Posted on Tuesday February 13, 2018

Norfolk SouthernNorfolk Southern Railroad Meeting
by City Manager Tom Barber

On Friday, February 9, 2018, we met with Conner Poe, Government Affairs with Norfolk Southern. This is what we learned:

The crossing in front of the police station at N. Carroll is the dividing line between Norfolk Southern Georgia and Norfolk Southern Alabama.

Each side has its own dispatch, trainmaster, and police. More importantly, each side staff is organized into a different union.

Those union rules don’t allow a crew from either side to drive a train into the other’s territory. Therefore, the crew drives to VR, leaves the train on the siding, and catches a ride home. And as we know, the train sits in VR until a crew from the other union show up, sometimes after a long delay.

That said, I also learned that when the wait is expected to be “significant”, the crew is supposed to break the train at each crossing; in our case, at Cleghorn and at Conners.

That is apparently not being done, or at least done consistently enough to suit us, so we need to work with the RR to improve on that. I think if they would frequently break the train during long stays we would be happier, although we would still have to deal with fairly regular short blockages of the two crossings.

Norfolk Southern is discussing other ideas that might help them become more efficient, like consolidating dispatch for the two sections of the line, but I don’t know if we’ll see a substantial impact from that in VR. They might also move the dividing line farther west someday, but again, the immediate fix in VR will come from breaking the trains.

Last of all, keep this in mind. The fundamental problem here is a mismatch of demand and capacity. The Savannah port is pushing more and more containers onto Georgia’s rail lines. That is likely to get steadily worse as long as our economy is improving. And there is only one line between Atlanta and Birmingham, and it is a single-line rail. That is probably not going to get better, ever, as new construction is impractical.

Making things worse is the fact that containers typically weigh less than traditional rail cars, so trains are getting longer, now up to two miles and more. And the sidings that exist today were built prior to that reality, so they are too short. That might possibly get better someday, but I understand that lengthening even a single siding would be extremely expensive, and even if physically possible would probably take years and years to accomplish.

City of Villa Rica | 571 W Bankhead Hwy Villa Rica, GA 30180  |  Phone: 770-459-7000  |  Fax: 770-459-7003
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