News & Reviews News Wire Norfolk Southern reports some headway against congestion, crew hiring

Norfolk Southern reports some headway against congestion, crew hiring

By Bill Stephens | December 13, 2021

| Last updated on April 1, 2024

New President Alan Shaw details hiring efforts in response to STB chairman

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Man in orange vest climbing onto black locomotive
A crew member climbs onto a Norfolk Southern locomotive at Canadian Pacific’s Bensenville Yard in August 2019. NS president Alan Shaw says in a letter to the Surface Transportation Board that the railroad is making progress in addressing its crew shortages. David Lassen

ATLANTA — Norfolk Southern is working to hire conductors to fill its depleted crew ranks in key areas of the system, railroad President Alan Shaw has told federal regulators.

Smiling man in coat and tie
Norfolk Southern President Alan Shaw. NS

“We recognize our current service levels do not meet our customers’ or our expectations. We also understand the critical role we play in supporting our customers’ business plans and the national economy,” Shaw wrote in a Friday letter to STB Chairman Martin J. Oberman that was posted to the agency’s website today. “We are in business to provide an efficient, reliable transportation service and we are highly motivated to restore the level of service our customers expect and handle higher volumes of their freight.”

Oberman wrote to NS CEO Jim Squires on Nov. 23, asking him to explain the railroad’s deteriorating performance metrics and rising number of shipper complaints [see “Federal regulators ask Norfolk Southern …,” Trains News Wire, Nov. 23, 2021]. Shaw was named NS president on Dec. 3 and will assume the CEO role on May 1.

“Norfolk Southern is currently experiencing meaningful workforce shortfalls in critical portions of our network. These shortfalls are primarily concentrated in Birmingham, Ala., in our CNO&TP corridor between Cincinnati, Ohio and Chattanooga, Tenn., and along a portion of our Southern Tier line between Buffalo and Binghamton, N.Y.,” Shaw wrote.

“We have suffered unexpectedly high rates of attrition in these areas, which spiked during late September and October. These attrition rates have been compounded by hiring challenges, as the entire transportation industry, along with other sectors of the economy, face an unusually tight and rapidly evolving labor market.

“As a result of these workforce challenges, we are facing yard congestion in Birmingham and Chattanooga and slower train flows over both the CNO&TP and the Southern Tier. The strains we are experiencing in these areas have created collateral impacts in other parts of the network,” he wrote.

NS made progress whittling down congestion at its classification yards in Birmingham and Chattanooga, as well as on its CNO&TP main line over the Thanksgiving holiday, when volume traditionally declines.

“We have not yet made similar progress on the Southern Tier but our efforts there, and throughout the challenged portions of our network, continue,” Shaw wrote.

The railroad’s average train speed fell to 16.9 mph in November, a multiyear low that was down from 19.4 mph in October and 21.1 mph in September. Average train speed for the week ending Dec. 3 rebounded to 18.9 mph, according to data reported to the STB.

Dwell rose to an average of 28 hours in November, up from 23.6 in October and 22.1 in September. As of the week ending Dec. 3, dwell had improved to 27 hours.

The average number of trains holding per day has fallen but remains stubbornly high at 62, and the number of cars that have not moved in 48 hours also remains elevated.

NS had 285 people in conductor training as of Dec. 6, up from 114 in June. The railroad expects to increase the number of people in the conductor trainee pipeline between now and the end of March, Shaw wrote.

NS has identified 939 conductor trainee candidates, he wrote, and is offering retention bonuses to current train and engine crews as well as prospective employees.

“In short, we are doing whatever we can to meet the challenges presented by high attrition and a tight labor market to put in place the resources we need to serve our customers,” Shaw wrote.

12 thoughts on “Norfolk Southern reports some headway against congestion, crew hiring

  1. NS has POed people in a town near me. Because of crew shortages it can’t move traffic thru New Orleans fast enough. Low value trains going into New Orleans are NOT a priority and they are stacking them up in various sidings. The siding in Pearl River, LA has long trains parked in it for days/weeks on end. They don’t even break them for the Nelson Road crossing. Picture a crossing being blocked for 7 or 8 days straight. Police, Fire, & EMS now have to make a 5 or 6 minute loop to get to homes in emergencies. Someone could die. Remember every second counts in an emergency.

  2. A lot was left out of this article. Trains tied down for days in sidings. Elkhart is just one big railroad bloodclot. Automated dispatching that makes senseless moves, etc., etc., etc.

  3. This company really is run buy idiots. The constant crying in the press about staff shortages, after laying off hundreds of train crew, paying two hundred maintainers to leave the company, leaving areas with no maintainers and no construction gangs for projects. The penny pinching shortsightedness of closing down the hump yards, and yet senior management wonder why they have such high staff turnover, after crucifying staff for any minor infractions or accidents. The only people they treat worse than the workers are their supervisors.
    Most of the engineering grades have been without a contract for two years. All they got for keeping going during Covid, was the threat of discipline if they caught it at work! This was a good company that has needlessly been driven into the dirt.
    Should change its name to National Socialist Railroad.

  4. In the mid 70s when I started with the Southern Railway Mechanical Dept. they were just completing installation of MIcrophor toilets on all of the road engines. This system used air to flush waste into a digester tank that contained specific microorganisms that broke down the waste into nonhazardous liquid which was drained off.

    Granted the earlier Microphors had their design issues and problems but they were getting better. After the SOU-NW merger all of this equipment was removed and replaced by the NW standard bag in a bucket system.

    The serial numbered bags came as the results of lawsuits by farmers because of cattle that had gotten sick and died as the results of waste contaminated hay.

  5. Of course there are “crew shortages”……almost all self induced. Inter-divisional runs that were easily accomplished by one crew under Conrail now take one or even two re-crews. Notch restrictions, underpowered two- and three mile long trains, refusal of RF’s to allow idled units to be placed back on line It all adds up to fuel savings that “help” that holy grail of the RO, but they conveniently find a way to hide the waste of valuable and costly crew resources.

  6. No mention of the hundreds of people they let go two years ago as a cause of today’s shortages. Their attitude: “Darn if we know why no one wants to work for us”.

  7. I worked for NS back in 2010 before leaving to work for BNSF, where I’m still working today. From the day I hired on, every co-worker, old head, retiree, etc… would say “if you can get hired on any other RR, do it. This place is the worst road to work for.” They weren’t kidding. NS is all about “submission”. They treat you like dirt. Their power is the dirtiest, smelliest, worst power you’ll find across all railroads. They don’t give a hoot about “crew comfort” having their engines set to shut down after 5 – 15 minutes at idle with no ability to extend it. So in the heat of summer, sweating to death sitting on plastic seats, no A/C. Now even in winter these units shut down. Most railways, like BNSF, you can extend the “power on” for 120 minutes so you have AC and heat. Not on NS. No refrigerators in the cabs either. Nope. Forced to carry 10 lb bags of ice along with your grip everywhere. Heck, they only put “toilets” in the cab in the late ’90’s / early 2000’s. Can you imagine that ??? They gave you a 5 gallon bucket and serialized “s__t bags. That’s “submission”. The morale is pitiful. Turnover is outrageous. Norfolk Southern has well earned the moniker of “Nazi Southern” and their management is equivalent to the SS.

    1. The serialized s—-t bags were so the employer could trace them if a T&E crew dumped them overboard. The lack of toilets was long ago but there seem to be other issues ongoing.

    2. I remember seeing (and smelling) the burn barrels at the motive power shop at Lamberts Point in Norfolk where those s-it bags were disposed of.

  8. Was not one of the perceived benefits of PSR the improvement of T&E scheduling, rest periods, and therefore quality of life for crews and their families?

  9. There was a time when being a railroad operating employee was a very desirable, good paying occupation/career. Not so much anymore, apparently.

  10. The benchmark year for NS is 2013. Highest car and train velocity, low terminal dwell and high traffic levels.

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