultaneously over the hump, Mosley said.

“We do that as often as we can,” she said. “We can clear off two tracks in our receiving yard in the same time it used to take us to do one track. That means we’re able to yard more traffic.”

The process control system that yardmasters use to automate humping operations features a software upgrade that has made the system more responsive.

As of mid-January, Mosley’s best shift for car counts over the hump since the expansion was about 940 cars. That’s close to the 1,000 to 1,200 cars per shift that NS eventually hopes to move daily through Bellevue.

“They could’ve built us a third bowl, and we would still keep packing them in – that’s how busy we’ve gotten, which is great,” Mosley said. “Everybody up here appreciates that Norfolk Southern took a special interest in us and felt confident enough in Bellevue to put the time and the money into expanding the yard.”

Schettine, who grew up in nearby Elmore, Ohio, and now lives in Bellevue, echoed her sentiments. “Norfolk Southern is giving back to the community by giving people careers and just providing for the town,” he said. “I think becoming one of the biggest rail hubs in America right here in Bellevue is impressive. It’s very rewarding to come in and do a good job and have a part in helping Norfolk Southern continue to progress.”