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Rail News Home Norfolk Southern Railway

November 2012

Rail News: Norfolk Southern Railway

Railroad safety, rail service the onus of Norfolk Southern's new dual-purpose committees


By Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor

As part of an ongoing effort to cultivate a new safety culture based on positive rather than negative reinforcement (the subject of the November issue’s cover story), Norfolk Southern Corp. leaders are trying to engage employees to help determine better ways to prevent accidents and injuries. New ideas on methods to enhance service performance, along with or separate from a related safety improvement, also are encouraged and welcomed.

Local groups created in the operating department earlier this year have been taking a dual-purpose angle to idea generation. Dubbed “safety and service committees,” the groups bring together supervisors and employees — and several other constituents, including contractors — to share input on ways to refine tasks, improve equipment or eliminate hazards in order to improve safety and/or service. NS has transformed all 145 former safety committees, which focused solely on safety improvements, into safety and service committees.

The committees meet monthly to brainstorm and coordinate objectives. Each committee comprises eight to 15 members, depending on the crew base at a particular location. Members include supervisors and field workers in the engineering, mechanical or transportation departments, as well as representation from any number of the following: clerical staff, intermodal employees, NS police officers, division-level liaisons or dispatch center workers.

"In many circumstances, we [also] invite contractors to participate, such as taxi service reps or intermodal load-out contractors," says Alabama Division Superintendent Todd Reynolds, who works in conjunction with the district’s 13 committees.

In addition to local or district-level committees, there are division safety and service committees, regional committees, and an Operations Divisions Safety and Service Steering Committee that oversees the entire process. But local committees are empowered and expected to manage issues at their level, which is why representatives from each department are members, says Reynolds.

“That way, we are assured that they have the expertise to handle things that need to be dealt with,” he says. “When they are addressing issues that are clearly outside of the scope that they can handle, it gets bumped up to the division for handling.”

Although the local committees have only been in place a short time throughout the operating department, dozens of new safety- and service-enhancing ideas already have paid dividends, including several in the Alabama Division.

For example, a committee in Memphis, Tenn., worked with University of Memphis officials to erect a fence along track that runs through the middle of the college's campus to ensure students only cross tracks at designated pedestrian crossings. Committee members and university officials participated in each other's safety meetings while developing the concept, says Reynolds.

In addition, a different Memphis committee developed job briefing signs — which provide information on track lay out, derails and switches, as well as spotting instructions — to serve as task and safety assurance aids, and worked to have storm shelters installed in locations prone to a high level of tornadic activity.

Meanwhile, a committee in Sheffield, Ala., established a job briefing/check-in facility for contractors at a NS yard.

"In the event of an emergency, now they know everyone who is in the yard," says Reynolds.

Many other committees also hold regular blitzes at high-risk grade crossings, conduct local "stop signal" awareness campaigns and maintain monthly peer-to-peer safety contacts to help prevent accidents and injuries, he says.

Meanwhile, a number of committees have hatched ideas aimed at bolstering operational performance.

A Birmingham, Ala., committee helped relocate an interchange with the Autauga Northern Railroad L.L.C. to a Selma yard via a local train in a different time slot, which has helped improve traffic flow out of Selma north to Birmingham, says Reynolds. The operational change trimmed the traffic’s dwell time and reduced mainline delays for a road train, he says.

“The committee also worked together with engineering department members to reduce [time] on slow orders and roll them up quicker, allowing for an increase in train speed,” said Reynolds.

In the Alabama District and New Orleans, committee members have helped create sub-class codes for rail cars sent to a shop to identify cars held for materials. The codes help ensure the cars aren't unnecessarily moved into and out of a shop, says Reynolds. In addition, loaded shops are being segregated from empty ones to help expedite repairs, he adds.

It's been "very invigorating" to see a lot of employees so engaged in the process while serving their committees, says Reynolds.

"They are excited to be a part of it, to have a voice," he says.

The committees’ work thus far is apparent because employees are citing fewer safety issues in the field. Three years ago at a quarterly labor meeting, lots of concerns were raised, says Reynolds. But the tenor was quite different at the most recent one held several months ago.

"Almost no problems were brought up," says Reynolds.


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