Mitsubishi Motors North America is closing its Normal, Illinois assembly plant, thus ending car production in the continent. The plant has been a major source of business for Norfolk Southern. So what impact will the closure have on rail operations?
First, lets look at current operations on Norfolk Southern’s Bloomington District.
NS runs a pair of mainline locals between Decatur and Good Yard in Normal. Train D32 runs north during the day, typically arriving its destination in late afternoon or during the evening. Counterpart D36 has been reported to depart in late evening, and sometimes after midnight.
From my observations, these trains aren’t necessarily running seven days per week, more like five. I’ve seen D32 on Sunday, so I’m thinking the cycle begins Sunday and ends Thursday with D36 running Monday thru Friday. I have, however, noticed NS running a D36-like train departing Good Yard early Saturday afternoon. On occasion (March 14), there was a crew change at Gibson City, so perhaps the regular switch crew (D47) peddled the train to Gibson City where another took over.
Three switch jobs are based at Good Yard. Operational details below:
D46 – (7:00am) Run to Tazewell & Peoria RR East Peoria Yard and back.
D47 – (3:00pm) Assembles outbound D36 and classifies inbound D32; some local switching done as necessary. NOTE: I’ve also seen switching action at Good Yard Saturday and Sunday afternoons, so extra jobs must oprate regularly as well.
D49 – (11:00pm) Does industry work – switches AgRail LLC in Bloomington, Evergreen FS at Yuton, Midwest Fiber in Normal and Mitsubishi.
Additional traffic includes grain shuttles D5J and D5K, which handle ADM Decatur grain from Yuton (sometimes co-loaded with Holder and Arrowsmith) and AgRail. Train D5R switches customers on the Mansfield-Urbana line. Unit grain trains for southeast points are loaded at Cargill AgHorizons’ Gibson City terminal and received in interchange from the Bloomer Shippers Connecting Railroad (BLOL), also at Gibson City.
Since early 2014, the Iowa Interstate (IAIS) and Norfolk Southern have interchanging heavily at Peoria. Loaded 60-, 80- and 93-car car ethanol trains (add at least two buffer cars) run frequently. Add ethanol empties, quad-weekly Knoxville (TN) to East Peoria manifest train 115 and weekly coal movements, you have about 20 trains per week due to IAIS interchange.
Working from Bement north to Gibson City (includes the Mansfield – Urbana line) then west to Bloomington-Normal, NS serves the following industries:
Piatt County FS – Monticello*
Topflight Gan Company – Monticello
Viobin USA – Monticello
Monticello Railway Museum – Monticello
Toflight Grain Company – Lodge*
Premier Cooperative – Galesville
Galesville Chemical Co. – Galesville*
Galesville Elevator – Galesville*
The Andersons Inc/O’Malley Grain Co. – Mansfield
The Andersons Inc. – Rising
Emulsicoat Inc. – Urbana
Dart Container Corp./Solo Cup Company – Urbana
Cargill AgHorizons – Gibson City
Solae LLC – Gibson City
Evergreen FS Inc. – Arrowsmith
Evergreen FS Inc. – Holder
AgRail LLC – Bloomington
Midwest Fiber Inc. – Normal
Mitsubishi Motors North America – Normal
Evergreen FS Inc. – Yuton
*Denotes a dormant or rarely-served industry but with siding still in place.
When Mitsubishi closes down operations, Norfolk Southern won’t need three switch jobs working out of Good Yard. They’ll most certainly eliminate one (D49) and possibly two (D46 or D47). Trains D32 and D36 should remain.
Should Mitsubishi and/or the State of Illinois find a buyer for the plant, operations will quickly return to normal. And if a potential buyer makes full use of the plants 240,000 vehicles a year capacity then NS may have to add a dedicated automotive train to forward traffic to connections at either Bement or Decatur.
Below are scenes of NS train operations in the Bloomington-Normal area. First is D32 on October 24, 2012. Second shows D36-type train on March 28, 2015 backing up because it couldn’t make Bloomington Hill!
As a result of Mitsubishi’s impending closure, things will change. How much is anyone’s guess, but the above analysis is probably close to correct.
– David P. Jordan