June 2016 Commerce Club Featuring Jeff Norwood, General Manager, Port Terminal Railroad Association


The Port Terminal Railroad Association (PTRA), formed in 1924 to provide access to the industries along the Ship Channel for railroads entering Houston, was in the limelight at the June 9 Commerce Club Luncheon at Brady’s Landing. Jeff Norwood, PTRA general manager, was the featured speaker at the event.

“Of the 18 railroads that originally went to the Houston Ship Channel, only three railroads are left today – the Union Pacific, BNSF, and TexMex/KCS,” said Norwood as he introduced the presentation. “We handle approximately 57,000 railcars a month; sometimes it gets closer to 60,000.”

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Norwood highlighted expansions completed, current and planned projects, shared the initiatives the PTRA has undertaken to improve service and safety, and their preparation steps for the future. “We spent a lot of money to be prepared for the future,” said Norwood.

PTRA has a “fluid” yard capacity of 4,000 railcars. “On average, we spot and pull 2,200 industry cars per day. We have 9,600 cars spotted at industry at any given time,” Norwood explained, and added that the capacity offered “plenty of room for growth.” At present, about 75% of the PTRA business is plastics and chemicals.

Well-defined service and safety measurements have been central to keeping the PTRA a vital transport provider in Houston Ship Channel logistics. Norwood indicated that customer satisfaction was poor in previous years, prompting PTRA leadership to examine operations on a wide scale, collecting data from across the spectrum of customers and employees, and ultimately leading to new implementations. They measure their service now in terms of “gathering” – pulling cars from industry within the scheduled time frame – and “distribution” – spotting cars to industry within the scheduled time frame. Their efforts brought up customer service satisfaction to 94%, an accomplishment Norwood acknowledged as “not easy”.

The successful service performance of the PTRA is also dependent on safe operations. Again, as leadership sought to see the PTRA perform at the highest level of safety standards, input was gathered throughout the operation. Norwood named “training, awareness, and accountability” as significant factors in reducing the frequency of injuries and seeing “phenomenal safety improvement” in the PTRA.

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Norwood wrapped up the presentation by emphasizing the PTRA is “ready for the future”. The PTRA member lines have invested over $52 million in maintenance and expansion over the last five years. Capital expenditures are budgeted for $30 million in 2016 and include “construction of double track from the Katy Neck, over Broadway, to Manchester Junction.” Norwood concluded the session by fielding a number of questions from attendees. Subjects ranged from getting all railroad crossings protected to a more comprehensive picture of work safety accomplishments.

Ed. Note: For a more detailed look at the Port Terminal Railroad Association’s operations, please see their spotlight feature story in the November 2015 issue of the Port Bureau News magazine or read it digitally at http://txgulf.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2015-NOV-PBN.pdf.

  • Date July 19, 2016
  • Tags July 2016