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Frequently Asked Questions

Browse Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to commonly asked questions about our operations.

TRAIN OPERATIONS

WHY DO TRAINS BLOW THEIR HORNS AT GRADE CROSSINGS?

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It’s all about safety: The horn warns drivers and pedestrians that a train is approaching.

And it’s the law: The Federal Railroad Administration’s Train Horn Rule requires that trains sound the horn at public highway-rail grade crossings. FRA regulations generally require locomotive engineers to sound the horn at least 15 seconds before the locomotive enters the crossing. FRA regulations also give locomotive engineers latitude to sound the horn to provide a warning in other appropriate situations.

ARE THERE WAYS TO LIMIT THE USE OF TRAIN HORNS?

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Communities can apply to establish Quiet Zones, designated stretches of track where trains are not required to sound the horn at public highway-rail grade crossings but can for emergencies.

The FRA allows local governments to create quiet zones for groups of crossings located within at least a one-half-mile-long stretch provided they take measures to ensure safety in the absence of horns, such as closing individual crossings and/or installing additional safety devices such as automatic lights and gates.

Municipalities are required to fund these improvements, which can cost from $300,000 to $1 million per crossing. NS works with communities seeking to establish quiet zones, but only the FRA can grant a quiet zone. For more information on quiet zones, visit: http://www.nscorp.com/content/nscorp/en/about-ns/safety/quiet-zone-information.html.

In addition to quiet zones, closing crossings can help eliminate train horns. NS works with communities to close public and private crossings on its network. Additionally, communities can invest in grade separations (overpasses or underpasses) above or below the tracks.

WHY DO TRAINS BLOCK CROSSINGS?

Norfolk Southern makes every effort to minimize the time that trains interrupt motor vehicle traffic at crossings. However, operational situations, such as track or weather conditions, might require a train to stop or slow, resulting in a temporarily blocked crossing.

In all instances, NS works to resume the safe movement of a train as quickly as possible. If a train blocks a crossing for an extended period, contact NS Police at 800-946-4744. This number is on the emergency notification sign posted at every highway-rail grade crossing. Report the location, time, date, and how long the crossing was blocked, and include the six-digit Department of Transportation crossing identification number.

HOW FAST DO NS TRAINS GO THROUGH OUR TOWN?

The FRA has established maximum allowable train speeds depending on the classification of each segment of track. Train speed is monitored strictly by NS and by the FRA. The maximum authorized train speeds on NS tracks are 79 mph for passenger trains, 60 mph for intermodal trains, and 50 mph for other freight trains. 

HOW CAN I GET A TRAIN SCHEDULE?

Norfolk Southern trains don’t follow set schedules like passenger trains. Our trains operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and schedules can change frequently based on the transportation needs of our customers. For safety and security reasons, NS doesn’t provide train schedules to the public.

WHY DO LOCOMOTIVES IDLE?

Locomotives idle for various reasons during normal rail operations. These include idling to maintain safety-critical functions such as air pressure for braking and starting systems; while picking up or dropping off freight cars; and waiting on a siding for another train to pass. During cold weather, locomotives idle to keep the engine-cooling water from freezing (locomotives do not use antifreeze).

Norfolk Southern has implemented idle-reduction technologies to minimize unnecessary idling. For example, locomotives are equipped with automatic engine stop/start systems to maintain engine temperatures in freezing conditions. In addition, NS has installed a customized plug-in engine-heating system at some rail yards that enables locomotives to be shut off when not in use during winter months.

PUBLIC SAFETY

HOW CAN WE GET FLASHING LIGHTS AND GATES AT A CROSSING?

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The Federal Highway Administration defines railroad crossing signals as highway control devices. Railroads cannot install crossing signals on their own. In most states, departments of transportation decide when and where to install active warning devices.

Each state develops a priority list for grade crossing improvements based on factors such as the volume of train and motor vehicle traffic, train speed, and accident history at the crossing. Federal funds pay about 90 percent of the cost of a signal installation, while the city or county pays the other 10 percent. A typical installation can cost $300,000 or more. Once installed, crossings are maintained by NS.

It’s important to note that flashing gates and lights cannot prevent all highway-rail collisions, just as stop lights cannot prevent all intersection collisions. Statistics show that approximately 50 percent of all highway-rail collisions occur at crossings equipped with flashing lights and gates. Stay alert when crossing railroad tracks, and never try to beat a train at the crossing. A freight train traveling 55 mph can take up to a mile and a half to make a complete stop. By comparison, the average automobile traveling at the same speed can stop in 200 feet.

HOW DO I REPORT A MALFUNCTIONING SIGNAL OR EMERGENCY AT A GRADE CROSSING?

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To report a railroad crossing-signal problem, call 800-946-4744 to reach Norfolk Southern’s 24-hour Police Department line, or call 911. The NS emergency number is on the Emergency Notification System sign at every railroad crossing. Provide the name of the street or roadway, the city, and if possible the six-digit DOT crossing identification number located on the sign.

Crossing signals are designed to be fail-safe devices, meaning that if a malfunction occurs, the lights will flash and the gates will remain in the lowered position to provide maximum protection to motorists. Never drive around lowered gates. It’s against the law, and it’s dangerous. If your vehicle stalls on a crossing, immediately exit the vehicle, move away from the track, and call NS Police or 911. Never try to flag down a train.

HOW DO I REPORT A ROUGH HIGHWAY-RAIL CROSSING IN MY COMMUNITY

We recognize that maintaining a smooth surface at highway-rail crossings is important to motorists. If you have concerns about the condition of a particular crossing, report it to the appropriate Division Contact based on your location.

HOW OFTEN ARE TRACKS AND BRIDGES INSPECTED?

 

 

Track: Most of our key routes are inspected at least twice a week by track inspectors, and our busiest mainline routes are inspected more frequently. Norfolk Southern follows track inspection schedules that comply with and in many cases exceed FRA standards.

Inspections are supplemented by a track geometry car that uses lasers, mechanical devices, and computers to measure track conditions, and ultrasound equipment that scans rail internally.

Our Operations Control Center in Atlanta continuously monitors weather conditions that could affect rail operations. During extremely hot and cold weather, inspections may take place daily until temperatures moderate.

Learn about NS’ track inspection process in the fact sheet, Safe Tracks, Safe Towns,  or watch our track inspectors on the job in this video.

Bridges: Safety is priority No. 1 when it comes to the design, construction, and maintenance of Norfolk Southern’s railroad bridges. With nearly 10,000 bridges that span more than 300 miles, the railroad makes significant investments to keep each safe for employees and the public. Learn how NS inspects and maintains bridges in this video and infographic, Railroad Bridges: More Than Meets The Eye.

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WHAT IS POSITIVE TRAIN CONTROL?

Positive Train Control is a set of highly advanced technologies designed to make freight rail transportation – already one of the safest U.S. industries – even safer by automatically stopping a train to prevent four types of accidents:

  • Train-to-train collisions
  • Derailments caused by excessive train speed
  • Train movements through misaligned track switches
  • Unauthorized train entry into work zones

In 2008, Congress mandated that freight and passenger railroads implement PTC technologies on tracks that carry passengers or toxic-by-inhalation materials. PTC is the largest and most complex safety system ever undertaken by the railroad industry. NS is committed to implementing PTC as quickly as possible to enhance safety for both our employees and the communities where we operate. We have been working diligently to install PTC on locomotives and at thousands of locations across our system. Once testing is complete, and the FRA certifies the system, NS will implement PTC on our network where required. 

PTC

DOES THE RAILROAD MOVE HAZARDOUS MATERIALS THROUGH MY COMMUNITY?

The federal government requires NS and other freight railroads to move hazardous goods as part of their common carrier obligation. The freight rail industry has an impressive safety record, with 99.99 percent of hazardous materials shipments moved without a train-related incident. These materials are found in many products that people use every day, such as bottled water, garden fertilizer, hand sanitizer, paint, batteries, and household cleaners.

Norfolk Southern provides information about the hazardous materials we transport to state agencies and first responders. We also offer training to first responders in communities near our rail lines to help ensure they are prepared to respond safely and protect the public in the unlikely emergency event involving hazmat transport.

Norfolk Southern has a team of 300 employees trained to respond to any emergency involving hazardous materials. In addition, NS has an extensive network of hazmat response contractors and environmental consultants who can be on the scene within a short time. Norfolk Southern recently rolled out an educational safety train to deliver hands-on training to emergency responders. See the safety train in this video, and learn more about training opportunities at www.joinNSOAR.com.

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WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I SEE SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY OR TRESPASSING ON RAILROAD PROPERTY?

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Report suspicious activities and potentially hazardous situations to Norfolk Southern police at 800-453-2530 or to your local police department. You also can report activity by joining Protect the Line, NS’ citizen reporting program. Members of this community awareness initiative watch for potential security or safety problems and report issues directly to NS police. Citizens also can make reports to nspolice@nscorp.com.

  • What To Report:
  • Objects left on or near railroad tracks and infrastructure
  • Mechanical issues with moving trains, such as sparks or smoke
  • Equipment issues, such as loose banding, leaning trailers or rail cars, and open loaded rail cars, truck trailers, or containers
  • Vandalism
  • Suspicious activities or individuals
  • Trespassing on railroad property, including fishing, walking, jogging, bicycling, or hunting on tracks

When providing information, report the train’s location (address or nearest cross street) and direction of travel. If people are involved, note their clothing and physical appearance.

RAILROAD PROPERTY

WHY DOES THE RAILROAD TRIM TREES AND SPRAY ALONG TRACKS?

The railroad’s vegetation management program ensures compliance with FRA regulations and includes mowing, brush cutting, tree removal, and selective herbicide application. NS trims trees and brush on its property to maintain safe operations along the tracks.

Qualified and licensed professionals apply herbicide products within the railroad’s rights of way and with careful consideration of the environment to remove potential sight obstructions at highway-rail grade crossings and to ensure that train crews can see railway signals. 

WILL NS PAINT THE RAILROAD BRIDGE IN OUR COMMUNITY?

With nearly 10,000 bridges across 22 states, Norfolk Southern’s priority is the safe operation of every train across every one of its bridges every day.

Our rigorous inspection and maintenance program focuses on the structural integrity of bridges, which are inspected by certified bridge engineers monthly or annually, depending on use. It does not focus on aesthetics, as appearance does not necessarily reflect physical condition.

Cosmetic enhancements such as painting are costly and may need to be repeated frequently. We try to address reports of graffiti as promptly as possible. From time to time, communities will request that a bridge be painted as part of economic development or beautification efforts, and Norfolk Southern considers each request based on its individual merits.

DOES NS SELL SURPLUS PROPERTY SUCH AS CROSSTIES OR EQUIPMENT?

NS does not sell used railroad crossties to the public. We have contracts with companies that handle scrap tie removal. To purchase ties from one of those companies, contact National Salvage Co. at 800-653-6285.

Through ongoing contracts, NS sells rail cars and other equipment removed from railroad service. Materials such as scrap metal and equipment often are sold through a bid process. Companies seeking to be placed on a bid list can email assetdispo@nscorp.com. The Norfolk Southern Foundation handles requests for donations of equipment.

CAN I BUY AN OLD RAILROAD BUILDING, SUCH AS A DEPOT?

Follow the instructions under "Buy Land from NS" on the Property Sales page. Direct inquiries to lease or purchase a depot to the appropriate property agent, who will review depot availability.

HOW DO I OBTAIN A HIKING OR BIKING TRAIL ALONG THE RAILROAD?

Because of risks and hazards of pedestrian and motor vehicle traffic adjacent to or across active railroad tracks, NS will not donate, sell, lease, or grant easements along its operating corridors for pedestrian walking/hiking/jogging trails, bikeway paths, parks, or other recreational uses.

NS does not participate in the “Rails With Trails” program, but does support “Rails To Trails” on a select basis. See "Obtain Abandoned Track Right of Way” for more information.

NORFOLK SOUTHERN HAS HIRED US TO DO WORK FOR THE RAILROAD. HOW DO WE GET APPROVAL TO ACCESS NS PROPERTY?

Accessing NS property for any purpose requires permission. Complete the Right of Entry application on the Access NS Property page.

CAN I VISIT A RAIL YARD?

No, for safety and security reasons, rail yards are closed to the public.

WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT EMPLOYMENT WITH NS?

Go to the Careers tab on the NS website to view current job openings and fill out an online application. We also offer paid college co-op and internship positions.

Norfolk Southern is an Equal Opportunity Employer. We have a policy of non-discrimination for all applicants. If an individual has a disability that interferes with his or her ability to complete our employment application, he or she may contact our HR helpdesk for further assistance at hrhelpdesk@nscorp.com or 1-800-267-3313.

DOING BUSINESS WITH NS

HOW DO I CONTACT NS’ CUSTOMER SERVICE DEPARTMENT?

Call our customer service center at 800-635-5768, or click on Ship With Us at www.nscorp.com.

HOW CAN I SUPPLY MATERIALS, FUEL, OR SERVICES TO NS?

Norfolk Southern’s sourcing department secures equipment, materials, and services for railroad operations. Learn how to apply to be a supplier.

RAILROAD HISTORY

MY RELATIVE WORKED FOR AN NS PREDECESSOR. WHERE CAN I FIND INFORMATION ABOUT HIM OR HER?

Norfolk Southern does not share employee personnel records. The U.S. Railroad Retirement Board maintains service records for individuals who worked in the rail industry after 1936 and can assist with some family genealogy research. The RRB can be reached at 877-772-5772.

WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT THE HISTORY OF NORFOLK SOUTHERN?

Historical summaries of NS’ major predecessor railroads, as well as links to other railroad organizations, can be found at A Line In Time. Get an up-close view of a 900-pound railroad coupler, and sit in a locomotive simulator at the NS Museum in Norfolk, Va. Exhibits highlight company history and artifacts, including sections of Civil War-era track, vintage hand tools, and diagrams to teach hand signals to railroad trainees.

Specific questions can be addressed to the NS archivist at historical.archivist@nscorp.com.  Stay updated on current railroad events by following Norfolk Southern on Facebook, Twitter,  Instagram, and at nscorp.com.

GENERAL

WHERE CAN I PURCHASE NS MERCHANDISE?

Browse through our online catalog of products and apparel sporting the NS Thoroughbred and speed-lines logo at the Norfolk Southern Company Store.

 

WHERE DOES NORFOLK SOUTHERN OPERATE?

Norfolk Southern owns and operates a network of 19,500 miles of rail lines east of the Mississippi River in 22 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. See our system map.

CAN I TAKE PICTURES OR VIDEOS OF YOUR TRAINS?

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Stay safe, and only take aim from identifiable public property, such as the shoulder of a public road, away from the tracks. Never take photographs or videos of trains or people while on railroad property – that includes tracks, yards, bridges, and buildings. It’s extremely dangerous, and it’s against the law. Violators can be fined and/or arrested for trespassing.

CAN I PLAY POKEMON GO ON RAILROAD PROPERTY?

Railroad tracks and property are for trains, not Pokemon. We hope you catch them all, but never play the game near train tracks or rail yards, and always obey posted warning signs and signals.

HOW CAN I APPLY FOR A GRANT FROM THE NS FOUNDATION?

Norfolk Southern offers grants to eligible organizations located with NS territory through the NS Foundation. In 2015, the foundation, along with combined corporate and business giving, donated nearly $13.7 million to support eligible organizations in NS communities, including food banks, homeless shelters, universities, museums, libraries, performing arts groups, local police and fire departments, and environmental organizations. See Frequently Asked Questions and Grant Guidelines for more details. 

WHAT’S INSIDE ALL THOSE RAIL CARS?

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Almost anything can be shipped by train. Grain, coal, construction materials, paper and pulp, vehicles and parts, and chemicals move in individual rail cars and tank cars. Consumer goods, such as electronics, furniture, clothing, food, and tires, move in shipping containers, which often are double-stacked. This is called intermodal transportation, and it’s the fastest growing segment of the rail industry’s business.

In 2015, Norfolk Southern moved 7.5 million carloads of freight across its rail network. A single freight train can carry the load of more than 280 trucks, reducing highway congestion and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.