Norfolk Southern to close Roanoke Locomotive Shop

Written by David C. Lester, Managing Editor
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Norfolk Southern announces its response to the coronavirus
Norfolk Southern

Earlier today, RT&S reported on a news release from Norfolk Southern announcing the closing of the Roanoke Distribution Center and the movement of all locomotive repair work to the Juniata Locomotive Shop in Altoona, Pa. Noticeably absent from the press release was any specific wording around whether the Roanoke Locomotive Shop would be closed. However, despite the lack of specific reference to the closure, the press release made it obvious that the shop would be closed. That press release is found below in bold black type.

Later this afternoon, RT&S gained access to an internal company memo that provided more detail than the press release. This memo confirmed the Roanoke Locomotive Shop would be closed. While there is some repetition when compared to the press release, the additional information provided in the internal memo is in bold red, below.

Portions of Internal Memo

The Roanoke and Juniata locomotive shops are operated as heavy repair and overhaul shops. Likewise, the company operates distribution centers in Roanoke and Altoona that store and distribute mechanical parts to locomotive shops system-wide. As Norfolk Southern continues to evaluate our operations and network, the company determined we could no longer support two separate heavy-repair facilities and distribution centers. The company has experienced a 48% decline in coal tons shipped since 2008, with further declines expected. In addition, we are operating with a leaner locomotive fleet, down 22% since late 2018, reducing the locomotive maintenance and repairs required to operate safely and efficiently.

[Norfolk Southern] acknowledged that the decision to close the Roanoke Locomotive Shop represents a historic change for the company. Norfolk Southern predecessor railroad Norfolk & Western began operating the shop, then Roanoke Machine Works, in 1883.

The shop once built steam locomotives.“We honor and recognize the proud heritage of employees who work at the Roanoke Locomotive Shop,” [Norfolk Southern] said. “At the same time, we recognize that we must transform how we operate our company to keep pace with today’s ever-evolving markets and business environment.”

Press release

Norfolk Southern announces closure of its Roanoke Distribution Center and the transfer of Roanoke Locomotive Shop work and positions to Altoona, Pa. Rail operations and more than 650 employees remain in the Roanoke Valley.

Norfolk Southern today announced the closure of its Roanoke Distribution Center in Virginia and the planned transfer of the work associated with its Roanoke Locomotive Shop to Altoona, Pennsylvania. Roanoke Locomotive Shop mechanical employees will have the opportunity to transfer to the Juniata Locomotive Shop in Altoona and will be eligible for relocation benefits.

This difficult but necessary decision reflects the importance of ensuring the company maintains the right mix of people and facilities, in the right locations, to deliver exceptional customer service. This decision follows a 48% decline in coal tons shipped since 2008. Norfolk Southern also has seen a 22% reduction in our locomotive fleet since late 2018, reducing the volume of locomotive maintenance and repair required to operate safely.

We maintain a longstanding affiliation with the Roanoke area and the many generations of highly talented men and women who have worked for NS in Roanoke, which makes today’s announcement especially difficult. Norfolk Southern will continue its presence and operations in Roanoke, employing more than 650 people in the Roanoke Valley.

Additional background information

Norfolk Southern experienced a 48% decline in coal tons shipped since 2008, and further declines are expected. Norfolk Southern also has seen a 22% reduction in our locomotive fleet since late 2018, reducing the volume of locomotive maintenance and repair required to operate safely. As NS continues to evaluate its operations and network, the company determined it could no longer support two separate heavy-repair locomotive facilities. Norfolk Southern determined that the most appropriate location on its network for its major locomotive facility is the Juniata Locomotive Shop in Altoona, Pennsylvania.

It is anticipated that affected employees at the Roanoke Distribution Center will continue working through approximately April 18, 2020, and personnel at the Roanoke Locomotive Shop through approximately May 18, 2020.

All mechanical workers – approximately 85 individuals – will be offered the opportunity to relocate to the Juniata Locomotive Shop and continue their employment with Norfolk Southern. Nineteen clerical positions will be eliminated. The company recognizes the valuable contributions of its employees and will work with affected employees to provide relocation benefits to those who choose to relocate. Furloughed clerical employees will have the opportunity to apply for available positions elsewhere on the NS system.

Norfolk Southern has been a proud corporate citizen of Roanoke for more than 130 years, and will remain engaged in the community. The Norfolk Southern Foundation supports the Virginia Career Works mission to advance economic stability and growth by preparing and connecting people with employers through its training providers and network of professional partners. Norfolk Southern recently contributed $150,000 to the Virginia Career Works stabilization and empowerment initiative to support displaced workers in the Blue Ridge region.

While the railroad’s profile may be reduced, Roanoke and the Commonwealth of Virginia will remain vitally important components of Norfolk Southern’s 22-state network. The company will continue its presence and operations in Roanoke, employing more than 650 people in the Roanoke Valley.

A Norfolk Southern news release.

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