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Quarter-century of safety

Front Royal MWS crew
Members of the Front Royal maintenance-of-way gang are pictured here. Moe Miller, track supervisor, is standing, fourth person from the right.

Front Royal crew achieves milestone

To say that the maintenance-of-way and structures crew in Front Royal, Va., is committed to safety and service is an understatement. In late November, the Virginia Division gang reached a safety milestone worth a ton of “touch points:” 25 years without a single reportable injury.

“It’s something we take great pride in and knew it was coming,” said Maurice “Moe” Miller, track supervisor. “We hold each other to a higher standard. That’s what I project, and I expect it from the employees.”

The Front Royal crew of fewer than 20 members is responsible for maintaining more than 120 miles of mainline track, trestles, and rail. Their territory extends from Elkton and Harrisonburg, Va., to Hagerstown, Md. Their work has included upgrading track and rail infrastructure on one of the busiest segments of Norfolk Southern’s Crescent Corridor, a strategic public-private partnership investment for growing domestic intermodal business.

“Those employees are exposed to potentially hazardous conditions on a daily basis,” said David Taylor, assistant division engineer track, Virginia Division. “It takes proper planning on the supervisor’s part and a conscientious work force.”

Over the past five years, that diligence has been evident in the crew’s work on 26 different Crescent Corridor projects that have improved train velocity and capacity between Front Royal and Hagerstown. One of the most momentous, completed in 2010, involved upgrading track where two primary Crescent Corridor routes converge near Front Royal at Riverton Junction. Train speeds there had been restricted to 15 mph because a combination of topography – a creek and rock bluff – and a bridge that had limited placement of a turnout to switch trains.

Joined by approximately 150 track laborers from across the division, as well as contractors, signalmen, and bridge department and design and construction employees, the Front Royal crew helped install a new bridge section featuring a rock ballast deck and an automated switch. They also assisted with site improvements to straighten the track. Now, trains can cruise through the junction at 30 mph.

“The speed improvement project at Riverton was one of the most challenging, and the Front Royal crew played a critical role,” said Michael Breen, senior construction engineer. “They’re great people to work with. They take the time to do the job right. Front Royal has had many tremendous challenges in recent times, but they get the job done. That’s why we’ve been able to deliver so many projects.”

Twenty-five years ago, when the injury-free streak began, the Front Royal crew had almost three times as many employees as today, said Miller, who plans to retire in 2014. Most of the current members have been on the job for only three or four years, he added. Those who have retired shared their expertise with new workers, Miller said.

“It’s the work ethic in that community as well as caring for their fellow workers,” he said, noting that he fully participates in each of the crew’s projects. “It’s not just talking the talk. You also have to walk the walk and demonstrate it by working with them shoulder to shoulder and hands on.”

Miller was assistant track supervisor when the crew’s injury-free streak began in 1988, said Lucious Bobbitt, chief engineer line maintenance, Eastern Region. Miller’s leadership has played a key role, Bobbitt said.

“Moe not only taught how to railroad, but how to become a part of a team that pulled together out of mutual respect and a sense of brotherhood,” he said. “No one wanted to let Moe or the railroad down by not giving 100 percent every day and working smart to avoid injury.”

Thirty-four year employee G.V. Nauman, track patrol foreman, has worked on the crew for more than a decade. He said camaraderie extends off the job to getting families together for outside activities.

“We are very family-oriented and tightly knit,” he said. “It’s just a tremendous group of being your brother’s keeper.”

Everyone on the crew realizes the significance of the safety achievement: “Nobody,” Nauman said, “wants to be the one to break that 25-year record.”