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NS rapid deployment teams advance company’s strategic plan

October 2018

  • Carman Go Team member Michael Jack, based in Decatur, Ill., works at Norfolk Southern’s car shop at Spencer Yard in Linwood, N.C., on the team’s first assignment. He is shown preparing to make a repair on a rail car end ladder that had loose bolts.
  • Carmen, from left to right, Michael Jack, Jon Hancock, Edric Cabral, training gang leader, and Jon Heridia are part of Norfolk Southern’s carmen Go Team. The team’s first assignment was at Spencer Yard in Linwood, N.C., part of the railroad’s Piedmont Division.
  • Carman Go Team member Jon Hancock, based in Conway, Pa., at Conway Yard, is shown conducting a single car air brake test while on assignment at Spencer Yard.
  • Carman Go Team member Jon Heridia, based in Chicago at Calumet Intermodal Facility, tests a rail car’s uncoupling lever while on assignment at Spencer Yard.

Innovative ‘Go Team’ concept helps NS operations keep network fluid and service flowing

Last spring, during field visits to rail yards on the railroad’s Southern Region, CEO Jim Squires and Chief Operating Officer Mike Wheeler encouraged employees to share their ideas on how the company could operate more efficiently.

Carman Darrell Wood suggested a Go Team to expedite car repairs in areas of need.

At Spencer Yard, a hump facility in Linwood, N.C., Darrell Wood, a Mechanical Department employee who repairs rail cars, spoke up. Senior management listened. Now, his suggestion about how the company could improve its response to short-term rail car repair needs is helping to reduce congestion and improve service at some of Norfolk Southern’s busiest yards.

During the town hall meeting, Wood, a 29-year carman, listened as Squires and Wheeler outlined a company plan to address network congestion that was slowing service across the Southern Region. One initiative they discussed was formation of a Transportation Department “Go Team,” an innovative program that features a volunteer pool of train and engine employees. Members of the team quickly take to the road when needed to serve short-term assignments filling locomotive crew shortages in congested territories. The Go Team concept advances the goals of the company’s strategic plan by enhancing service, promoting stewardship of resources, and supporting growth.

The Go Team resonated with Wood. He wondered: Why couldn’t the company form a Go Team for carmen? This team, he reasoned, could expedite repairs of “bad order” rail cars in areas with the greatest need and get them back into service more quickly.

“The idea to temporarily deploy carmen came to me while they were talking,” Wood recalled. “There’s been a shortage of workers at different places on the railroad, and having trained carmen come in from other places would give relief and make everything more fluid. When severe weather damages electrical grids, utility teams from other places are called out to help restore power, and extra firefighters are called out to fight severe fires, so why can’t we send extra people to help repair some of these cars?”

Wood shared those thoughts when Squires and Wheeler asked for suggestions.

“Mr. Squires said it was a good idea, and said he would check into it,” Wood said. “The next thing I knew, the carmen Go Team was being formed.”

Keeping the railroad fluid

By the summer, 26 carmen systemwide had applied for the Go Team. Nine were chosen initially based on their safety and attendance records, length of service, staffing levels at their home yards, and ability to deploy on short notice for up to 20 days. Assigned to the team for one year, the carmen receive a financial incentive, along with a deployment allowance and lodging and meals during the team’s activation. Similar to the locomotive Go Team, carmen on the team are activated for short-term deployments to fill critical needs.

“The goal is to alleviate congestion, keep the railroad fluid, and get customer freight back in service and on the road,” said Rennie Wilson, director car maintenance. Wilson is responsible for activating the Go Team after a regional vice president approves a request for assistance.

Wood did not apply for the team, noting that increasing business volumes at Spencer, combined with mounting car repairs, keep him busy.

“Right now, there is a lot to do here at Spencer,” he said. “This is the busiest I’ve seen it. It wouldn’t make sense to go somewhere else when’ve we’ve got so much to do at our own place.”

Coincidentally, the Go Team’s first assignment was at the Spencer car shop, where Wood and the yard’s other 51 carmen were scrambling to repair almost 200 rail cars while performing regularly scheduled inspections on incoming and outgoing cars. Four carmen – from Conway Yard, Decatur Terminal, and Chicago’s Calumet Intermodal Facility – arrived at the Linwood yard on Aug. 24, and spent the next week helping Spencer employees restore the cars to service.

Working as a team

“It’s a way to help out other carmen,” said Edric Cabral, a training gang leader at Calumet who deployed with the team. “We all do the same thing – fix the cars and get them out in a timely and safe fashion.”

A 17-year NS employee, Cabral applied for the Go Team because he wanted to help other carmen. “I love my job, and it’s been a great experience to come down here and help the Spencer shop out,” he said.

The Spencer carmen welcomed the assistance. “Whatever it takes to keep freight moving,” said John Jenkins, general foreman. “We don’t want to see NS business lost to other railroads just because we can’t handle the car count.”

“It’s been a pretty quick turnaround,” added Bobby Cox, division manager mechanical operations. “That’s partly due to the efforts of the Go Team, as well as to our guys here.”

With the team’s initial deployment a success, Wood said he appreciates the willingness of NS’ senior executives to listen to and act on employee suggestions.

“It shows they’re open to new ideas coming from even inside the crafts,” Wood said. “They want to work together as a team.”