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Really! You Gotta Let It Go

Norfolk Southern Logo

Norfolk Southern is a Class I Railroad in North America

In a recent issue of a rail industry periodical there was an informative article on Norlfolk Southern’s use of advancing technologies to advance their operations. What was most interesting to me was the very brief description of GE’s RailEdge Movement Planner that is being rolled out across NS’s network in concert with their next generation CAD platform.  This 1-paragraph discussion validated the Proactive Traffic Management concept that I introduced 5-6 years ago in my quarterly publication, Full Spectrum, as well in Railway Age and more recently in postings on this blog.

The successful deployment of such capability has been a long time coming. Going back a decade, the GE-Harris combo first attempted to implement their moving block, Precision Train Control (PTC™), platform on Union Pacific.  PTC™ (not to be confused with Positive Train Control) was abandoned eventually for 2 primary reasons. First, there was not a cost-effective wireless data solution at the time and second, the Harris side of the operation, driven by Jack Welch’s progressive positioning of technologies , had the “if we can place a man on the moon, then we can run a railroad.” attitude. They truly missed the 80/20 solution – developing solutions that will work … versus the fatuous pursuit of perfection.  It seems that GE and NS have now figured it out, including the evolutionary expansion to include yards, crew operations, and locomotives into RailEdge.  This is great stuff, but this is not the primary purpose of this posting.

In the same issue as the NS article there is a Guest  Comment, PTC – the next great railroad revolution by a gentlemen with impeccable rail credentials.  Here is an individual that has held very responsible positions across all aspects of the industry, i.e. Class I & II railroads, FRA, major supplier, and even education.  But, with all of that said, this fellow just can’t give it up. He can’t give up on associating business benefits with PTC.

Below are two quotes from his commentary:

Business won’t be the same after PTC, if railroads implement it properly, business will be better – for everyone.

The continuous, accurate, real-time train location and speed information from PTC is not available to precision dispatching systems, thus making train meets and passes less efficient

Stop! No more erroneous PTC promotions!

Stop! You gotta let it go. PTC alone does not provide business benefits.

In addition to the above comments, he references several FRA-supported studies that “point to the potential for substantial business benefits (from PTC).”  What he doesn’t state is that he drove several if not all of those studies, and those studies were rightfully dismissed by railroads and independent consultants that could see through the primary folly. That is, PTC requires a wireless data path, as do the primary business benefits to be derived from knowing the position and speed of trains.  However, a railroad doesn’t require PTC to get the wireless data network.   A secondary fundamental point here is that the advancement of traffic management is dependent upon the more efficient generation and delivery of movement authorities. PTC doesn’t do either. PTC only uses the parameters of the movement authorities once they have been generated. You can read more on this subject in my previous post: “PTC Delivers Business Benefits?

What this gentleman doesn’t understand by forcing PTC at the beginning of events to achieve business benefits is that all of the excessive PTC-design activity in the name of operability is actually holding back railroad advancement for most railroads. These railroads have failed to take a business perspective of how to use technologies now, most specifically wireless data.  But, that’s not the case for NS, is it?  They saw the light 2 or so years ago when it was decided to put train position/speed reporting devices on the locomotives to bring in that most simple, but most critical data that could be used by “precision dispatching systems”, to quote the commentator.  And, they did it without PTC.

While I appreciate the commenter’s passion in pressing his perspective that goes back 2 decades, his lack of objectivity is a very costly, if not a financially dangerous perspective for railroads. Really! You gotta let it go.

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Strategic Railroading™
Given recent tech advances there is now an unprecedented opportunity to advance railroad operations and the integration of high speed rail with freight. Real-time traffic management and communication is possible without significant development and deployment costs, but it will take a technology strategy working hand-in-hand with an operational strategy, it will take Strategic Railroading.™
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