HAMLET — CSX has no plans to close and padlock the Hamlet rail yard or make significant layoffs, despite months worth of rumors to that effect, a corporate spokesman said Friday.
“We have no plans at this time,” said a CSX spokesman who asked not to be named. “We have not made any announcements at this time.
“If we were to make any changes … we would certainly communicate that to our employees.”
The spokesman also said he did not know if any, or how many, workers had been let go in recent months.
Yet employees are chief among those speculating on the future of the yard — and their own jobs as Christmas and the turn of the year loom. The rumors have taken on a life of their own, growing by the week, making factual reporting on a story that could have a huge impact on Richmond County difficult, if not impossible.
County Commissioner Ben Moss Jr. is a local United Transportation Union representative at CSX. In a recent interview, he said he was “curious myself” about the plans CSX had for the Hamlet yard.
“It’s very weird how they handle things,” he said after attending a number of meetings among union and CSX representatives. “I represent maybe 90 guys. We just don’t know yet. (We) just don’t know what they’re going to do to us.”
What Moss said he did know was that if layoffs came, “I’m really not going to move to chase the railroad.” He wants to rear his children near family, in Rockingham.
Hamlet City Council member Johnathan Buie, a regional supply chain manager with CSX, told a constituent earlier this month that he would help with a project that involved transportation — “if I’m still working at CSX.”
On Friday, Buie said he had heard the rumors but didn’t know whether any of them were even close to true.
“None of us know,” he said of himself and his coworkers. “It’s just a bunch of rumors and speculation. They (CSX) don’t tell us anything.”
Buie said that if the railroad had an announcement of significant changes to come to Hamlet, he wouldn’t be surprised if it were made on the same day the changes were to take effect.
State regulations should keep such surprises from happening.
Richmond County Economic Developer Martie Butler explained Friday that if it planned to lay off a significant number of employees at the Hamlet yard, CSX would have to file what is called a “WARN notice” with the state Commerce Department. That notice would go to state transportation officials, as well as the county’s chief elected official. (The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1988 requires that employers with 100 or more employees provide 60 calendar-day advance notification of plant closings and mass layoffs affecting at least 50 workers.)
The railroad hasn’t filed such a notice, she said — although she recalled another occasion when CSX flouted the requirement and paid the resulting fine.
Butler said she was “a little leery” of many of the rumors she had heard about CSX.
“They don’t ever come to fruition,” she said. “Every story I hear, it sounds doom and gloom and crazy.”
But then she added: “That’s not to say it’s not correct.”
State Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond, has heard the stories but said Friday that “no one knows” what’s actually happening in Hamlet.
“The railroad’s a powerful crowd,” McInnis said, and “the management tactics that they’ve enacted have been so drastic and swift (that) it’s causing a lot of chaos.”
The tumult at CSX is nothing new, but it heightened in March 2017, when Hunter Harrison came on board as chief executive officer.
Harrison soon announced that, to implement what he called “precision scheduled railroading,” he wanted no more “hump yards” — yards like Hamlet’s, with artificially built hills that use the force of gravity to connect cars. Instead, he wanted less expensive flat switching throughout the CSX system.
At the end of October, Harrison’s chief financial officer, chief marketing officer and general counsel left, and Harrison installed a handpicked CFO.
The departures came without explanation, according to Bloomberg News, but roughly the same time the national Surface Transportation Board was looking into customer complaints of delayed shipments and service shortfalls. Harrison reportedly laid some of the blame for those difficulties at the feet of employees resistant to change.
In November, the industry publication Trains quoted unnamed sources as saying that CSX would not build a $272 million hub in Rocky Mount as the result of a companywide strategic shift. CSX confirmed the company was reassessing its strategy but would not say what would happen to plans for Rocky Mount, plans made before Harrison’s takeover.
Harrison died earlier this month. Internet train blogs and such sites as CSXSucks.com, which caters mainly to disgruntled CSX employees, cheered news of his death as “an early Christmas gift.”
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]