Cars are uncoupled on the hump at the Selkirk Rail Yard as they are sorted in the classification yard. (Photo by Michael Hallisey/Spotlight News)
SELKIRK — During a presentation to investors on Tuesday, May 23, CSX Chief Operating Officer Cindy Sanborn said that the likely conversion of a ‘hump yard’ at the Selkirk CSX rail yard is part of a larger effort to streamline and improve service times across the CSX network.
A hump yard is one that relies on gravity to switch rail cars among tracks in order to connect them with the correct train to reach their intended destinations. A different technique, called flat switching, is often more efficient and, ideally, can be handled by a single employee without requiring additional field personnel (although, as of April, a Conrail yard in New Jersey is the only flat switching yard in North America that employs true one-person remote-control operations, according to Progressive Railroading).
Since taking over as CEO of CSX in March, Hunter Harrison has been working on implementing ‘precision scheduled railroading,’ a system he used to turn Illinois Central, Canadian National, and Canadian Pacific into ultra-efficient and highly profitable railroads over the past three decades. Part of that implementation has involved a series of hump yard conversions, with at least five more likely to occur.
“This is part of a larger plan to make transit across the network faster,” said Sanborn. She said the benefit of hump yards is their ability to handle density and compared them to airport hubs. “If there are not enough cars that want to go there to support the infrastructure needed to maintain and utilize the hump, then we simply don’t need it,” she said.
According to Sanborn’s presentation, five CSX hump yards have already been transitioned; Selkirk and a yard in Birmingham, Ala. are currently classified as “being evaluated for potential transition to flat switching,” and four more yards are under consideration. Sanborn said it was likely CSX would leave two or three hump yards in operation and is currently reviewing which would provide the greatest efficiency,
“We’re moving at a very quick pace to make these conversions,” Sanborn said. “But we want to do it right and make sure that we have all the components of the conversion laid out before we make the change.”
Under Harrison, CSX has dramatically improved labor efficiency, cutting 1,000 managment positions since February. What effect the yard transition will have on local employment is not clear but, according to a memo sent to member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and reported by the Albany Times Union in May, union officials are not pleased.
Multiple attempts to reach the union’s local chapter were unsuccessful.
No final decisions about Selkirk have been announced yet,” said CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle on May 24. “CSX will share news about any changes that may occur with employees and other stakeholders who may be impacted when it is available.”