HAMLET — Changes are coming to the CSX Transportation yard in Richmond County — but the company is being vague on what those will be.
“With CSX’s new management team, changes are to be expected to further improve safety, service to customers and efficiency,” Laura Phelps, media relations manager, told the Daily Journal in an email on Wednesday. “The yard at Hamlet remains an important part of the company’s network.”
When questioned about what type of changes the company would be making to the Hamlet yard and about the possibility of job loss, Phelps said the company was “unable to provide additional information,” but added that CEO Hunter Harrison was expected to discuss changes to CSX’s network during a first-quarter earnings discussion early Thursday morning.
According to the company’s website, Harrison — a “rail industry legend, having successfully transformed three major railroads through his Precision Scheduled Railroading model” — joined the Jacksonville, Florida-based company in March, after serving as president and CEO of Canadian Pacific Railway Limited and Canadian Pacific Railway Company.
Last month, Bloomberg reported that during his four years at the Canadian rail company, Harrison, among other things, cut staff and closed hump yards.
Prior to Harrison taking the helm, CSX announced that it would be letting go 1,000 management employees, but the Jacksonville Business Journal reported that the final plan totaled about 800 cuts.
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Harrison would be doing away with CSX hump yards — where trains are reassembled — having already closed four: in Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio and North Carolina.
According to a 2006 article in Trains Magazine, Hamlet is the only CSX hump yard in North Carolina. In that article, the magazine pointed out that the number of hump yards across the nation droped from 152 in 1975 to 59 in 2002.
The WSJ said that Harrison has said that hump yards are costly and time consuming and that intends to implement “flat switching.”
As with the response to the Daily Journal, CSX declined to disclose to the WSJ how many jobs will be affected by the closures, though the WSJ said Ohio news outlets are reporting nearly three dozen jobs will be eliminated by closing the yard in Toledo.
The Toledo Blade reported in late March that 34 workers lost their jobs at one the yards there, adding that some “may have opportunities to transfer to other positions at CSX.
The Rocky Mount Telegram reported in late February that plans were still on track for a $272 million rail-to-truck terminal, the Carolina Connector, bringing 300 temporary jobs and 300 permanent jobs to the area.
A hub was originally planned for Johnston County but was scrapped due to protests from landowners.
In 2013, CSX announced an $8 million expansion in Hamlet.
CSX carries a variety of commodities important to the economy and way of life, including consumer products, automobiles, food and agriculture products, coal and chemicals. Products shipped in North Carolina include containerized consumer goods, feed grain, aggregates and iron scrap, according to CSX officials.
The Hamlet terminal was dedicated Nov. 29, 1954 and was built for Seaboard Railroad at a cost of nearly $8.5 million, according to a company publication by then-Terminal Superintendent E.E. Hamer.
In the introduction to a company publication, Hamer wrote: “The yard is the most modern freight yard in the world. This investment has been made by Seaboard so that we can meet competition of other rail lines as well as competition of highway truck lines.”
In 2014, the terminal was one the county’s largest employers, with 450 workers in multiple departments processing an average of 1,500 cars per day.
Terminal Superintendent Kyle Hansley said at that time that the Hamlet terminal has placed first, out of 12 hump yards, in an internal CSX competition the past two quarters of that year, and was leading the fourth quarter.
Reach William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_toler.