Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

October 20, 2012

End of line for 200 at NS

Coal, train service employees getting furloughed, transferred

BLUEFIELD — Norfolk Southern Corp., has furloughed approximately 200 employees in the railroad’s Bluefield-based Pocahontas Division and the Roanoke, Va., based Virginian Division, an NS spokesman said Friday afternoon.

A newsroom caller who identified himself as an NS employee, said he and others learned of the layoffs on Friday. “It’s going to be hard on everyone,” the caller said.

The layoffs impact “coal service and train service employees” and are due to decreased coal traffic, according to NS spokesman Robin Chapman. “The layoffs come mostly from the Pocahontas region and from the Roanoke, Va., area due to coal traffic,” Chapman said.

Until a few years ago, the Pocahontas Division was the leader in NS in terms of freight car load origins. A combination of factors including a dramatic drop in the number of coal mining permits issued, a shift from thermal coal to natural gas as the fuel of choice for domestic electricity production, and more recently, a world-wide decrease in demand for metallurgical (steel-making) coal has had an adverse impact on coal shipments from southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.

Chapman said that NS has offered affected employees jobs at seven other areas in the NS system. Railroad workers displaced from the Pocahontas and Virginian divisions were offered work with NS at Chicago, Elkhart, Ind., Toledo and Cleveland, Ohio, as well as Conway, Altoona and Harrisburg, Pa. Chapman said that accepting one of those placements would require “permanent relocation,” he said.

An NS predecessor company, the Norfolk & Western Railway, built its mainline track through Bluefield in 1882, and was instrumental in launching the large scale commercial coal mining operations in the region. Coal from the region fueled the steam shovels that built the Panama Canal, the U.S. fleet of warships during World War I, and forged the steel that propelled the United States into status as a super power.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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