By Leigh Morris
For the Star-Gazette
A way of life stretching back more than 14 decades will end on Tuesday, Nov. 5, when the BNSF Railway eliminates Beardstown as a crew change point.
With this decision, the BNSF Railway estimates about 110 jobs will be lost in Beardstown. Those employees will be able to work out of Galesburg or other locations on the 32,500-mile rail system. At this time, the BNSF reports that 47 Beardstown employees have won bids to work out of Galesburg on trains running between Galesburg and Centralia and Galesburg and the St, Louis area.
“Eliminating the crew change point will allow trains to pass thru (sic) Beardstown without delay. This provides a better service to our customers and makes BNSF more competitive,” Andy Williams, a BNSF Public Affairs director, wrote in response to questions posed by this reporter.
According to Williams, about 40 jobs will remain in Beardstown though this “number will be adjusted periodically to reflect the work demand” for Beardstown-based crews.
Of the positions remaining in Beardstown, 33 employees will be placed on the extra board, which is a pool of employees not assigned to regular runs. These employees will work as relief crews, fill absences and originate occasional grain trains that serve online grain elevators.
In addition, the BNSF will maintain two road switchers at Beardstown to handle online freight customers. There also will be a Beardstown-based local freight train. A total of nine positions will remain in Beardstown to support these operations.
BNSF’s action will not impact the railway’s maintenance-of-way operations and jobs based in Beardstown. Maintenance-of-way is based in the former passenger station on Eighth Street.
Several BNSF employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the decision to eliminate the Beardstown crew change point will result in more stranded trains. A federal law, known as the hog law, restricts train crews to 12 continuous hours of work. A train is stranded when its crew reaches the hours of service limit before arriving at their destination. The train must stop until a relief crew arrives.
“BNSF has taken action to reduce the risk of recrewing trains online,” Williams wrote. “Operational processes have been reviewed and adjusted to eliminate delays at the terminals and in train dispatching. Remote control switches at various sidings across the line were installed to reduce delays for meeting trains. Maintenance has been ramped up as well to increase speeds.”
The BNSF line through Beardstown handles bulk traffic such as coal, oil and iron ore trains as well as grain and general merchandise. BNSF anticipates freight traffic will increase over time.
Employees impacted by the BNSF decision are represented by the United Transportation Union (UTU) and are members of Beardstown Local 196.
Affected employees who relocate to Galesburg will be eligible to receive a $35,000 relocation package that will be paid over three installments. There also is a driving package that will reimburse workers who drive to Galesburg. Workers can take this option for up to 30 months, according to a UTU official. Another option is a one-time payment of $15,000 for certain eligible employees.