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CSX reduces operations in Erwin, 300 affected

After being a mighty staple in the region over a century ago, with trains heading though the Clinchfield Route, Erwin saw part of the town’s legacy slip away last week.
CSX Transportation announced on Thursday, Oct. 15, that the CSX Erwin Terminal would be closing it’s doors and that around 300 employees would be affected by the decision.
“CSX is reducing train operations here in Erwin as a result of the significant decline in coal traffic that this region has seen over the last decade,”Melanie Cost, CSX spokeswoman, said during an impromptu-press conference with The Erwin Record and WJHL following the meeting with employees. “That means we are going to be eliminating switching operations at the yard and also closing the locomotive shop, car shop and the project shop.
“Unfortunately, this affects about 300 employees here. We met with them this morning to talk about this difficult news. We’re trying to support them as much as we possibly can, including paying them for at least the next 60 days and offering them options, as they are available, to relocate to other higher-demand parts of the network.”
The terminal was built in 1915 with the third floor finishing up the project back in 1925.
Cost also said CSX would look across the board at different areas and look at each employee in efforts of finding the right match, based on qualifications, as to where they could end up with new position, away from the area.
The Erwin Record was present outside the terminal during the early morning hours on Thursday as news broke to employees that the facility would be closed. Rumors speculated on where meetings would be taking place that day, with field representative for U.S. State Representative Phil Roe, Bill Darden, arriving in Erwin right before 9 a.m. at Erwin Town Hall. After learning the decision, Darden made contact over the phone to learn the details of the event – causing the press conference at 9 a.m.
“It was important for us to talk with employees about this news before we shared it publicly,” Cost said. “We know this has an impact on them and their families so we wanted them to hear it directly from the company.”
Two trains a week will typically run through the area, Cost said, with a handful of signalmen and maintenance workers still working the tracks, with merchandise trains. In some cases, trains could be rerouted, as well, but the decision by CSX stemmed from the coal decline.
“We will have to reduce traffic coming through Erwin,” Cost said, adding there has been a 57-percent decline in coal traffic through the area in the past 10 years and that was the decision felt necessary, according to CSX. A press release issued by the company during the press conference stated, “The combination of low natural gas prices and regulatory action has significantly decreased CSX’s coal movements over the past four years, with more than $1 billion in coal revenue declines during that time.”
“We’re constantly looking at the resources we have across the network,” Cost said. “This was a difficult decision and it was made after looking at different options.”
Darden spoke following the conference saying that as soon as he hit the road that representative Roe will be looking at different options on what can happen in the coming months for employees affected by the decision. Darden added that individuals can contact Roe’s office at 247-8161 for assistance.
Roe issued a press release later Thursday afternoon stating, “I was saddened to hear that CSX would be closing their terminal in Erwin. My thoughts and prayers are with the good people of Erwin, especially the 300 men and women who will lose their jobs because of this decision. This is a huge blow to Unicoi County, whose unemployment rate has been consistently higher than the national average.
“This is just another example of how President Obama’s War on Coal is negatively affecting our region, and East Tennesseans deserve better. My office has reached out to state and local officials to look into job training programs and other resources that might be available. In the weeks and months ahead, I’ll continue to work to identify opportunities for these workers, and I encourage those affected to contact any of my offices if I can be of assistance to them or their families.”
Cost also addressed the impact in the community with reduced train traffic coming through the area, affecting the recently multi-million dollar overpass constructed by the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT).
“We’ve been talking with state agencies and also informing local agencies this morning,” she said. “There will still be some traffic coming through Erwin.”