Norfolk-Southern repair shop closes

Workers at the Norfolk Southern Hollidaysburg Car Shop were sent home Thursday morning, a day earlier than planned, closing the shop that was the subject of a protracted legal battle.
“Everybody was through with their work, so there was no point in holding on to them for another day,” said Rudy Husband, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern. “We just decided to send them home a day early.”
Thomas Lutton, president of Local 2017 of the Transport Workers Union, did not immediately return message left at the union office by The Associated Press. A man who answered the phone at the union office would not comment.
About 320 people were working at the shop in November 2000 when Norfolk Southern announced its plan to close the operation, then one of the largest railcar shops in the world. Since then attrition had reduced the work force to about 180 workers, who will be given jobs elsewhere by Norfolk Southern or paid six years’ wages under an agreement approved by the federal Surface Transportation Board.
Husband said about two thirds of those workers had accepted jobs elsewhere with Norfolk Southern, including about 40 who will work at the nearby Juniata Shop in Altoona. About 20 more will move to a facility in Enola, with the rest moving to facilities in Bellevue and Columbus, Ohio; Decatur, Ill., Linwood, N.C.; and Roanoke, Va.
“We hate to see them going. We’d like to see them get back to the heyday of years ago, when there were 13,000 working here instead of a couple hundred,” said Hollidaysburg Mayor James L. Shoemaker.
Shoemaker said only about 10 percent of the shop’s workers lived in Hollidaysburg, but the $19 million in lost payroll would affect the region’s economy.
“They weren’t a fly-by-night affair, and they paid decent wages per hour, so their leaving is going to affect the overall economy, maybe more than it affects the borough,” Shoemaker said.
Norfolk Southern originally wanted to close the shop by March 2001. But union leaders and politicians, including Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., sued, saying that Norfolk Southern had broken an agreement to keep the shop open in return for the Surface Transportation Board’s authorizing Norfolk Southern and CSX Corp. to acquire Conrail in 1999.
After the board approved the closure, plans were made to shut down operations in October, but the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocked the move. But the court ruled in May that Norfolk Southern had not made a binding commitment and was free to close the shop.
Gary Maslanka, assistant director of the railroad division of the Transportation Workers Union, said Norfolk Southern “has basically shown us that commitments mean nothing, and the Surface Transportation Board has supported their view on that. Quite frankly, the system has failed us.”
Pat Miller, executive vice president of the Altoona-Blair County Development Corp., said his organization was working with Norfolk Southern to attract a new employer to the facility.