Posts Tagged ‘Norfolk Southern’

Book to be Out Soon About Harrison

August 15, 2018

As the CEO of four Class 1 railroads Ewing Hunter Harrison was a larger than life figure known to friends and foes alike simply by his middle name.


Harrison has been deceased for less than a year and the first book about him is set hit the shelves on Sept. 18.

Howard Green has written Railroader: The Unfiltered Genius and Controversy of Four-Time CEO Hunter Harrison, which is being published by Page Two Books of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Green, who worked for the Business News Network of Canada, interviewed Harrison while he was the head of Canadian National and later Canadian Pacific.

“He’s just a fascinating story,” Green said of Harrison. “I’ve never met anyone like him.”

The 289-page book is based on interviews with 75 people who worked with Harrison, competed against him, or were part of his family.

Work on the book began two years ago and Green said he spent 170 hours talking with Harrison. He also attended the last “Hunter Camp” training seminar days before Harrison died last December at age 73.

A review of the book posted on the Trains magazine website said Green’s book portrays a colorful and complex self-made man who reshaped every railroad his headed but triggered controversy in the process.

“Everywhere he went there was thunder and lightning,” Green says.

The book focuses on the entirety of Harrison’s life, starting with his upbringing in Memphis and how he worked his way up from laborer to CEO of the Illinois Central and later CN, CP and CSX.

As a youth Harrison was rebellious and seen by many as a bully. The son of a Memphis police officer, Harrison for a brief time hung out with an older Elvis Presley.

The Trains review described the book as primarily oriented toward personalities, boardroom politics, and corporate strategy. “It’s clear that Harrison became increasingly focused on investors as he moved from CN to CP and, ultimately, CSX,” Trains correspondent Bill Stephens wrote.

During his career, Harrison was a workaholic who developed a reputation as a demanding boss who felt little remorse for all the employees who lost their jobs at the railroads that he oversaw.

Green said that Harrison’s American citizenship worked against him during his time at CN and CP because he wasn’t part of the small, clubby Canadian business scene and wouldn’t have tried to fit in anyway.

He made no effort to learn French, one of Canada’s two official languages, other than the phrase “Bonjour, y’all.”

Harrison had few close friends and Green quotes Harrison’s sister, Mary, as saying that her brother had “no life,” that it was “nothing for him [at a family gathering] to spend hours pacing on a conference call  . . .  There’s no day off. There’s no vacation. There’s no downtime.”

Yet when he died 700 people attended a tribute to his life. During his career, Harrison also developed a devoted following of railroad executives, some of whom spoke at their mentor’s memorial service.

Harrison was cremated and his ashes scattered about the Memphis railroad yard where his career began.

Green reveals that Harrison might have taken the helm of CSX in the early 2000s had a strategy by CN to obtain an ownership stake in the Florida-based Class 1 railroad worked out. At the time, Harrison was CN’s chief operating officer.

Although Harrison never held a grudge against CN after it declined in 2009 to extend his CEO contract, he did have hard feelings about Norfolk Southern, which Harrison and CP unsuccessfully sought to acquire in 2015-2016.

After becoming CEO of CSX, Green said Harrison reportedly said he wanted to “kick NS in the nuts” by capturing 10 to 15 percent of its traffic.

Green also reveals that Harrison’s health problems prompted an intense debate with CSX management ranks as to when and what to disclose about it.

By the time Harrison agreed to be part of an effort to oust CSX CEO Michael Ward, he had become a very wealthy man, saying that during his time at IC, CN and CP he was paid $500 million.

Harrison had three horse farms and three homes furnished with all of the lavish fixtures and trappings you might expect someone of such immense wealth to have.

Yet his real home was out on whatever railroad he happened to run at the time.

Railway Age columnist Frank Wilner in reviewing Green’s book likened Harrison to a railfan except rather than making photographs of trains EHH was barking orders to subordinates.

Harrison’s antipathy toward railroad labor is well known and been well documented. Many of the employees of his railroads loathed him in return.

But shippers also easily found themselves the targets of Harrison’s tirades. It may be that a railroad would not be a railroad without shippers, but Harrison viewed shipper demands as impeding his goal at the railroad of making money and lots of it for stockholders.

To that end, Harrison was less of a railroader than he was a rapacious capitalist who happened to work in the railroad industry.

Green described Harrison as “an unsentimental efficiency wizard who’d risen to the top by lopping expenses, maximizing the use of assets, and creating enormous value for shareholders [by] making the trains run on time. Investors came first. For him, the game was capitalism, pure and simple.”

Green concludes by saying that Harrison transformed four publicly traded companies, which the author found to be a rare fete.

But as accomplished as Harrison was, he didn’t live long enough to realize what may have been his most craved goal, the establishment of a true transcontinental railroad.

In concluding his review of Green’s book, Wilner observes, “Surely, [Harrison] possessed the ego, perhaps fueled by sharing initials with one of history’s most notable railroad barons—Edward H. Harriman. That Excalibur of railroading remains for another visionary.”


15 Years Ago Today The Great Blackout

August 14, 2018

It was 15 years today (Aug. 14, 2003) that the Northeast Blackout began in struck Northeast Ohio, plunging Cleveland and Akron into darkness.

The largest power outage in the nation’s history affected approximately 55 million people in the United States and Canada as far east as New York City and Newark, New Jersey, and as far west as Lansing, Michigan.

Other major cities in the eight affected states and the Canadian province of Ontario that lost their juice in all or parts of their metropolitan areas included Detroit, Toledo, Erie, Toronto, Baltimore, Buffalo, Rochester, Ottawa, Ann Arbor and large swaths of Ontario.

It wasn’t long after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and many, particularly in New York City, thought terrorists had taken out the nation’s electrical grid. But the cause was more mundane than that.

The blackout originated in Northeast Ohio when a high-voltage line owned by First Energy sagged onto trees just after 2 p.m., causing circuits to trip and the line to shut down.

A software bug in the First Energy control room computers in Akron failed to detect the problem and operators were unaware of the need to disconnect some lines and evenly redistribute power loads to other lines.

What should have been a local and manageable problem began cascading eastward and westward. At 4:10 p.m. overtaxed power lines and various power generating facilities began shutting down.

Within three minutes the blackout was underway in earnest on a hot and humid Thursday afternoon.

I had just returned from a grocery store run and put all the food away when the power went out.

I got a phone call from my Dad, who lived in east central Illinois, and was unaffected by the blackout.

He had been watching TV news about the blackout. It was from him that I learned Cleveland only about a two hours supply of water left.

The four pumping stations that draw Cleveland’s water from Lake Erie did have backup generators on the theory that electricity to all four of them would not fail at the same time. On this day it did.

The blackout affected transportation, shutting down airports, causing traffic gridlock due to traffic signals being out, and knocking out commuter train service in the affected cities. Amtrak ceased operating in the Northeast Corridor north of Philadelphia.

Streetcars and subway trains stopped in their tracks wherever they were when the power went out. In some cases this was in the middle of a tunnel and passengers had to walk out.

That night I sat in a lawn chair on our screen porch listening to the Norfolk Southern and CSX radio traffic on my battery-powered scanner.

NS dispatchers were unable to see on their computer screens where their trains were.

I remember well how at one point a dispatcher began calling one by one by train symbol every train he knew to be on the road. Upon making contact with a train crew, he would say, “where are you?”

The railroad was, literally, operating in dark territory.

My recollection is that CSX signals failed after backup battery power was exhausted and trains had to be talked by the signals.

In New York, Metro-North and the Long Island Railroad were able to restore some commuter train service by the next morning using diesel locomotive power.

Not all of Akron was without power. The Akron Beacon Journal still had electricity and it printed its own Aug. 15 edition as well as an abbreviated edition of The Plain Dealer of Cleveland.

Power began being restored during the early morning hours and throughout the Aug. 15. Cleveland Hopkins Airport returned to service by early evening on Friday.

The power came back at my house on Friday morning and life slowly began returning to normal.

A task force of U.S. and Canadian officials issued in April 2004 a report that laid much of the blame for the blackout at the feet of First Energy, citing the software glitch, trees too close to power transmission lines and inadequate operator training.

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation in 2005 promulgated standards designed to prevent a similar event by requiring  computer systems and communications to monitor and respond to outsize power fluctuations, while requiring better tree trimming and system maintenance programs.

Grid operators were given more authority to isolate their systems from outage-causing events. Power companies that failed to comply could be fined as much as $1 million a day.

Yet some power experts believe another blackout of the magnitude of what happened in 2003 could happen again because the grid is not designed to move power over hundreds of miles.

There also remains the threat of a cyber attack by terrorists, which could cause blackouts, although lessons learned from 2003 and upgrades and changes made to the grid since then have lessened the possibility of a cyber attack being able to create the level of havoc that occurred 15 years ago.

Perhaps the key lesson to take away from the blackout of 2003, reported Scientific American in a five-year retrospect is that the risk of another massive blackout has been reduced but it will always be there due to the complexity of the power grid.

Pittsburgh Light Rail Line Damaged by NS Derailment Not Expected to Reopen for 3-4 Weeks

August 14, 2018

A Pittsburgh light rail line station knocked out of service by a Norfolk Southern derailment is not expected to reopen for another three to four weeks.

The Port Authority of Allegheny County said on Monday it has hired consultants and contractors to repair track and equipment damaged by the Aug. 5 derailment of an NS stack train on the Mon Line at the Station Square light rail station.

The T stop at Station Square has been closed since the derailment.

Inspectors found that 1,600 feet of track sustained extensive damage and will need to be replaced.

Also needing replacement is about 4,000 feet of overhead electrical line and the supports for the overhead.

The derailment also shut down the NS Mon Line for three days. The derailment occurred a few minutes after a light-rail train had passed.

One lane of East Carson Street remains closed to allow workers access to the light rail tracks.

A Port Authority spokesman said a cost estimate to repair the damages has not yet been calculated but the agency will seek reimbursement from NS or through insurance.

Although not directly connected to the NS derailment, the Port Authority said hiring contractors to repair the Station Square damage will enable workers to continue to work on the Blue Line in Library where flooding earlier this summer caused significant damage.

That route was expected to open on Sept. 1, but now authorities say that will likely be pushed back because of the NS derailment.

The Port Authority said it will review the NS accident after track and infrastructure repairs are complete to determine if additional safety measures are needed to protect the T station and system in the event of a future freight train derailment.

Another Summerail in the Books

August 13, 2018

Steve Barry, editor in chief of Railfan & Railroad magazine, presides at the 2018 Summerail event held at the Palace Theater in Marion.

Thirteen programs highlighted the 2018 Summerail event held last Saturday at the Palace Theater in Marion.

None of the presenters were from Northeast Ohio and as was the case last year images made in NEO were sparse.

Nonetheless, all 13 of the programs were of top quality and it was the strongest program slate I’ve seen at Summerail. OK, so this was just my third time at Summerail.

Throw in some train watching along with socializing and you had an enjoyable day of viewing railroad photographs and video set to music.

My “gold medal” for best program would go to Land of Enchantment by John Ryan and Paul Swanson of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Janesville, Wisconsin, respectively.

It focused on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief on its route between La Junta, Colorado, and Albuquerque.

The program featured video set to a piece of classical music performed by a symphony from London with a vocalist.

The video portrayed the Chief traversing a piece of railroad that has changed little since the days of the Santa Fe and which is now the center of controversy over Amtrak’s proposal to replace the train with buses between Albuquerque and Dodge City, Kansas.

The time frame of the scenes was recent years but the scenery was timeless, filled with wig wag grade crossing signals and semaphore block signals.

Some video was made from a drone, including some footage looking straight down.

Nos. 3 and 4 were shown traveling through high plains, desert canyons, and the stunning beauty of Raton and Glorieta passes. It was enchanting, indeed.

My “silver medal” would go to EL’s West End by Mark Llanuza of Chicago.

Showing scanned slides from his collection and those of four other photographers, Llanuza portrayed the EL primarily in Indiana and the Chicago region during its final years

The closing segment of Mark’s program borrowed an idea from Akron Railroad Club member Roger Durfee. It featured the Moby song One of These Mornings to show a series of then and now scenes.

Roger created a similar music and images program in spring 2012 about the EL, his favorite railroad. Mark had seen Roger’s program and used the Moby song in a similar format with Roger’s permission.

My “bronze medal” is a tossup between Richard Baldwin’s Richard Baldwin’s Greatest Hits and George Pitary’s A Taste of Maine.

Baldwin, an Indianapolis native and resident, had the only program to go back as far as the 1950s and 1960s, showing various railroads in the Midwest, South and West with music recorded during the period portrayed on the screen.

The program took in the end of steam and the early diesel era, showing many liveries and railroads that no longer exist. Richard was a photojournalist by trade before his retirement.

Pitarys is a retired railroader who covered 45 years of railroad operations in Maine.

A Maine native, George covered the major carriers and modern-day short lines. The program also highlighted the scenery of the state in all four seasons.

Ohio wasn’t left out of the programs. Brian Seller presented a program devoted to short-line railroads of the Cincinnati region as well as passenger specials and excursion trains in the Queen City.

Before the programs began in early afternoon and during the dinner break, CSX and Norfolk Southern provided a fairly steady flow of traffic past Marion Union Station.

However, many photographers, myself included, got hosed on the highlight of the day, the original NS heritage unit leading a westbound auto rack train that came through town as an eastbound auto rack train also was passing through.

You got both trains if you were on the east side of the NS Sandusky District tracks, but I, like most railfans, was on the west side. Specifically, I was standing at the top of the steps of AC Tower, which was open all day.

Our consolidation prize was the Union Pacific unit leading the eastbound auto rack, which carried symbol 288.

Another prize was a Florida East Coast SD70M-2 No. 105 trailing in the motive power consist of westbound stack train 25N, which originates in Columbus and terminates at Corwith Yard in Chicago.

It was my first spotting of one of the FEC units that NS is leasing to cover a motive power shortage. Heck, it is the first FEC unit of any kind that I’ve ever photographed.

Shortly after I arrived at Marion US during the dinner break, CSX sent a sulfur train eastbound on the Columbus Subdivision. It had a Canadian National leader and a UP trailer.

ARRC member Richard Antibus said it was the sixth train he had seen on the former Chesapeake & Ohio line since arriving in Marion about mid morning.

Antibus and ARRC Secretary Jim Mastromatteo spent the day railfanning at the station while Ron McElrath manned his table at the train show at the Palace Theater.

I also spotted ARRC members Steve Heister, Dennis Tharp and Tom Fritsch in the crowd at the Palace Theater.

For the second year there was a catered Skyline Chili dinner in the waiting room of the depot that was arranged by the Marion Union Station Association and White River Productions.

This year’s Summerail was dedicated to Joe Slanser, who died earlier this summer. Mr. Slanser, a well-known Marion railfan, played a key role in preserving Marion Union Station after it sat vacant for more than a decade after closing after the last passenger trains stopped there on April 30, 1971.

Steve Barry, the editor of Railfan & Railroad, magazine served as the emcee for most of the day during the programs.

Summerail 2019 will return to Marion on Aug. 10. I’m already looking forward to it.

For me, at least, this was the highlight of the day while railfanning in Marion during the 2018 Summerail event.

NS train 101 trundles through Marion during the dinner hour.

NS eastbound auto rack train 288 is about to cross the CSX Mt. Victory Subdivision. It would block the NS heritage unit on the westbound 27V.

Q008 was the last CSX train that many Summerail attendees saw before heading for the Palace Theater and first session of programs.

This westbound auto rack train must be empty if it only needs a single locomotive to pull it.

An eastbound CSX sulfur train is led by a Canadian nation al unit as it approaches Marion Union Station on the Columbus Subdivision.

CSX manifest freight Q651 heads into the lay day light in Marion.

Jerry Jordak enjoys a dish of Skyline chili while checking out the latest news in the world of railroads and railfanning while eating at Marion Union Station during the dinner break of Summerail.

Photographers get their photographs of a westbound NS light power move passing AC Tower in Marion.

NS Spending Big on Technology Development

August 10, 2018

Norfolk Southern budgeted nearly $300 million this year for technology development, including $140 million for positive train control.

Railroad management said that efforts to develop more technologies and automation have accelerated over the past few years and have included such things as predictive analytics to machine learning to artificial intelligence to smart sensors.

The budget for technological developments this year has sharply risen from $77 million in 2016 to $110 million in 2017.

PTC is viewed by NS executives as a major step toward the goal of an automated railroad.

NS expected to have PTC fully in place by the end of 2020 and is expected to seek an implementation extension later this year from the Federal Railroad Administration.

Along the way NS hopes to be able to persuade government regulators to change their regulations to account for the development of technology.

One example given by NS in that regard involves switch inspection. The railroad has sensors that monitor switch, but the FRA still requires visual inspections of them twice a month.

What NS hopes to see is what it described as performance-based regulations that would allow the railroad industry to experiment and innovate

At the same time, NS acknowledges a role for federal regulators to establish safety parameters.

NS sent the FRA a 41-page document to the FRA that defines how regulators could partner with the railroad industry to promote innovation.

Among the technological systems that NS is seeking to develop include predictive models that forecast when track curves will need replacement.

That model uses machine learning, artificial intelligence and data points collected from on-track equipment to create algorithms that can predict track wear over a five-year period.

This will enable managers can better plan repairs and maintenance, and reduce track downtime.

Although railroads use geometry cars to inspect rails, that is done after the fact and doesn’t provide information that predicts when rails need to be repaired or replaced.

The Tradition Continues

August 8, 2018

Uncle Pete lends a hand to NS train 209 on the Chicago Line in Amherst.

I have a tradition during the annual picnic of the Forest City Division of the Railroad Enthusiasts in Amherst of walking to the Jackson Street bridge over the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern.

The picnic is always held on a Saturday and doesn’t get underway until mid afternoon, so I’m always going up to the bridge in late afternoon.

Usually, I’m joined by RRE member Jerry Jordak. This year was no exception.

We took our places on the bridge around 5 p.m. and staked it out for the next hour and a half.

The light at that time of day clearly favors westbound traffic, which is good because there is a fence on the west side of the bridge where the sidewalk is located.

Fortunately, Jackson Street is not overly busy so we are able to walk to the east edge, get our images and scurry back to the sidewalk.

NS cooperated nicely this year by sending four westbounds our way. This included a pair of stack trains, manifest freight No. 309 and auto rack train No. 287.

The 309 had a Union Pacific leader, which marked the first time I’ve landed foreign power leading a train through Amherst.

The 287 took the siding at CP 213 located just east of Jackson Street en route to Fairlane Yard.

In all the years I’ve photographed from Jackson Street I’ve never caught an NS heritage or special tribute locomotive.

The most interesting sighting we’ve made was the NS executive train in 2014.

There is still bit of heritage left in Amherst. The eastbound home signals for CP 313 still have Type G signal heads even though they now are mounted on a modern support stand.

We also spotted a former Santa Fe cover hopper car that still carried its original markings and reporting numbers.

That was an appropriate find given that the program presented later that evening by Marty Surdyk prominently featured images of Santa Fe trains in in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, California and other points.


No Injuries in NS Pittsburgh Derailment Sunday

August 6, 2018

No injuries were reported after a Norfolk Southern train derailed on Sunday afternoon near Station Square in Pittsburgh.

However, rail cars fell down a hill and onto the light-rail tracks operated by the Port Authority of Allegheny County.

The transit agency said that riders experienced delays heading to and from downtown Pittsburgh, as workers cleaned up the debris from the derailment.

Seven cars of a Chicago-bound double stack train derailed. NS said the derailed cars were carrying food products, beverages, housewares and other retail items.

NS sent cranes to the site to lift the rail cars and containers and stage them in a parking lot at Station Square where they will be loaded onto tractor-trailer or flatbed trucks for removal from the site.

The railroad said it expected to have the route, known as the Mon Line, cleared in 24 to 48 hours after the derailment.

“Norfolk Southern is actively pursuing detour and reroute options in an effort to minimize shipping delays and working closely with customers to meet their service needs,” an NS spokesman said.

The train of three locomotives and 57 loaded intermodal rail cars was 7,687 feet long and weighed 4,838 tons. NS officials are still seeking the cause of the derailment.

NS Using 3-D Technology for Training

August 1, 2018

A screen shot from the 3-D training program Norfolk Southern is using to train new employees.

Norfolk Southern is using a 3D simulation-based training application to train employees in freight car air brake inspections.

The app was developed in partnership with Heartwood 3D and is being made available to other railroads.

In a pilot program involving the new technology, new employees use the 3D simulator to conduct virtual inspections of freight cars and interact with various brake components on a tablet or desktop computer at any time or location.

The inspection and testing typically requires NS to set up multiple freight cars onsite and allocate a significant amount of training time for demonstration, practice and evaluation.

In a news release, NS said that using the simulator, students are able to virtually walk a line of freight cars, inspect various components determine the correct brake pressure, and ensure proper brake application and release.

Upon completion of the course, students receive a record of their performance and suggested areas of improvement.

NS expects to train 50 to 100 freight-car-repair personnel and 1,800 conductors using the simulation.

The Class 1 carrier said it continues to work with Heartwood 3D to identify other training programs that could benefit using the technology.

Analysts Pepper Squires with Questions About Why NS Can’t be Like CSX

July 27, 2018

Despite setting performance records in the second quarter, Norfolk Southern CEO James Squires found himself having to defend his railroad after some Wall Street analysts wondered why NS has not closed a widening operating ratio gap with CSX.

James Squires

The analysts asked why NS isn’t moving as fast as CSX in cutting costs and boosting profitability.

Squires expressed optimism that NS would meet its 2020 sub-65 operating ratio goal ahead of schedule, although he would not say when that would occur.

NS set a record 64.6 percent operating ratio during the quarter, but it was 6 points higher than the CSX operating ratio of 58.6 percent, also a record.

The NS operating ratio was last among publicly traded North American Class 1 railroads.

In response to question by an analysts as to why NS has a different return profile than CSX, Squires said NS recognizes that boosting profitability is important, and consistent improvement in the operating ratio is part of its plan that balances growth and productivity gains.

“We’re going to continue to push on operating ratio,” Squires said. “When we get to the current goal of sub-65 we certainly won’t stop there.”

When pressed if NS has more of a growth focus than CSX, Squires responded: “I will say this. This is a terrific environment in which to grow. And we have been executing on growth by sending that growth to the bottom line.”

Squires pointed to the railroad’s improvements in operating income and noted that the railroad business is cyclical. “You better jump on that growth opportunity when you have it,” Squires said.

At the same time, NS saw an increase in traffic of 6 percent during the second quarter of 2018 compared with the 2 percent gain posted by CSX, which was the lowest among the publicly traded Class 1 railroads.

In response to another analyst, Squires said he watches the performances of other railroads and adopts their best practices.

He raised doubt about whether NS should do what CSX did last year in making disruptive operational changes to quickly reduce structural costs and then pursue more profitable growth.

In response to another question as to whether NS has a better network than CSX, Squires said he likes the NS network a lot.

“I think we have an outstanding network with a lot of potential for both efficiency and growth. I’ll take our network any day,” he said.

Squires also noted that NS has taken steps to reduce structural costs, including consolidating dispatching in Atlanta by the end of the year, simplifying its local operating plan by collaborating with customers, and rationalizing its yard network.

“A classification network that can provide good local service is one of the keys to growth in the merchandise network,” Squires said.

One analyst wondered if NS has considered hiring operations people with precision scheduled railroading experience as a way to cut the workforce as CSX has done.

By comparison, CSX had 22,942 employees at the end of the second quarter, which was down 11 percent from a year ago, while NS had 26,535, a decrease of 2 percent.

“I’m very, very confident in our operations team and their ability to drive productivity while maintaining a foundation for growth. We’re in great shape with the team,” Squires said, adding that a railroad’s cost structure comes down to people and assets and NS remains focused on both as it looks to balance cost cuts with growth, service, and safety.

Squires didn’t bite when an analyst asked if CSX was enjoying short-term profits at the expense of long-term goals.

“We believe in our plan, and our plan is a balance of efficiency and growth, as I’ve said several times this morning,” Squires said. “That really is the right formula in our view.”

Squires elaborated by saying companies need to make investments for growth and that requires having a certain level of resources available, particularly in times that are conducive to growth.

“So while we are definitely focused on productivity going forward, right now is the time to make sure you have the workforce in place to handle the business so that you can grow when that’s possible. So I think our plan will be the right plan for our shareholders in the future,” Squires said.

NS Outlines Operations Improvements

July 27, 2018

Norfolk Southern operating executives this week gave an overview of their efforts to relieve traffic congestion, particularly in the southern regions of the network, pointing to how adding motive power has enabled NS to reduce the number of delayed freight cars.

“We’ve progressed with our service recovery plan during a quarter in which we grew our business, handled near-record volumes, and achieved a record second-quarter operating ratio,” Chief Operating Mike Wheeler said. “We are pleased with the increasing efficiency of our operations.”

Also helping out was the reopening of the hump at DeButts Yard in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“To continue to improve service, a portion of the hump was reactivated on May 17 to keep pace with near-record carloads,” Wheeler said. “This hybrid model, which calls for the humping of local traffic while still utilizing block-swaps for through traffic, gives us the best balance between service and efficiency.”

Another step was reopening the route between Birmingham, Alabama, and Macon, Georgia, via Columbus, Georgia, to through traffic in order to avoid bottlenecks in Atlanta.

NS said this has cut transit times for carloads moving from Mississippi to Georgia.

During the second quarter of 2018, NS handled 6 percent more volume with only a 1 percent increase in crew starts as train lengths reached record levels.

However, NS remained weighed down with average train speeds of 18.4 mph and terminal dwell times of 28.4 hours. Both metrics were 14 percent worse than the second quarter of 2017.

But when compared to the first quarter of this year, terminal dwell times improved 1 percent.

Yet train speed fell 3 percent and the railroad’s composite service metric, which measures a combination of on-time performance, local service performance, and carloads making scheduled connections, declined 2 percent.

NS CEO James Squires acknowledged that service is not where management wants it to be and what customers expect.

In recent months, NS has placed back into service 75 of the 125 older General Electric units it is running through its DC-to-AC conversion program this year.

Wheeler said 130 of the 155 short-term leased units are on the road in revenue service.

NS expects to hire 1,800 crew members this year, which is 700 more than expected.

Taking into account normal attrition, NS will have 300 additional train and engine employees by late this year.