CSX Corp., the largest railroad east of the Mississippi, is closing its engineer school in Cumberland and consolidating its training operations in Atlanta as the company prepares to hire thousands of new workers to meet demand for rail transportation.
The loss will fall heaviest on Cumberland's hospitality industry, which benefited by selling rooms and meals to the roughly 300 trainees that filtered through the school annually, economic development officials said. It also will affect nine staff members, consisting of one administrator and eight contract trainers. Some of the faculty lived outside the area and only came to town when training was taking place, the company said.
News of next year's shutdown comes as Allegany County is expecting a surge in hiring with the opening of a manufacturing plant next year that might employ up to 500 within a few years. Cabinetmaker American Woodmark Corp. has hired 30 to 40 workers and is expecting to hire 25 per month starting next year. It also is planning to build a lumber mill in neighboring Garrett County, creating about 250 jobs.
"We don't like to lose even one job," said Thomas E. Cooley, director of the Allegany County Department of Economic Development. "But CSX, of course, continues to be an economic driver for the community and we're pleased to have their operations here, and we can understand the economies of scale when sometimes you have to merge things together."
CSX, which employs 1,316 in Maryland, continues to operate a rail yard and maintenance facility in Cumberland. A company spokeswoman was uncertain how many employees work at the rail yard.
The decision to open an $8 million training center in Atlanta was driven by a looming employee shortage as engineers and other railroad workers retire just as the industry is experiencing a surge in business.
"The railroad industry, including CSX Transportation, is expected to need thousands of new employees each year for the next five to seven years to offset retiring front-line employees," said Wayne Richards, assistant vice president of staffing for the Jacksonville, Fla.-based railroad.
The Association of American Railroads estimates rail businesses will need to hire 80,000 workers over the next six years. CSX, which employs 33,713 companywide, has plans to hire 2,150 workers this year and 2,300 next year. It's unknown how many of those hires will be in Maryland.
Railroad workers have converged on this small Western Maryland town off and on since the early 1970s, when the former Chessie System Railroads used it as a training ground for aspiring engineers. CSX formed in 1980 with the merger of the Cleveland-based Chessie System and Jacksonville-based Seaboard Coast Line Industries Inc.
The current training center was opened in 1995 in what was once the B&O Railroad YMCA. Four or five more classes will be trained at the school next year before it is shut down. Training facilities in Jacksonville, Cleveland, Barboursville, W.Va., and Savannah, Ga., also will close as part of the consolidation.
The company said the nine staff members in Cumberland will be able to apply for other positions.