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New NS lines meet growing Honda needs

(The following story by Graham Hadley appeared on the Daily Home website on March 26.)

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Residents in Lincoln and Talladega and St. Clair counties have grown accustomed to seeing huge transport trucks loaded to the hilt with Honda Odyssey minivans fresh from the factory on local roads and highways.

But those sightings will become fewer and farther between thanks to a new $15 million rail yard built at the Honda plant in Lincoln by Norfolk Southern Corp.

According to Honda spokesman Tedd Pratt, the new 125-acre facility, which was dedicated Thursday morning, will take more than 80 percent of the company's outgoing transportation requirements and be able to move 1,120 vehicles out of Lincoln every day.

Newly produced Honda Odysseys and, soon, Honda Pilot SUVs are moved to a marshaling yard — essentially a large parking lot — that holds as many as 4,500 vehicles before being loaded onto waiting train cars by hydraulically controlled Buck ramps, Pratt said.

Though the facility can use older vehicle transporter rail cars, Honda Manufacturing worked with the rail industry to develop new three-tier rail car carriers, called Auto-Max rail cars, that can hold more vehicles.

The new rail cars are set in groups of two, attached by an accordion section, that can each hold as many as 10 vehicles, or 20 per set.

Several such two-car sections were lined up on the rails Thursday, and groups of local and state officials and representatives of the media were given rides in Odysseys through the trains.

And that's how the company loads the vehicles, driving the vans and SUVs all the way through the trains to the next available parking space in the rail cars.

Pratt said the rail yard is part of Honda's effort to speed up and ensure safe transportation of their products.

"This new rail distribution center helps the Odyssey vans arrive in a timely manner and in an excellent condition," he said.

By using trains, Honda will eliminate one of the times vehicles have to be transported by truck, which, in additional to being faster, protects the new vehicles from some of the hazards of roadway transportation.

The yard will be served by two trains a day, with destinations across the country — "Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Miami and all the places in between," said Chuck Ernst, plant manager for Honda Manufacturing of Alabama.

Still, Pratt said, 20 percent of the plant's transportation needs will be provided by trucks serving more local and regional areas.

Mark Morrison, manager of corporate affairs and communication for Honda Manufacturing of Alabama, said the new rail yard will also bring in an additional 36 new jobs to the area.

Honda employs around 3,100 workers. That is scheduled to increase to 4,300 workers as line two and Honda Pilot production reach top production "sometime soon," Pratt said.

Friday, March 26, 2004

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