NS yard investments generate multiple benefits
Norfolk Southern is targeting investments in office and crew facilities at rail yards across its network to boost operating efficiencies, support business growth, and modernize work spaces for employees.
“We are gaining operating efficiencies and making progress in upgrading facilities for our people. The company has a finite amount of money to spend each year, so this is a long-term undertaking.”
— CEO Jim Squires
The focus is on cost-effective solutions that generate benefits across the enterprise. A key approach is standardized building designs that bring employees in transportation, mechanical, and engineering under one roof. In addition to fostering closer communications across operations departments – enhancing safety and customer service – NS is saving on utility bills and other operating costs.
“We are making a deliberate effort to co-locate employees, and we are having successes,” said CEO Jim Squires. “We are gaining operating efficiencies and making progress in upgrading facilities for our people. The company has a finite amount of money to spend each year, so this is a long-term undertaking.”
The company prioritizes yard projects based on things such as the age and condition of facilities, traffic volumes, and potential for growing business. In 2015, NS completed facility replacements at yards in Cincinnati, Ohio; West Brownsville, Pa.; Moberly, Mo.; and Birmingham and Mobile, Ala.
In 2016, employees are moving into new buildings at Landers Intermodal Facility in Chicago; Kankakee, Ill.; and Conway, Pa.
Improved fluidity in Cincinnati
NS’ $4.5 million investment to construct a new 12,718-square-foot yard office in Cincinnati is a prime example of the company’s strategic approach. About 300 employees are based at the flat-switching yard, a key gateway for intermodal freight moving north and south between Chicago, Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Columbus.
—Rich Lloyd, terminal superintendent, Cincinnati
Occupied since September, the new headquarters office replaced four aging facilities that separately housed yard crews, road train crews, carmen, and engineering employees. Now, those employees share space, including yardmasters and trainmasters, who previously worked in a yard tower. Having transportation officers and train and engine crews in the same building has improved communication, on-time performance for outbound trains, and customer service, said Rich Lloyd, terminal superintendent.
“Train crews are getting their paperwork quicker, and the whole operation is more fluid and timely,” Lloyd said. Having carmen in an office next to transportation has accelerated turnaround times for pulling and repairing defective rail cars, he added. “Employees are having a lot more face-to-face conversations. It’s hard to believe a building could make such a difference, but everything seems to be working smoother.”
With two large conference rooms in the building, Lloyd said he no longer needs to rent space in hotels to hold rules and safety training classes for employees. Each meeting at the yard office saves about $175 in hotel rental fees, he said.
Knocking down silos in Alabama
NS and employees are benefiting from two projects in Alabama that combine operations employees into new yard facilities.
“You get camaraderie and knock down silos … It’s a cost savings, too, as far as having more modern and efficient lighting and HVAC systems and paying utilities for only one building.”
— Kraig Barner, superintendent terminals, Norris Yard, Birmingham
In Mobile, NS invested $1.8 million to construct a yard depot housing 25 to 30 transportation and mechanical employees. Previously, these employees, who handle a steady flow of trains moving steel, chemicals, and grain, worked in trailers about 100 yards apart. Trainmaster Jim Ellison said the new depot generated immediate efficiency gains.
“When an outbound train is ready to be inspected, instead of having to find the carmen, who might be out doing other things, we just step in the office next door,” Ellison said. “When they finish inspecting a train, they walk in our office and talk to the train crew and personally hand them the brake test slips. Nothing gets lost in translation. They get to know each other and become friends – and they work better together.”
At Birmingham’s Norris Yard, NS constructed a $924,000 crew room on the yard’s north end shared by yard crews and carmen. The facility replaced a “worn out” transportation trailer and an aging metal building that housed mechanical employees, said Kraig Barner, superintendent terminals.
“You get camaraderie and knock down silos by having them in the same building,” Barner said. “It’s a cost savings, too, as far as having more modern and efficient lighting and HVAC systems and paying utilities for only one building.”
With a mix of merchandise freight, Norris Yard employees hump and classify between 1,800 and 2,000 rail cars daily, and business has grown, Barner said.
Continued progress in 2016
Projects underway in 2016 build on NS’ progress. At Landers in Chicago, NS is investing $2.5 million to replace a 1950s-era building with a single-story yard office for transportation, mechanical, and police employees.
Landers, a key intermodal hub for NS, handles domestic, international, and premium freight moving to and from Atlanta, Norfolk, and Harrisburg.
—Kevin Davis, trainmaster, Kankakee Yard, Illinois
“The building we’re in now is showing its age, and this new facility is going to be state-of-the-art. It’s a definite morale booster,” said Floyd Hudson, terminal superintendent. “A big efficiency will be having everybody on the same floor. Now, you can go a whole shift and not see who you’re working with. Being able to talk eye-to-eye will improve communication and make for more effective job briefings.”
At Kankakee Yard, about 65 miles south of Chicago, NS expects to occupy a new $3 million office in June that replaces a 90-year-old building. The new facility will house all operations departments and contain a conference room, lunch room, kitchenette, and plenty of locker and storage space, said Kevin Davis, trainmaster.
“This is going to be a totally vast improvement for the crews,” Davis said.
Kankakee is a strategic location for crude oil trains moving from North Dakota oil fields to East Coast refineries. After western carrier BNSF interchanges the trains with NS in nearby Streator, Ill., the trains advance to Kankakee, where they get a 1,000-mile inspection and then are re-crewed for the ride east. The yard also moves ethanol and grain and a mix of local freight, including switching cars for a company that supplies energy businesses with fracking sand.
“The new building is going to give us the capacity and convenience to grow the business out here with no issues at all,” Davis said.
At Conway Yard, the Mechanical Department’s facility engineering group oversaw construction of a new $2.5 million lab and dispatch facility that was fully occupied in May. The building has meeting space for train and engine crews that includes an information board about available locomotives. Also, a cover was added to the yard’s locomotive fueling station to get employees out of the weather.
Mechanical employees who work at the facility dispatch locomotives for Conway’s locomotive shop and fueling facility and take oil samples, among other checks, to ensure locomotives are in good working order.
“The new facility is a lot nicer for employees, plus it’s very user friendly for our production needs, too,” said Ronnie Bass, senior manager facility engineering.
Company for the 21st century
A goal of NS’ facilities initiative is to ensure the company meets the needs of a changing workforce, including improved accommodations for female employees and employees with disabilities.
The new buildings are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and include locker space and bathrooms for female employees, said Dave Becker, chief engineer for design and construction, the NS group that develops design concepts and oversees construction of most yard facilities.
“We want to make sure we have what it takes to be a 21st century company,” Becker said.
At some yards, NS has identified innovative ways to renovate existing facilities rather than build new, achieving the company’s goals while lowering costs. At Moorman Yard in Bellevue, Ohio, for example, NS in April finished a $2 million renovation of the four-story hump tower, the final piece of a $160 million yard expansion.
“By reusing the existing building, we were able to keep them in the middle of the action where they need to be,” said Ken Hearn, manager architectural services.“We updated it with modern office space, locker rooms, and crew reporting space. It would have cost many millions more to construct a new building that included everything they need.”
Whether renovating or building new, Norfolk Southern has a long-term plan that benefits employees, customers, and the business, said Jay Traywick, assistant vice president executive.
“We are strategically investing in facilities that need to be replaced or updated to meet business needs,” Traywick said. “We are committed to providing our employees with a quality work environment that allows them to collaborate and to grow the business.”