Getting Off Track: Roanoke, Altoona and the Derailment of Norfolk Southern

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Virginia Tech


Martinsville, Virginia lost its textile industry to Mexico. High Point, North Carolina lost its furniture business to Asia. Pittsburgh lost Steel, Detroit lost auto-making, Mississippi lost cotton, and West Virginia lost coal. These once booming mono-industrial communities, competitive in a global economy, are all clawing their way out of a deep, dark unemployment whole. Each has a chapter in the story of urban decay and renewal with different endings. But the actions of their elected officials, before, during, and after their community's single industry downsizes or leaves, make all the difference.

The following comparative policy paper examines the strategies of two local governments, those of Roanoke, Virginia, and Altoona, Pennsylvania, who attempted to mitigate the loss of Norfolk Southern Rail Car Repair Shops in their cities. I find quantitative and qualitative research, which suggests that Roanoke faired better after the loss of Norfolk Southern with regard to unemployment rates, median household income, high school and college graduation rates and poverty rates. I attempt a research design such that community leaders whose cities suffer similar economic blows can walk away with recommendations concerning their roles in recovery.

Both cities relied greatly on the economic activity of Car Repair Shops. The staff at the Roanoke Car Shops, once comprised of more than a thousand men and women, has dwindled to a skeleton crew of about 15. The Hollidaysburg Car Shops also employed close to one thousand people, but too, has eroded to about a dozen. A history of each city and the evolution surrounding Norfolk Southern is included, along with an extensive examination into subsequent economic activity.



Mono-Industrial Cities, Norfolk Southern, Altoona, Roanoke