Since their introduction nearly a century ago, the deeply-rooted operating practices of railroads have normally been adequate in servicing the traffic requirements of the railroads. But, in times of heavy demand, those practices are not sufficient to provide the necessary capacity.
The traditional means to meet high demands is to increase the raw capacity via significant capital investments in infrastructure, rolling stock, and locomotives. Improving the effective capacity, i.e. the boundary placed upon the raw capacity by the operating practices, has not been a consideration. However, with the substantial advancements in technologies in the past decade, railroads can now increase their effective capacity in selected corridors without investment in raw capacity. But, it takes an operations strategy in sync with a technology strategy.
It takes Strategic Railroading.
The phrase Strategic Railroading may seem a bit oxymoronic. After all, the rail industry is a very traditional one with its primary operation practices and processes having not changed since the 1st qtr. of the last century. This is so because the set of the 3 core operational technologies, the core technology infrastructure if you will, has not changed, i.e.,
- Positioning: track circuits
- Communications: voice & signals
- Intelligence: dispatchers using non-intelligent Computer Assisted Dispatching platforms (CAD)
Indeed, a railroad’s operational practices and processes based upon these technologies are well established as are the associated business practices and processes including customer service, fueling, maintenance, and the interchange of trains between railroads.
The railroads have yet to make the quantum transition from traditional technologies and operations to those advance capabilities afforded by having timely resource data
being used by advanced planning and execution tools. Additionally, the railroads
have yet to look beyond their own borders to take an industry perspective that benefits all. To make such transitions will require technologists and a reality that wireless data infrastructure, with or without the pursuit of PTC, provides the means to make such advancements. At this point without such understanding, the railroads are destined to spend extraordinary amounts of capital on raw infrastructure, including parallel wireless platforms, while realizing only a small portion of the business benefits that could be achieved via Strategic Railroading.