Furloughs at NS shop concerning

Precision Scheduled Railroading, which Norfolk Southern began to implement in fall 2018, apparently is the culprit behind another troubling jobs cut exacted at Altoona’s Juniata Locomotive Shop.

Norfolk Southern’s furloughing of 86 shop employees on July 9 — and eliminating an additional 14 jobs through attrition — has left Mountain City residents wondering how much of a future might exist for the shop.

As a result of the latest action, the shop’s employee roster has shrunk to about 400 names; after NS laid off 100 employees in September 2019, 650 workers remained.

Highly skilled, dedicated workers who always have been an asset to the company’s delivery of service have been cast aside as the result of an operational concept that has yet to be fully time-tested.

Precision Scheduled Railroading, pioneered by the late Canadian Pacific Railroad CEO Hunter Harrison, is built around using fewer trains and holding them to tighter schedules, in order to boost profits and stock prices.

On the surface, from a freight-business and stockholder perspective, that might seem desirable. However, in the changing economy triggered in part by the coronavirus pandemic, it is reasonable to be skeptical about whether Precision Scheduled Railroading will be able to meet new, evolving challenges over the long term.

The loss of experienced, highly skilled workers will make it difficult for Norfolk Southern if needs arise to increase production at the shop.

The current NS decision-making continues to be a matter of deep concern for this community and its environs. The more the local operation is scaled back, the weaker its ability to enhance the railroad’s best interests on both the equipment and financial fronts.

Worse, each time the railroad makes a cut like the one announced July 9, the more the specter of total closure wreaks its ugly head.

Unfortunately, the tough talk of some politicians reacting to the latest furlough news might be too little, too late. Since the implementation of PSR began, there should have been more constructive, proactive discussions within the community, as well as exploratory dialogue with company leaders about how the locomotive shop can remain a viable NS entity.

This is not meant to imply that there is little or no hope for the future. Rather, it is to point out that the task ahead is destined to be more difficult than it would have been a couple of years ago.

All across America, businesses and industries are making tough decisions negatively affecting not only dedicated workers, but their families as well.

For Altoona and its locomotive shop, finding a way to repurpose the facility or add work to it within the railroad environment — while keeping intact at least what remains of the locomotive operation — must be the utmost priority. All attempts possible must be put forth to prevent the uprooting of more employees and families.

Altoona must remain dedicated to helping Norfolk Southern remain a strong entity amid this nation’s changing railroad landscape, but NS should be committed to working with Altoona as well.


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