Norfolk Southern lays off 50 workers

Norfolk Southern Railway laid off about 50 workers at the Juniata Locomotive Shop on Wednesday, citing a focus “on ensuring that we have the optimal number of people and assets at every location across our system in order to operate efficiently.”

The furloughed workers will be offered positions elsewhere in the NS system, according to an email from the company’s media relations department.

“(T)argeted hiring and furloughing will remain components of our operating model to drive service and shareholder value,” in keeping with the company’s “new strategic plan,” the email stated.

That plan is precision railroading, according to a shop employee who didn’t want his name used for fear of reprisal.

Last fall, the company began to work in elements of precision railroading, pioneered by Hunter Harrison at Canadian National, Canadian Pacific and CSX, according to Trains.com.

It has led to the “parking” of about 800 locomotives out of the system’s approximately 3,000, which would tend to reduce demand for repairs, according to the Juniata employee.

With precision railroading, freight companies enforce stricter departures, like passenger lines, so customers need to have their loads ready on time; compose longer trains and work to fill all the cars; keep those trains moving at higher speeds and minimize the numbers of locomotives and cars in overall use, according to an article in www.joc.com.

The laid-off workers in Altoona include machinists, electricians, boilermakers and carmen, according to the employee.

The number of workers laid off at Juniata on Wednesday is probably the most at any one time in years, according to the employee.

Norfolk has tended to keep the workforce in Altoona, which includes engineers, conductors and trackmen stationed at Rose Yard, relatively stable, compared to predecessors Conrail, Penn Central and the Pennsylvania Railroad, the employee said.

After Wednesday’s layoffs, there are about 750 workers at Juniata, the employee guessed.

There may be the potential for some of the laid-off workers to move to track jobs in this area, according to the employee.

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