Spencer Yard Southern's Newest Classification Yard

Southern's new $48 million ultramodern, electronic freight classification yard near Linwood, N.C., is where the computer says it should be and everything is working out fine.

The location of Southern's seventh major freight yard resulted from careful computer studies of freight movement patterns throughout the railway. And there is no doubt that the addition of Norfolk Southern to Southern's system in 1974 was a strong influence in the traffic build-up that made this the selected location for a major new car handler.

Nine of the ten most congested flat yards on the railway were on Eastern Lines, and five of them were fairly close to where the new yard is located. The studies have proved out. Since the yard opened in June, delays have been reduced and transit time improved for smaller yards in Greensboro, WinstonSalem, Charlotte and Asheville, N.C., and Columbia, Spartanburg and Greenville, S.C., as well as the old yard at Spencer, N.C., which it replaced.

A TV set in the control tower shows a view of each car as it is uncoupled and also data on the next 10 cars to be humped.

As expected, the new yard is helping provide improved service to customers in the Virginia - Carolinas area and far beyond it. Its influence extends widely because all of Southern's major yards are designed to work together to speed traffic throughout the system.

Other major yards with which Spencer works in tandem (and the dates they were opened) are Sevier Yard, Knoxville, (1951 ) ; Norris Yard, Birmingham, (1952) ; deButts Yard, Chattanooga, (1955); Inman Yard, Atlanta, (1957); Brosnan Yard, Macon, Ga., (1967) and Sheffield Yard, Sheffield, Ala. ( 1973).

Southern recently dedicated the newest facility and named it Spencer Yard in honor of Southern's first president, Samuel Spencer.

Southern thus perpetuates the memory and the pioneer spirit of the man for whom its historic, and now closed, Spencer Shops were named. The shops themselves, together with some 54 acres of land on which they are located, were presented by Southern earlier this year to the State of North Carolina, which is preserving and renovating the site as a transportation museum.

In remarks dedicating the new yard, Southern's chairman and chief executive officer, L. Stanley Crane, said it "continues the technological growth and development by Southern that has enabled the company to keep abreast and ahead of the needs of the territory it serves."

Southern people move freight quickly for customers over these 65 miles of welded rail on new ties and ballast.

The yard's $48 million price tag, he pointed out, is "just one example of how much it costs to keep Southern in the forefront of transportation development and maintain the quality transportation service that its customers need and are entitled to have."

Spencer served as president of the then newly formed Southern Railway System from its inception in June 1894 until his untimely death in a train accident in November 1906. During this period, Southern experienced the most rapid growth of its entire history and initiated policies that still serve as the foundation of today's 10,000 - mile system.

Dreafus Jefferies, pullback conductor, pulls out blocks of cars from the classificaion tracks and sends them to the forwarding tracks where trains are made up.

Spencer Yard will help Southern provide improved service to shippers in the Virginia - Carolinas area through reduced and more reliable transit times. The yard gives Southern a much needed intermediate facility on the main line between Washington, DC, and Atlanta, one of the railway's most heavily used lines.

A five - track spot repair shop has tools and supplies within easy reach.

Four and one - half miles long, the yard occupies a 275 - acre area west of Linwood in southern Davidson County and north of Southern's main line. The yard can receive, classify and reassemble into trains up to 3,000 cars a day.

Direct microwave connection with Southern's computer control center in Atlanta permits yard operations to be coordinated with those across the system. Minicomputers at the yard control car and locomotive speeds and help Southern people to keep track of every car in the yard at all times. The new facility also includes electronically controlled switches, retarders, scales and a complete radio communications network.

"Spencer Yard employs 235 people, 66 more than were at the old yard in Spencer that it replaces," said Harold H. Hall, president of Southern. "Our payroll there is over $19,355 a day. Southern purchases from local business will stimulate the economy, and the county tax base has been expanded."

The improved reliability and increased speed of freight service will help shippers on the eastern side of the railroad, but this improvement is also important to other people and industry in North Carolina. Spencer Yard will provide an added inducement for industrial development.

Here's how the yard works: A videotape, made as the train enters the receiving yard, is available for replay on a monitor in the yard office to see that the actual train matches the advance list sent from Atlanta. (Southern's main computer in Atlanta has already supplied the Spencer computer with the make-up of many trains and the routing of the cars in it before the train even arrived.) Any differences are corrected and the actual list of cars is sent back to the Atlanta computer to update car records there, as well as being entered in the local yard inventory.

To classify the cars according to their destinations, a switch engine pushes the cars up a small hill (called the "hump") lying between the receiving yard and the classification yard. Under control from the yard office tower at the crest of the hump the cars are uncoupled and allowed to roll down the other side of the hump with their speed controlled and movement directed by computer.

Lights on this computerized control panel blink on at appropriate points when a car passes through the yard.

A computer directs the cars into whichever of the 46 classification tracks is accumulating cars for their particular destination. Computerized retarders slow the rolling cars to the proper speed for a gentle four - mile - an - hour coupling to cars already in the classification track. In controlling speed, the computer must measure the car's speed as it rolls down the hump and take into consideration such factors as the car's weight, wind resistance and type of wheel bearings.

From the groups of cars in the individual classification tracks, new trains are assembled in the forwarding yard, still under the careful control of people and computers.

The physical movement of cars from receiving yard to classification yard to forwarding yard is matched by the movement of car records in the yard computer which reports the train out of the yard and sends the train inventory to the Atlanta computer which makes the advance consist available for the next yard and updates the car movement records in Atlanta.

Grading on the new yard began in October of 1976, with 5.6 million cubic yards of earth being moved. About 6.5 miles of underground pipe were installed to drain ground and surface water. And underground culverts were built at the yard's widest point (1,700 feet) for the prongs of Pott's Creek that empty into High Rock Lake.

About 370,000 tons of crushed stone were spread over the yard to a six-inch depth to provide stability and drainage. And about 225,000 tons of ballast (larger stones) were spread under 65 miles of welded rail on new ties.

A seven-story main yard office, housing offices for yard personnel, is topped by the control tower. Other impressive structures are a five - track spot car repair shop and a complete engine terminal with a 2-million gallon diesel fuel storage tank. The tank is 93 feet in diameter and 40 feet high.

The engine terminal has a 2-million gallon diesel fuel storage tank.

About a dozen holding ponds dot the yard to trap waste spillage and prevent it from running into nearby creeks. This spillage, which includes fuel oil, lubricating oil or other petroleum products associated with engine or mechanical repairs, is processed to meet governmental water quality standards at the railway's industrial waste treatment plant. The water eventually ends up at High Rock Lake.

Night work will be easier because of 14 high-mast lights. Using high pressure sodium lighting instead of mercury lighting will save Southern $70,000 a year, and the installation job cost $500,000 less. Another feature of the yard is its 18 - mile network of access roads. Some of these roads permit quick inspection and minor repair of trains in the forwarding yard.

"Spencer will do its share in keeping Southern's transportation efficiency among the industry's best," Mr. Hall said. "The yard is in the right place; it has been built to a proven design and Southern people have the experience to make it work." .