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Faking It

I played a decent amount of basketball in my high school years.  However, being 6’3” was not enough by itself to compensate for my lousy shooting. And, I wasn’t a good shot because I was unwilling to practice enouigh to build that “muscle memory” of the physics associated with putting the ball in the hoop. Therefore, I spent my court time mastering the interception of passes between the opposing team players by anticipating their moves. I was really good at “reading” their intentions in the passing of the ball.  My skill, it seems, was a combination of perception and the ability to fake where my attention was in the other team’s handling of the ball. My strategy was if I could intercept their passes, then I could pass the ball to my team members who could make the shots. The point here is that there are those individuals that grab the ball, and there are those that can make the points once they have the ball.  This is one ideal “team” perspective in my opinion given so very few individuals can do both.  Unfortunately, in the U.S. railroads today, those who have the responsibility for obtaining the ball also have the responsibility for taking the shots – and they really suck at shooting. I am referring to the railroads’ technicians and their free-hand at designing and installing technologies without responsible upper management oversight. Simply stated: I think there is a great deal of faking going on in railroad management, whether it be intentional or just the nature of the organization.

Is there any doubt that there are times that each of us fakes it personally and professionally . . . but not necessarily for the wrong reasons? That is, we present viewpoints and take on tasks that are beyond our actual knowledge and skill set with the expectation (based upon past experiences) that we will succeed … and with the hope that our audience won’t be able to contest us either due to their lack of on-point knowledge or their lack of intestinal fortitude to take on the “authority”.  Unfortunately, however, in the railroads I see faking-it to be a two way street between the technical and operational managers that is resulting in a horrific waste of capital and, in the case of wireless, the waste of valuable RF spectrum. That is, the technicians fake that they have done their due diligence in promoting that there technical solutions are absolutely the most cost-effective . . . and the operators feign (or worse don’t even participate) that they have done their due diligence in challenging and understanding what they are offered by the technicians. While I am sure that there are some excellent examples where it is clear the technicians and the operators have worked together to deliver cost-effective technical solutions, there are too many examples where they have not. Arguably, the most egregious is that of the ITC efforts to address the interoperability challenges of PTC. There are 3 primary examples.

  1. I have already exposed in this blog as well my articles in Railway Age, and my submissions to the FCC, that the grab for more and more 220 MHz by the Class Is is an intentional scam (IMHO). This is faking-it taken to an unprecedented level for the industry because it is not a single railroad that is the perpetrator, but rather a class(1)action, if you will.
  2. Having spoken recently with a supplier of NXDN, a digital wireless protocol, I am of the opinion that the availability of the significant increase in channels  by narrowbanding VHF has afforded the railroad technicians the opportunity to once again forego their responsibility of using at least the 160 MHz band in a good-citizen, yet cost-effective fashion.
  3. As to positioning accuracy for PTC, the technicians are striving for levels of accuracy that are far, very far, exceed that which is really necessary due to their inability to understand what is really required, and rather to ensure that they will never be at fault regardless of the cost.

Fortunately, there are several railroads that don’t buy into these fatuous technology activities and recognize that there are solutions that are much more cost-effective. It would seem that these railroads have a team perspective of obtaining the ball and making the shot. But unfortunately for too many railroads, there is a lack of upper-management understanding and support for doing the right thing for the right reason. That is, for too many railroads the exploits of technologies by technicians goes unchallenged by the management teams that have the responsibility for their railroad’s bottom line, with or without consideration of what makes sense for a country with constrained RF capacity.

THE bottom line is that the technicians are in fact faking it as to providing technology-based solutions that are grounded in responsible economics. They are doing so because, IMHO, 1. they believe that it is their responsibility to provide the best (most complex) technology regardless of the cost and regardless of whether or not such complexity is required, and 2, railroad management has failed to get involved in understanding the business perspective of technology decisions. So! Who is at fault?  In my opinion, it is the RRs’ senior management failure in developing a business strategy in sync with a technology strategy that has set up the situation. Could the focus on the current year’s bonus plan have anything to do with this? Hmmmm!

So!   I ask you: When you fake it, are you doing so for the right reasons?  Are you avoiding the critical issues important to your organization so as to “kiss up” to your management or to your annual bonus, whether you work for a railroad or a supplier? . . . or . . . Are you realistic as to what can be achieved and willing to speak up? . . .  or  . . . Do you really care one way or the other? As an independent consultant I don’t fake it with my clients.  They will get both a short-term tactical and a long-term strategic perspective whether they want it or not. I will grab them the ball, but they have to make the shot.

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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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