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Harrisburg's historic Enola Yard is railroad hub

(The Associated Press circulated the following story by David Dekok on October 12.)

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- In the Harrisburg region, they've been working on the railroad.

Norfolk Southern Corp., which took over sections of the Conrail system in 1999, including many of the railroad's tracks and facilities in Pennsylvania, is immersed in improvement work that reflects the importance of Harrisburg to the company as a rail hub.

Harrisburg anchors one corner of the roughly triangular-shaped Norfolk Southern rail network. The other corners are in Atlanta and Chicago. From Harrisburg, much like an airline hub, trains arriving from the South fan out like wheel spokes to northern New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Binghamton, N.Y., New England, Cleveland and Chicago. Or vice versa. About 970 mid-state residents work for Norfolk Southern in Harrisburg.

The work is focused now on the historic Enola Yard, which has been a railcar classification facility since 1905 for the former Pennsylvania Railroad, Conrail and now Norfolk Southern. Conrail severely downgraded Enola in the 1990s, and the current work won't restore it to its former glory, but it will be bigger than it was.

The project grew out of a computer-modeling study of how to integrate Conrail with Norfolk Southern that was conducted shortly after the acquisition, according to David A. Brown II, general manager for Norfolk Southern's Northern Region, which is headquartered near Linglestown.

That study showed that more car sorting needed to be done at Harrisburg than could be done without the Enola Yard in operation, so Norfolk Southern set up a 15-track classification yard at Enola. That increased the number of cars that could be handled daily from 125 to 725.

"Now we're going to do the next phase, and that is to take the 15-track classification yard and automate it so we can classify cars more in an automatic process manner," Brown said. "That's the project we're starting now, and we'll actually go until next summer until it's completed."

The Enola Yard will again become a "hump" operation, where inclined tracks use gravity to help sort cars. Previously, it had been a flat-switching operation that used paper lists and human intervention to get the cars where they needed to go. Brown hopes the yard will be able to handle 1,200 rail cars daily when the work is done.

"Under the new system, the computer will look at where the car goes and route it by changing switches," Brown said. "And the human part of it is to oversee that. They'll still separate the cars. They'll be involved in slowing the cars down as they automatically roll. ... It's more of an automated process."

He said "not a whole lot" will change in terms of the number of jobs in the Enola Yard as a result of the classification work, and conceded that there might be a "slight reduction." About 380 employees work at Enola in all categories. Overall, Norfolk Southern is hiring workers - a lot of them - for some of the best-paid blue-collar union jobs in the region.

Remote control, as automated freight classification is known, is controversial among the rail unions because it enables one or two workers to do what a crew of several employees did previously. Ken Kertesz, chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Board of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, said the union lost an arbitration with the United Transportation Union - the conductors and trainmen - over jurisdiction over remote control.

Kertesz said remote control has been used in Canada for 10 years and argued that it has not been as big a money-saver as the railroads hoped. Remote control is used by Norfolk Southern at Reading and Philadelphia as well as Enola.

The other big project that is getting under way is the $5 million Lemoyne Connector, a new track that will allow Norfolk Southern trains from Hagerstown, Md., to avoid a circuitous, congested route through Harrisburg to get to Enola Yard. Those trains now must make a right turn onto the distinctive old Reading Railroad bridge across the Susquehanna River, then proceed through Harrisburg and up to the Rockville Bridge, where they cross the river again and proceed south to Enola.

"Lemoyne is one of the linkages (we need) to make an efficient network," Brown said. "Especially with Enola back in operation."

Under Conrail, a connector was less important because of the location of its network main lines and the decision to phase out Enola in the 1990s.

The boroughs of Lemoyne and Wormleysburg have expressed concern about the connector project because a small piece of Memorial Park would be needed for the half-mile rail line and because of noise concerns. Most of the line would go across undeveloped land on the edge of the park. Norfolk Southern is seeking an easement of 1.65 acres.

"Most of the connector will be on property we have now," Brown said. "It's just at the real tip of the park, where there's a walking path, we're going to need part of that. And the other non-railroad property is really not used anyway. They call it waste area. The impact should be minimal."

Norfolk Southern spokesman Rudy Husband said the Enola Yard, even after the connector is built, will process a small fraction of the number of cars daily that it did in its heyday. He said between six and eight trains daily will use the connector, and most of that traffic will be at night.

In the summer of 2000, Norfolk Southern opened its $31 million Rutherford Intermodal Terminal in Swatara Township, its first major investment in the Harrisburg region. Large cargo containers are transferred at Rutherford from flatbed truck trailers to flatbed rail cars, or vice versa.

"We continue to see that grow," Brown said. "The Triple Crown operation there and the intermodal operation there continue to show some additional business. Harrisburg is one of the three intermodal hubs in our network. It's been very successful. And that's meant some fairly nice growth."

Husband said the number of "lifts" at Rutherford is up about 30 percent since 2001.

Some new sources of business for Norfolk Southern in the mid-state region are a major General Mills warehouse under construction in Palmyra, a ConAgra refrigerated warehouse under construction in York County and the upcoming Penn Mar ethanol plant in Lancaster County.

Ethanol, normally used as a gasoline additive, is made from corn, and Norfolk Southern will be hauling in carloads of corn from the Midwest to feed the new plant, said Roger Barrett, director of industrial development for Norfolk Southern.

Monday, October 13, 2003

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