Martinsburg Tower Closes
[By Allen Brougham] . . .
The century-old B&O interlocking office known as NA Tower in Martinsburg, West Virginia, has closed. Its final day of operation was July 19 when its signal control was removed, and the operators' positions were abolished effective 7:00 A.M. on July 30.
The closing of NA Tower was part of a 23-mile switch and signal upgrade on CSXT's Cumberland Subdivision between Sandy Hook, Maryland, and Pearson, West Virginia. The project included the addition of three new control points, the modification of two others, and the retirement of another. The names of the five control points now in service along the affected portion of track and under the jurisdiction of the 'CM' train dispatcher in Jacksonville, Florida, are:
- Sandy Hook, milepost BA 80.5
- Harpers Ferry, milepost BA 81.3
- Shen, milepost BA 89.2
- Byrd, milepost BA 98.3
- Martinsburg, milepost BA 99.8
"Shen" is a shortened name for Shenandoah Junction, and "Byrd" (location formerly called Rattling Bridge) is named for U.S. Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV).
The project was actually the increment of a larger project begun in the spring of 2000 to install a state-of-the-art electro-code signaling system with higher-speed crossover switches along a 61-mile portion of the Cumberland Subdivision as far west as Orleans Road, West Virginia. An earlier increment involved the retirement of Miller and West Cumbo towers in the fall of 2000. A later increment to include the retirement of the tower at Hancock, West Virginia, is still in the planning stage.
Five operators' positions at NA Tower were affected. Four positions were abolished, and the fifth position was modified to include custodial duties at a different location to replace the single day that the operator worked each week at the tower. The five operators owning regular positions at NA Tower were:
- Carl Kief, first-shift
- Barb Eichelberger, second-shift
- George Speis, third-shift
- Patricia Reid, relief job
- Dick Campbell, rabbit job (one shift a week)
The affected operators will now exercise seniority onto clerical-craft positions at other locations. Junior employees who are displaced will exercise seniority in the same manner, with the prospect that furlough situations could develop within several weeks as the process continues.
Second-shift operator Barb Eichelberger at the desk at NA Tower about a week before the tower closed
With technological advances being the norm over the past several decades and many railroads having been successful in retiring nearly all of their interlocking towers many years ago, it was an anomaly that a cluster of four towers spaced an average of a mere six miles apart within the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia would still exist until the fall of 2000. I feel fortunate in having been a part of that scene. When I took a position at Miller Tower in the fall of 1992, it was as though I were in a time warp. Indeed, two of the towers - including mine - still controlled their switches the old-fashioned way with armstrong levers connected to pipelines to move the switches mechanically. When Miller Tower closed, I displaced onto a position at Hancock Tower, which also used armstrong levers. It still does. I retired in December 2000, but the tower at Hancock is still in service. It alone survives the anomalous "cluster of four" in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.
It should be noted that the B&O Railroad was historically slow to modernize its facilities. So when that company became included within the umbrella of the Chessie System, there was a great deal of catching up to do. Such was the case in November 1983 when Chessie's engineering and transportation planning departments set a priority that the entire system would be equipped with centralized train dispatching systems by the first quarter of 1989. This included the need to retire all interlocking towers. Indeed, the then-Maryland Division - whose territory included the four-tower cluster in the Eastern Panhandle - was assigned the highest priority among eight affected divisions. Start-up month on the Maryland Division was December 1983, with start-up months on the other seven divisions ranging from March 1984 to July 1985. Each division would have a target of about 13 quarters to complete the project; the Maryland Division was slated for completion in the first quarter of 1987. Thirty-two interlocking towers were listed on the Maryland Division with 27 identified for elimination by completion date. It is unclear why five towers were not identified for elimination at that time, but these were eventually eliminated nevertheless.
While seven towers in the Baltimore area (which by 1983 had already been funded for closing) were retired by the end of 1985, most of the remaining towers identified for closing on the then-Maryland Division by the first quarter of 1987 were still open at that time. This included the four towers of the Eastern Panhandle cluster. When the Cumberland Sub project finally began in the spring of 2000, it was planned that all four would be closed by July 2001, with NA closing in May 2001. Only Miller and West Cumbo were closed according to the 2000 plan; the increment involving NA Tower got delayed for more than two years, and Hancock Tower still soldiers on to this day.
In fact, with the closing of NA Tower at Martinsburg, four of the interlocking towers of the entire then-Maryland Division identified in 1983 for closing by 1987 are still open. They are:
- Brunswick (WB)
- Hancock (HO)
- West Keyser (Z)
- Rowlesburg (R)
Switch, Signal & Control Point Changes Resulting From the Martinsburg Upgrade Project
Martinsburg Tower & the Blizzard of 1993
History of Martinsburg Tower
CSXT Makes Changes to its Operations Organization
CSX Transportation has announced changes to its operations organization. The announcement outlined a need to respond to current business demands requiring the company to become a "faster, more disciplined organization going forward." As part of the reorganization, positions were eliminated where functions were inconsistent with the new structure. In addition, a number of people in field management positions were redeployed to locations requiring their experience and expertise. "Based upon our analysis of our current service situation, we found we had an organization built to address the service crisis that occurred after the Conrail integration," said Al Crown, executive vice president and chief operating officer. "During that critical time when we were trying to recover, we were forced to improvise, to annul or consolidate trains depending on circumstances. We plugged holes and built up management layers to get us through the crisis. There were too many people making decisions who weren't accountable for the results." There will now be a greater empowerment upon the division managers and superintendents of operations, and an increased emphasis upon adhering to the railroad's network operating plan.
Questions & Answers to the Operations Reorganization
CSX Reports Second-Quarter Earnings
CSX Corporation has reported second-quarter net earnings of $127-million or 59 cents per share, versus $135-million or 63 cents per share a year ago. For CSX's surface transportation units (rail and intermodal), revenue was $1.89-billion, up from $1.83-billion in the second quarter of 2002. "We continued to see strong revenue growth in the quarter, and have successfully converted more than one million truckloads from the highway to our railroad since the beginning of 2001," said CSX chairman and CEO Michael Ward. "However, we continued to be challenged by slowed operations as the railroad struggled to recover from a difficult operating environment during the early parts of the quarter. Reduced network fluidity caused a significant increase in labor expenses, partially offsetting the strong revenue gains."
Debunking Common Myths About Amtrak
[Source: National Association of Railroad Passengers] . . .
1. Myth: Amtrak is unique in operating in the red, at taxpayers' expense.
Fact: All transportation is subsidized by American taxpayers (see #2 regarding highways). Singling out Amtrak assumes taxpayers do not want to invest in passenger rail. Polls consistently show that Americans support federal funding for a national rail passenger system. A Washington Post poll taken July 26-30, 2002 (and reported August 5, 2002), found 71 percent support for continued or increased federal funding of Amtrak. Conservative Columnist George Will, in a June 4, 2003, column, said the poll indicated that "support for Amtrak is strong among all regions, ages, education levels and income groups." A CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll conducted June 21-23, 2002 - near the height of Amtrak's funding crisis - found 70 percent support for continued federal funding for Amtrak. Votes in Congress have demonstrated time and again that taxpayers' duly elected representatives agree.
2. Myth: Highways pay for themselves through user fees.
Fact: In 2001, 41 percent of funding for highways came from payments not occasioned by highway use (i.e., property taxes, bonds, general funds, other taxes and fees), according to the Brookings Institution's Series on Transportation Reform (April 2003). The share of funding from these sources has been growing. While most of this is at the state and local levels, federal policy encourages this by offering states generous funding matches for highway investments but no match for intercity rail investments.
3. Myth: Amtrak carries only a half-percent of the US travel market, therefore it is insignificant.
Fact: Where there is a strong Amtrak presence, as in the Northeast Corridor and New York-Albany, Amtrak dominates the airlines and offers a significant alternative to automobile travel. (Amtrak handles about 50 percent of all New York-Washington airline plus railroad traffic. This calculation includes Newark/ JFK/ LaGuardia and Reagan National/ Dulles Airports; and these rail stations: Stamford/New Rochelle/ New York/ Newark/ Newark Airport/ Metropark; New Carrollton/ Washington/ Alexandria/ Manassas/ Woodbridge/ Quantico/ Fredericksburg.) As travel volumes grow in the future, and construction of new highways and airports becomes less practical, the need for such services will around the nation. In rural areas, where Amtrak's infrastructure costs are insignificant, Amtrak is often the only transportation alternative to automobiles.
4. Myth: Private Freight Railroad companies subsidize Amtrak.
Fact: The freight railroads urged the federal government to create Amtrak and agreed to provide access to their tracks at an incremental cost basis in 1971. The case can be made for the opposite - that Amtrak subsidizes the freight railroads. For much of Amtrak's existence, Congress prevented Amtrak from contracting out work while the freight railroads reduced their employment rolls (in some cases by contracting out), thus reducing the amount freight railroads pay into Railroad Retirement. Amtrak workers are "railroad employees." Railroad Retirement obligations - unlike Railroad Unemployment Insurance payments - are calculated on an industry-wide bias, with all companies paying the same rates. Therefore, Amtrak is subsidizing the freight railroads' contribution to Railroad Retirement; Amtrak's "excess Railroad Retirement payments" (about $150 million a year) is what Amtrak contributes to Railroad Retirement for workers that Amtrak never employed. If Amtrak were to go away, Railroad Retirement payments by the freight railroads and their employees would be increased.
Also, capacity enhancements designed for passenger trains benefit freight operations during much of the week. The newest example, with construction just under way, is restoration of double-track on Union Pacific's mainline just west of Sacramento.
5. Myth: Any dollar going to Amtrak is another dollar not going to roads.
Fact: Federal funds for roads come from the Highway Trust Fund, a dedicated long-term source of funding, whereas Amtrak receives federal dollars from the General Fund through the annual appropriations process. However, states and local governments should have the option to spend transportation dollars on the most efficient mode of transportation. Current policy discourages states and local governments from investing in intercity rail.
6. Myth: Shut down Amtrak and the private sector will operate passenger rail.
Fact: Rail passenger service was in private hands from its inception in the 1830s until 1970, when Congress and the Nixon Administration made a policy decision to create Amtrak because the private sector could not make a profit. The private sector operators that have expressed an interest in operating rail passenger service will do so for a fee with the clear expectation that the government will absorb the associated losses. Furthermore, most Amtrak route miles are on tracks whose owners, the private freight railroads, do not want to run their own passenger trains and have a top priority of opposing legislation to give Amtrak's rights (for track access at reasonable cost) to any other entity. The practical result of shutting down Amtrak would be elimination of intercity passenger rail.
7. Myth: Flying is cheaper than taking a long-distance train.
Fact: Anyone with a computer can find a train fare that is less than an airfare, or the opposite. Long-distance trains don't just go from one major market to another like flights, but serve many intermediate markets with poor air service (or no air service, or costly air service). Furthermore, the walk-up fare for an Amtrak trip is often much less than walk-up airfare. There are also people who cannot or do not want to fly.
8. Myth: One particular route (e.g., the Kentucky Cardinal between Chicago and Louisville) shows the entire national system is flawed.
Fact: The Kentucky Cardinal was instituted in 1999 to grow express package business. The profitable business never materialized and Amtrak discontinued the route on July 6, 2003. Despite limited ridership, no community wants its passenger train to disappear. Residents of Louisville recently filed a class action suit against Amtrak and the USDOT to bring back the route.
9. Myth: The overwhelming majority of Americans have chosen the automobile lifestyle.
Fact: To a large extent, this apparent "choice" reflects a necessary response to pro-highway federal policies, which for decades have encouraged state and local decisions that foster reliance on the automobile. States - naturally influenced in choosing transportation projects by the federal funding available for those projects - can obtain generous federal matches for investments in highways-often 80 percent and 90 percent of a project's total cost-and aviation, but there is no federal match for states to develop intercity rail projects. The public's interest in more travel choices is reflected both in the aforementioned polls and in ridership increases on Amtrak over five straight years (Fiscal 1997-2001) and on mass transit. At a June 27, 2003, conference on traffic congestion, American Public Transportation Association President William Millar stated: "Since 1995, transit ridership has grown by 21 percent, versus 16 percent for driving and 12 percent for domestic airlines. More people are taking public transportation now than in the last 40 years." Also, on April 17, 2001, The Washington Post reported, "Mass-transit ridership grew faster than highway use for the third year in a row last year, according to new national figures."
10. Myth: Amtrak labor protection is outrageous.
Fact: Labor protection flowed from the railroad industry and the creation of Amtrak by Congress. Railroad workers historically have had strong labor protection. At the major freight railroads, protection can be triggered by many more events than at Amtrak. This was true even before Amtrak labor protection was scaled back as a result of the 1997 Amtrak reauthorization law.
Labor protection has no impact on day-to-day operating costs. It only comes into play when a route is discontinued or a mechanical facility is closed. In other words, none of the 1,000 employees Amtrak laid off in the past year got labor protection. Even when a facility is closed, Amtrak can avoid labor protection simply by letting employees follow their work, and - for employees who choose to do that - paying moving costs.
In the last reauthorization in 1997, rather than repealing labor protection provided by law outright, Congress sunset the provision, subject to negotiation of a substitute labor protection provision by the unions and Amtrak under the provisions of the Railway Labor Act. The result of those negotiations was an arbitration award which reduced the benefits of labor protection for Amtrak employees.
Looking more broadly at Amtrak labor issues, many Amtrak pay rates are less than for comparable work at commuter railroads and some other companies. Commuter railroads and electric utilities benefit from "Amtrak as training ground," using higher pay to attract Amtrak employees.
- Linemen (who work on overhead electrification) get about $20 an hour at Amtrak but $33-$35 at Newark-based Public Service Electric and Gas Company. Pennsylvania Power & Light Inc. recently advertised positions at $30 an hour.
- Commuter rail examples: Locomotive engineers' hourly rate is $27.24 at Amtrak, $29.92 at Long Island RR, $25.73 at New Jersey Transit. The trackman rate is $16.31 at Amtrak, $19.03 at Metra (Illinois), $20.42 at SEPTA (Philadelphia), $23.33 at Long Island.
Gunn has made clear his belief that Amtrak pay rates are not excessive, and that the primary focus for Amtrak management in labor negotiations will be productivity and medical cost containment issues.
Unlike many employees in the private sector, Amtrak employees have never benefited from stock options.
Meanwhile, Amtrak management - which does not get labor protection - has not had a general salary increase since Fiscal 1997 (lump sum payments FY 1998 and FY 1999).
- NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF RAILROAD PASSENGERS
- 900 SECOND ST., N.E., SUITE 308
- WASHINGTON DC 20002-3557
- Prepared July 10, 2003