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Archive for the ‘Strategic Railroading’ Category

Railroad Operations: A Virtual Perspective

Based upon the study my team just completed in Egypt to evaluate the safety and efficiency of the Egyptian National Railways (ENR), I have posted a video on youtube, and is provided below, as to the design for a new traffic control, traffic management, and enforcement system. This system is referred to as Virtual CTC + Enforcement. It offers small to medium railroads across the globe, both freight and passenger, a cost-effective and pragmatic solution to delivering both efficient and safe railroading with enforcement capability that exceeds PTC, ETCS, and ATC. VCTC does not require either the extensive capital investment or extensive on-going maintenance of conventional or advanced traffic control systems.
Check it out!

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.

Back to Basics

It is reasonable to expect that most of the visitors to this blog are well-experienced railroaders for technically-savvy, established railroads, but not likely that knowledgeable of either traffic control systems or enforcement methodologies (prevention of human errors in the handling of movement authorities) that may exist elsewhere. Personally, until 3 years ago, my experience was almost exclusively with traditional signaling systems as well as non-signaled traffic control as used across 50% of the U.S. trackage – what is generically referred to as “dark territory”. With 40+ years of experience, including being the architect for the first overlay PTC system that provided the foundation for the PTC systems being deployed in the U.S. to meet a Federal mandate, my level of railroad basics had not been truly tested it turns out. It seems that I knew too much technically, but yet too little as to basic railroading. That is, I had a firm grip on understanding the pragmatic deployment of technologies to advance technologies for financially-successful, heavy density freight railroads. But, I really had never had to get to the basics of what safe railroading is when it comes to those railroads that have neither the internal resources (financial and technical) nor the support of suppliers who only deal with modern railroads thereby promoting only traditional signaling or advance systems such as ETCS.  How foolish, if not arrogant – I confess, on my part. But, again, that all changed 3 years ago when I became the Project Leader for a study funded by the U.S. Trade Development Agency (TDA) to study the safety and efficiency of the Egyptian National Railways (ENR).

ENR is the 2nd oldest railroad on our planet, the once-shining, now tarnished, star of the Middle East. I say tarnished for reasons primarily due to the raping of the Egyptian economy by the now-defunct Mubarek regime over the last several decades. ENR has deteriorated to a pathetic operation which is both highly inefficient and horrendously unsafe due to the reliance on human involvement in the generation and handling of movement authorities. Specifically, 2 points make the case. The traffic control systems across 82% of the trackage, Staff (token) and TYER (token-less), are block-by-block authority systems that stem from the middle of the 19th century.  Such inefficient traffic control systems have contributed substantially to the inability of ENR to handle freight operations that is critical for advancing Egypt’s economy. More tragically, the Egyptian people have been subjected to an amazing number of horrific train accidents resulting in fatalities. Specifically, within the last 2 months alone, there were two accidents that resulted in 55 fatalities due to errors by a mechanical interlocking operator and a level crossing guard.

Our study to address the safety and efficiency of ENR began 3 years ago, but was greatly hampered, if not threatened, by the politics and questionable ethics by key individuals that existed prior to Egypt’s revolution. Following the revolution, the project was assigned to ENR, and the professional railroaders at both MOT and ENR provided the means for the study to progress. The study is now complete, and the Prime Minister has directed ENR to immediately move forward with the study’s recommendation to implement our innovative traffic control, traffic management, and enforcement approach that is based upon proven concepts that until now have not been integrated to meet the unique requirements of ENR, and most likely many other railroads across Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere.  I have labeled this approach as Virtual CTC (V-CTC) + Enforcement. This approach required myself and my team members to challenge our understanding of the basics of safe and efficient railroading. Simply stated, those basics fall into two categories. First, there is the point of functional vitality (i.e., how are authorities generated) across this most antiquated railroad – and how does one minimize the capital investment to complement or replace those processes. Second, to what extent and by what means can enforcement be provided to prevent human errors in the handling of the movement authorities, again both generation and adherence?

Functional Vitality:

The primary purpose of a traffic control system is to prevent overlapping authorities, i.e., to authorize only one train to occupy a portion of track for a given portion of time. However, as is the case in the U.S. with Employees in Charge (EICs) for work gangs, there can exist a nesting of authorities. That is, a train can have an authority for a segment of track (multiple blocks) within which there is a second level of authority that must be obtained at some point. In the case of ENR, this was a critical consideration in that it deploys hundreds and thousands of mechanical interlocking operators and level crossing guards, respectively, that have the responsibility to provide a nested authority for a train to advance through their individual portion of control. In fact, the two accidents that I mentioned above where the result of the failure of these “vital employees” (see a previous posting on this blog with that title) to perform their responsibilities.

Enforcement:

To provide enforcement means being able to obtain the parameters (time / distance / speed) of the movement authorities that are generated, including the nested authorities. We all understand how that works in signaled territory, and some of us understand how that works in dark territory. But very few of us have had to deal with the nested authority process. Without going into depth here, our solution for ENR presented a very pragmatic solution that minimizes the use of wayside infrastructure. This is important not only to the direct capital investment requirement and ongoing maintenance, but also due to the consideration of extreme weather and theft issues in Egypt that readily compromise the safety of any approach so dependent.

The bottom line to the above discussion is that dealing with railroads that are without the financial or technical resources, for whatever reason, to advance their operations, there are solutions that they can deploy that are not offered by major suppliers that sell major systems for major railroad operations, whether freight and/or passenger.  However, to develop such solutions means getting to the basics of railroad operations as to the generation of authorities and the means to provide enforcement. Our solution for ENR prevents accidents due to errors by dispatchers and train drivers, but also those errors by vital employees such as EICs, mechanical interlocking operators and level crossing guards. Such systems, to my knowledge, do not exist elsewhere  – that is prior to what we have designed for ENR.

If you wish to explore the above points further, then please contact me at comarch@aol.com or 904 386 3082 in the U.S. My team of seasoned railroaders can address functional, technical (including wireless), financial (business case), and mathematics-based (OR) traffic density from both a tactical and strategic standpoint.

Degrees of Separation

The concept of 6 degrees of separation was initially introduced in a play written by John Guare in the early part of the 20th century declaring that each of us is only six steps of introduction from any person in the world. In current terms, this concept is readily acceptable given the advancement in communications and travel that has shrunk the world as to providing such connectivity. In fact, with the predominance of social networks available via the world wide conduit of the internet, one could argue that the six degrees of separation is now substantially less, if not just one. Arguably, the most dramatic example is that of the Arab Spring that has brought the citizens of suppressed countries, including their expatriates, to the point of uniting against their respective governmental tyrants.  One would like to think that our individual connectivity has no boundaries at this point as long as the paths of internet communications can be provided to the masses via wireless. However, as well demonstrated by the recent U.S. Presidential election, this same advancement in connectivity also provides the ability for those individuals that don’t have a rational understanding of facts to present their self-serving prejudices to misdirect those that solely place their faith in the written word, as to what can be achieved. To that point, only but the most uninformed or self-serving individuals would be quickly reminded by the Republican campaign for the recent U.S. President election which overwhelmingly (compared to that of Democrat’s campaign), consisted of a constant stream of a substantially misrepresentation of facts to present a phenomenally irrational, non-compromising  right wing perspective that serviced those most-selfish individuals that have benefitted from the benefits of a capitalistic  society, but without the recognition of the masses that have made their accomplishments achievable. Fortunately, for the benefit of the majority of the U.S. populace, President Obama was re-elected. With that stated, onward to railroads.

Playing on this concept of how technologies, most specifically wireless communications linked with Internet, have brought the world closer today, it also true the degree of train separation can also benefit from the introduction of technologies, again wireless data, and the use of advanced traffic management systems that can provide a substantial increase in traffic density for any given corridor by simply knowing the position AND speed of trains. With the availability of both position AND speed data, that doesn’t  exist for the majority of railroads across the globe, a railroad’s operations can project  and prevent conflicts that may occur even within fixed-block operations as determined by traditional electronic signaling operations that depend upon traditional wayside technologies that provide block-size positioning at best. I refer to this capability as Proactive Traffic Management (PTM) as is described in greater detail in  various other postings on this blog.

The deployment of PTM is quite inexpensive  both absolutely and especially relative to its value in that it can be provided as an overlay to a railroad’s choice of traffic control, whether it be signaled or non-signaled, WITHOUT replacing the dispatching platform. This is true because PTM is only a management decision tool and not an execution platform such as CTC or Track Warrant. As a decision tool, PTM can dramatically complement, if not replace in many cases, the skill set of the dispatcher who is a manager of the execution platform. This means that PTM is not functionally vital, i.e., it does not generate authorities that provides for the integrity of train movements. The ultimate deployment of PTM is when it is tightly integrated with traffic control thereby becoming some level of moving block – a vital system. But only a few high speed / high density railroads can benefit from a moving block capability. In fact, in the U.S. there are a number of operations-savy individuals that will note that moving block for the most dense freight traffic corridors would provide little benefit until the yard operations are optimized concurrently. So! As an overlay to traffic control, short of making a transition to moving block, what is holding back the deployment of PTM across the majority of globe? I believe the primary reasons differ between public and private railroads.

PUBLIC: Outside of the Americas, the predominance of rail operations are owned / controlled by the governments of the countries in which they operate.  Again, in general, these are passenger operations without a clear responsibility for addressing financial bottom line, i.e., providing cost effective solutions that have to pass the threshold business test as to making a profit, or else it is out of business. In these environments it seems that the suppliers often rule the roost in designing the traffic control solutions that aren’t necessarily cost-justified. Technicians thrive on promoting systems in this environment; they believe that they are justified in delivering solutions without restrictions as to costs. However, for those countries that are confronted with growing their economies internally, as well as integrating with the world economy, they are being presented with technologies that they simply cannot be justified.

PRIVATE: In the Americas, the freight railroads are competing with road, barge, and pipeline transport and therefore have to maintain a for-profit operation to stay in business … or they are out of business. Indeed, in the U.S. there have been tens if not hundreds of railroad bankruptcies in the last century. The Penn Central bankruptcy in the 70s (which the largest bankruptcy up to that time for all industries and for which I was the lead financial analyst for the Trustee Staff, is the ultimate example. This railroad lost its understanding of what it was, and eventually went under. That railroad went into a downward spiral as it reduced maintenance expenditures . . . which resulted in reduced traffic speed . . . which resulted in the loss of revenue . . . which resulted in further reduction in maintenance expenditures … and the downward spiral continued to the point of bankruptcy.  Conrail was the Phoenix rising from the ashes of the Penn Central. OK, back to the issue of separation.

The separation between trains, a.k.a. headway, is THE key issue in determining the type of traffic control that should be in place, whether it be freight or passenger operations. Those European suppliers that service the high speed, high density operations in place across that continent have developed sophisticated systems that provide for both safe and efficient operations. BUT, what about those countries in Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere that need cost-effective solutions to bring basic rail infrastructure to grow their GNP, both internally and relative to the world market?  They cannot afford the likes of traditional signaling, yet alone ETCS 1,2,3. These railroads need cost-effective solutions ; they need traffic control solutions generically referred to as dark territory that are used by railroads in the Americas that have a clear vision to the bottom line. They also need enforcement systems to prevent accidents due to human errors.  I speak with experience on this point given my assignment as Project Leader to address the safety and efficiency of the Egyptian National Railways (ENR) that still uses token and token-less traffic control across 82% of its operations.  With detail to be provide in the next posting on this blog, my team of independent consultants  (we don’t represent suppliers and we don’t accept commissions) have designed a traffic control, traffic management, and enforcement system that greatly improves both the safety and efficiency of ENR’s operation at a mere fraction of the cost to deploy ETCS.  This is a proven system as to the individual components that we have integrated. We have done so recognizing the true nature of ENR as to what they are and will be in the foreseeable future along with the realization of the capital investment that they can support. The approach I have titled as Virtual CTC (V-CTC) + Enforcement,  provides CTC functionality with the ability to prevent accidents due to drivers AS WELL as mechanical interlocking operators and level crossing guards, as well as the loss of train integrity. For example, two horrific accidents in Egypt in November, 2012 resulted in 54 fatalities that could have been prevented with V-CTC + Enforcement due to errors by mechanical interlocking operators and level crossing guards. Both of these accidents would not have occurred in the U.S., but in Egypt with their antiquated traffic control systems dependent upon “vital employees” (see the previous posting on this blog), there were human errors for which there was no enforcement system in place to prevent. But, through the efforts of my team in performing our study there, we recognized and modified the enforcement concept of PTC to handle. Specifically, we have designed an approach that monitors the traffic control activities of these vital employees to ensure that they have performed in providing valid movement authorities.  Most importantly, Virtual CTC + Enforcement minimizes the capital requirements to operate the railroad both safely and efficiently, versus slamming in signaling infrastructure and/or ETCS that would be 30 to 50 times more expensive by my rough estimate.

I can’t over emphasized the need for pragmatic, cost-effective solutions for traffic control, traffic management, and enforcement that traditional suppliers have refused to address for the majority of railroad operations across the globe.  Shame on them. Enough said. The next posting here will present V-CTC + Enforcement for those railroads and suppliers that are looking for solutions that support the majority of railroads across the globe that don’t provide high speed / high density operation – both passenger and freight. Please contact me at comarch@aol.com if you which to discuss your particular interests. My team of seasoned railroad professionals can address the functional, technical, financial, and mathematical throughput analysis of considering V-CTC + Enforcement from both a tactical and strategic perspective relative to expanding the safety and efficiency of a railroad’s operation, especially when integrating freight and passenger operations.

The bottom line here is that I warn railroads from being fooled by the written and stated words of suppliers that have solutions that are not appropriate for their operations. There may be pragmatic, cost effective solutions of which they may not be aware.

It Takes an Industry: Process

In the previous 2 posts of this set of 3 regarding Industry INTRAoperability (not Railroad INTERoperability for PTC) I addressed both the opportunity and the rail executive education that are required for the unprecedented opportunity to advance the railroads’ operations, both individually and as an industry. The underlying logic is that rail executives are motivated by their bonus plans to optimize the handling of their responsibilities. Hence, a strategic perspective that is beyond the horizon of their bonus program requires that top management be so educated to provide the incentive to think strategically as to the deployment of technologies to satisfy a strategic business plan, a.k.a. Strategic Railroading™. In this posting I discuss a well-proven process that provides the structure to do so.

 

In other postings on this blog I have referenced IBM’s efforts in the 70s and 80s to introduce the usage of computers across industries to replace manual business processes as well as to re-engineer business processes given the integration of computers with telecommunications, thereby establishing new flows of information within and between enterprises.  In addition to the prestigious executive sessions that IBM provided for its clients back then, IBM developed a very formal process for identifying the information flow architecture that would support the advancement of computers. Referred to as Business System Processing (BSP), the Wikipedia description properly identifies the primary objectives, i.e.,

  • understand the issues and opportunities with the current applications and technical architecture,
  • develop a future state and migration path for the technology that supports the enterprise,
  • provide business executives with a direction and decision making framework for IT capital expenditures,
  • provide information system (IS) with a blueprint for development.

Why BSP can be of great value to the railroads in particular at this point is the opportunity of developing “a future state and migration path” given the proliferation of wireless networks, both private and commercial. Even more to the point is the tremendous effort and investment that the railroads are making to lay in a 220 MHz network in the name of PTC. And, as noted in other postings on this blog, this decision by the railroads to deploy 220 MHz is really pathetic in two primary ways.  First, the railroads have failed to justify the need for additional 220 MHz as evidenced by FCC’s rejection of the railroads’ request for such spectrum in addition to what they already own. Second, there is no strategic business plan associated with any strategic technology plan (other than to just install 220 MHz) to cost-effectively use all of the spectrum that the railroads now possess. It is in support of both of these points that a BSP could lay the foundation of how wireless can benefit not only the individual railroads, but also the industry overall. In fact, had the railroads already performed a BSP for the industry, one that was truly understood and accepted by senior management, then the 220 MHz sham by the railroads’ technicians would have never gained any ground in my opinion.

So! It’s agreed then. A BSP can be greatly beneficial. But how is such a process performed?

BSP Process

There are 8 primary, structured & well-proven steps in performing a BSP, as follows:

1. Gain Executive Authority: This is often the most critical part of a BSP. Without the proper level of commitment to support the need for incorporating multiple departments of an organization within the study, the effort will fail with the first major disagreement between the departments, a disagreement that is inevitable;

2. Define the Business Strategy: This steps sounds difficult perhaps, but it actually is quite simple if the participants can be honest about the successes and failings of the organization and their individual departments;

3.Define the Business Processes: This is the most creative part of the BSP in that it requires visionaries that can look beyond the current processes and recognize the possible changes due to advancing technologies. For railroads it is the focus on wireless data that can provide for more timely and accurate management of the vast sets of mobile assets;

4. Define the Business Classes: Defining data classes (aggregates of related data elements) is very straightforward once the business processes have been defined.  (Note the very simplified example below of which business processes create / use the various business classes.);

5. Validate Finds with Management: This process establishes a line in sand with the management team that demonstrates the study is meeting the objectives of the study so as to ensure on-going commitment.

6. Define the Information Architecture: Ah Yes! This is the most fantastic step where the BSP effort really clicks and all participants and management can see what they have been missing as to information flow between the primary entities, and processes. (Note below a simplified example of a BSP that I performed for the intermodal industry. The arrows indicate the flow of specific data classes (descriptions not included) between operational entities and/or data bases. The black objects and arrows are current, the red objects and arrows are new relative to the changes in the business processes, and blue objects are hardware that need to be developed;

7. Establish Information System Priorities: The appropriateness and credibility of the information architecture developed via the BSP is first tested here as each player pulls for particular interests in establishing the priorities of the future information systems. Using the above diagram as an example, the order in which the red blocks are developed, either individually or collectively, can greatly affect the actual success of reaching the desired overall objective.

8. Make the Business Case for Management: YES! The most important business case. If nothing else, the BSP process takes the control of technology investment out of the hands of the technicians who seemingly have the desire to deliver the optimum system as to capability, whether it is required or not.  Again, the most current, and capital-wasting example of this is that of PTC deployment where the technologists are out of control as to wireless (220 MHz), a train positioning platform, and the use of wayside interface units to interface with Intermediary Signals ( see the previous posting on this block “IS … Not”).

Voila!  I have managed or participated in 4 BSPs … and this is really good stuff.

It Takes an Industry: Education

This is the 2nd of 3 postings that address Industry INTRAoperability (I/I), i.e. the development of systems that support the business interest of the entire rail industry, versus the advances in technologies and systems made by each individual railroad for its singular purposes.  I/I is not the same as Railroad INTERoperability, as is required to deploy Positive Train Control (PTC) as a safety enhancement to the traffic control systems that provide for the integrity of movement operations. Rather, I/I addresses the business perspective of the advantages to the industry by the improved management of key resources subject to the interchange of trains between railroads. The assets that I am referring include the full array: track time, train crews, yards, locomotives, rolling stock, and shipments of high value and/or involving security issues.

Yes! I did state track time, train crews, and yards even those assets don’t cross borders. The reason for doing so is that the use of those assets increases in efficiency as the degree of scheduled operations increases . . . And, the ability of an individual railroad to run to scheduled operations is partially dependent upon the schedule reliability of the railroads with which it interconnects . . . And, since most railroads have yet to demonstrate their ability to run to schedule to a significant extent, contrary to their claims, then a valuable opportunity of pursuing I/I is that of providing timely data of train movements, both position and speed, across all interconnecting railroads so as line-ups can be adjusted in a timely fashion.  Unfortunately, even with such data, a number of roads are incapable of using it to any great extent given their lack of Proactive Traffic Management techniques that I introduced 6 years or so ago in my quarterly publication, Full Spectrum. However, it is encouraging that at least NS and BNSF have made such advancements via the deployment of pragmatic wireless solutions that can report the speed and position of their own trains on their respective properties.

As to the locomotives, rolling stock, and shipments that do cross railroad borders I identified a number of I/I applications in the FRA-funded study I performed in 2008: A Demand and Supply Analysis of the Opportunities for Wireless Technologies in Passenger and Freight Rail Operations, (www.fra.dot.gov/downloads/Research/ord0802.pdf). As the result of that study, I decided shortly thereafter to take the same approach that IBM used in the 60s and 70s to bring about major changes in the traditional business processes of a full range of industries with the introduction of main frame computers. That is, IBM established major executive education facilities and curriculums across the U.S. to expose their prospective clients’ top management teams to what could be done with computers. As noted in the previous posting, the initial efforts focused on replacing manual data handling processes, e.g., payroll, accounts receivables / payables, with computerized data processing. However, with the introduction of affordable disk storage and the integration of telecommunications with computers, the curriculums expanded in scope by identifying how to change the traditional business processes given the opportunities to rethink the flow of information within and between enterprises (The process of structuring a strategic information flow architecture will be discussed in the next posting: It Takes an Industry: Process).

So, following IBM’s lead I put together an Strategic Railroading Symposium for top railroad executives that would be sponsored by the supplier community overall to remove even the perception of bias. The symposium schedule (presented below) that I put together consisted of 2 tracks, Operations & Engineering, with two categories of topics each, that addressed I/I opportunities as well as other possible applications that I believed at that time would be valuable exposure for railroad top management. Actually, this effort was progressing well with the expression of key suppliers to participate . . . that is until the ramifications of the just-ordered PTC mandate took effect. At that point, rail’s management teams withdrew into their caves rejecting the consideration of anything other than the challenges of implementing PTC. The suppliers, hence, backed away from the opportunity given their inability to market even their current products and services, yet alone the challenges and risks of developing a long-term strategic perspective.

As you will see in the agenda below, several of those applications have had sporadic initiations across the industry in the last several years.

OPERATIONS
Traffic Management
Delivering Proactive Traffic Management NOW without new CAD
The pragmatic application of meet/pass planning tools
Effective management of the line-up
The challenges and opportunities of effective interchange
The challenges to increasing scheduled operations
Reconciling the perspectives of Service Design vs. Operations
Integration of yard status with main line dispatching
Minimizing conflict between high speed passenger and freight trains
Resource Management
Optimizing crew management relative to the lineup
Balancing locomotive fleets across the industry
Industry tracking of key rolling stock and shipment status
A new look at work order reporting in light of TSA requirements
Maintaining chain-of-custody for critical shipments
Opportunities for improved yard management
ENGINEERING
Track & Wayside
Unattended, locomotive-borne track inspection
Enhanced safety for on-track workers without authorities
Enhanced safety for workers within work zones
Monitoring the position and health of critical maintenance equipment
Rolling Stock
Locomotive tracking & diagnostics across the industry
Performance-based locomotive maintenance
Industry-based locomotive maintenance
In-train monitoring systems of equipment and shipments

When rail management surfaces from the PTC abyss, then perhaps there will be an opportunity to reconsider some version of the Strategic Railroading Symposium.

It Takes an Industry

There is unlikely to be anyone significantly involved with the U.S. freight industry that has not been exposed to the phrase railroad interoperability given the Federal mandate of Positive Train Control (PTC), an overlay enforcement system. This mandate, via the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, has consumed extensive capital and human resources of the railroads and selected suppliers to design and implement PTC before 2016 in such a fashion that the movement across railroad borders will be transparent to the on-board PTC system. This transparency of interchange, a.k.a. railroad INTERoperability, is unprecedented in the U.S. as to both technologies and cooperation between the railroads, and only exceeded by the European countries in their development and deployment of ETCS, a traffic control system with integrated enforcement. However, unlike ETCS which has been handled by the supplier community, PTC is primarily an effort of the 4 primary Class I railroads, much to dismay of the commuter railroads that are basically at the mercy of what the Class Is provide (see a previous posting on this blog: A Wag of the Finger).

 

While providing for PTC interoperability across railroads is an extraordinary effort for which the Class Is deserve tremendous credit for addressing the technology challenges (albeit a tremendous overkill as to wireless – see previous posting: Don’t Drink the Kool Aid), the railroads are failing to an equal or even greater extent to address the functionality issues of this effort that are available to them. That is, the technicians for PTC are doing what they are required to do to address PTC functionality, but the Class Is’ senior management teams are not considering what can be achieved across the industry as to operations and resource management given the wireless network that is to be deployed for PTC. I refer to this industry-wide functionality as Industry INTRAoperability (I/I) as was introduced in the FRA-funded study I performed in 2008: A Demand and Supply Analysis of the Opportunities for Wireless Technologies in Passenger and Freight Rail Operations (www.fra.dot.gov/downloads/Research/ord0802.pdf).

 

So! Why are railroads not pursuing I/I ? The answer involves two components. First, railroad executives are highly motivated, if not exclusively so, by the executive bonus programs that are provided them. Second, to pursue I/I requires resources that are not generally available in the railroads, i.e., technologists (not technicians) that can envision and develop cost-effective, strategic technology plans in sync with strategic business plans, a.k.a. Strategic Railroading. As to both of these components, I offer a primary example.  If railroads truly wanted to pursue scheduled operations, then to do so would mean that the railroads with which they interchange must be striving for schedule operations as well. That means reliable cooperation within and between roads . . . which means that the executive bonus programs must be so structured  – but they aren’t.  If they were, then perhaps the railroads would provide for the second component, the technologists that could work together just as the technicians from the railroads have been doing for the last several years to pursue railroad interoperability for PTC deployment.

 

So! How can I/I be pursued given the lack of both appropriate executive bonuses and technologists?  The answer to this question is two-fold: 1. Education and 2. Process.  Both of these points will be addressed in the next two postings to the blog. So! Please check back into this blog during the next several weeks.

 

 

Six Wireless Decisions Your Wireless Management Shouldn’t Make

In the November 2002 issue of Harvard Business Review (HBR) there was an article titled “The Six IT Decisions Your IT People Shouldn’t Make”. It was a great article about how Operations management for so many companies have abdicated responsibility for IT decisions to IT executives, thereby resulting in a significant loss in the return on their IT investments.  The underlying truth is quite straightforward. That is,  Operations management “failed to recognize that adopting systems posed a business – not just a technological- challenge. Consequently, they didn’t take responsibility for the organizational and business process changes the systems required.”   The result of this lack of involvement was that the CIO, with a technology perspective exclusively, was constraining the advancement of the company’s business processes, and most likely the return on IT investment and, more importantly, the company’s bottom line.

 

Shift now to railroads and their nearly total dependence on managing mobile and remote resources. In this environment, the strategic IT environment extends to the “mobile node”, the locomotive platform, by incorporating a strategic wireless data perspective in sync with the IT strategy. And, has been so unfortunately demonstrated in the North American railroad industry, it’s the wireless technicians that are constraining the advancement of business processes by their pursuit of non-strategic wireless networks, most recently in the name of PTC.  I refer specifically to the intended deployment of the 220 MHz band in parallel with the 160 MHz band that will be shifting to a digital platform to meet the FCC’s narrow-banding mandate. In line with the HBR article, the railroads’ Operations management have not been involved with the evaluation of how wireless technologies will be deployed. I stress that it is not the technicians’ fault that they have such a free hand, but rather that of the railroads’ upper management that have failed to be involved.

 

Paraphrasing the key points of the HBR article, below are the 6 decisions that a wireless manager should not make about the deployment of wireless technologies, from both a strategy and execution standpoint.

 

Strategy

  • How much should we spend on wireless?
  • Which business processes should receive our wireless dollars?
  • Which wireless capabilities need to be company-wide ( and industry-wide)?

 

Execution

  • How good do our wireless services really need to be?
  • What security and privacy risks will we accept?
  • Whom do we blame if a wireless initiative fails?

 

Via several following postings to this blog, I will address some of these questions in greater detail.

 

PTC Spring Sale – 80% off

ACT NOW! Don’t wait any longer. This is your last chance opportunity to get PTC before the technicians take your railroad to the edge of the PTC investment abyss and give you the financially-fatal push.

"PTC is on Sale! Act now to capture these amazing prices!"

The PTC approach being pursued by the Class Is via the Interoperable PTC Committee (ITC) manned by CSX, UP, BNSF, and NS, is tremendously overdesigned as to functionality, technology, and infrastructure. The net of this is a 5-fold increase in investment (my estimate). However, it still is not too late to scream “ I’m not going to take anymore!” and design your PTC implementation in a fashion to avoid most of the unnecessary stuff.  Here’s the story in 3 simple bullets.

  • As was addressed in an earlier posting on this blog, YOY WIUs, it is clear that the recent estimate of 50,000 wayside interface units (WIUs) that provide wireless data paths from wayside infrastructure components to the PTC client on the locomotive and the PTC server in the office is off by a factor of 60%, minimum. As explained in the earlier posting, WIU’s are not required for Intermediary Signals (ISs) and control points. The former is not a required function of the PTC mandate (in fact, doing so may actually increase risk), and the latter can be done via the already installed code line.
  • I find no evidence of anyone doing an actual data throughput analysis for PTC. From my personal experience, having been the architect for the first overlay PTC system that provided the foundation for the Class I pursuits, there is very little data throughput required (save track data base downloads that can be handled via WiFi in the yard).  And yet, the ultimate wireless data system is being developed by ITC.  It is clear that PTC has nothing to do with this development in actuality. The railroad technicians want the network (they love the challenge), and perhaps someday they will need it (there currently is little to no strategy as to how the network could be used), and they are using PTC as the excuse.
  • Complimentary to the above point, the railroads actually don’t even need the 220 MHz network.  What they failed to do several years ago was to use digital trunked radio technology to outfit the current analog 160 MHz infrastructure to meet the FCC’s narrowbanding requirement.  They are already switching that network from analog to digital, but they have chosen to use conventional radio instead of trunked. Granted it would have been a complicated transition, but $1 billion cheaper by avoiding the 220 MHz infrastructure. Again, the railroads’ technicians took it upon themselves to address challenges without proper executive management understanding and oversight which would have required proper business case analyses.

 

Last Chance! Positive Train Control at great prices!

The bottom line on the railroads’ bottom lines is that the cost of PTC implementation could be reduced from the estimate $10 Billion to a mere $2 billion, give or take a $1 billion. But to take advantage of this Spring reduction, someone has to stand up now and say scrap the 220 MHz, install digital trunk 160 MHz, and ignore 60% of those WIU’s.  Of course that won’t happen. What a shame.

Benchmarking Wireless

So many words, phrases, and processes that were used in 70s regarding computers have faded to the point that it is likely that few under 50 years of age would have heard of them, yet alone understand their usage. I am referring to terms such as core memory, thrashing, I/O bound, DP, TOS, DOS, boot strap, JCL, punched cards, re-IPLing, LCS, and core dump. This was the era of mainframe computers with orders-of-magnitude less processing power and storage than available today at orders-of-magnitude higher prices.  Indeed, as the phrase DP suggested, this was a period of batch processing of data, e.g., payroll or inventory update, versus that of dynamic generation of information.

Back then, one process in particular was extremely important when making decisions about the investment in computer systems. That is, customers would often require that a computer supplier to benchmark it’s various levels of systems, or against competitor systems, to compare the efficiency and adequacy relative to the cost of those systems.  In truth, having been actively involved in such activities as an IBM DP Marketing Representative, benchmarking was more often than not a shell game played by the vendors’ System Engineers that tweaked each part of their computer parameters (constraints such as I/O speed, partition size, disk access speed, etc.) to maximize the throughput of a particular a system in favor of each customer’s individual expectations. Getting the customer’s order was often the result of the vendor’s Marketing Representatives and System Engineers working together to set up the customer expectations and then to demonstrate the ability to meet them, respectively, euphemistically referred to as having account control.

With the move from back-office / mainframe computing to that of distributed client/server, the art and science of benchmarking has become that of legends for those still able to remember the good ole days.  With seemingly unlimited computer power and communication links, there is rarely an issue today of whether or not the IT architecture will handle the requirements and at what cost. Over the last several decades the investment decision has shifted from costs/power to that of developing / obtaining the software relative to business value. Well, that’s almost totally true. For industries that rely on substantial mobile and remote resources, advancing IT can also be a significant infrastructure and hardware cost as well and therefore worthy of benchmarking.  Unfortunately, that continues to NOT be the case for railroads.

As I have noted in other postings on this blog, and in my quarterly publication, Full Spectrum, most of the major railroads in North America have failed to develop a strategic technology plan in sync with a strategic operations plan (Strategic Railroading). What is not understood, and therefore not appreciated or evaluated by railroads, is the paradigm shift that can be made for these predominantly unscheduled railroads by increasing the accuracy and timeliness of the status of their key assets, including track time, locomotive diagnostics, fuel, crews, and yard occupancy. And, the primary technology to do that is wireless data.  So, if companies found it appropriate to benchmark computer systems for the paradigm shift that they made in the 70s by replacing clerks with MIPS, then why are the railroads not doing the same in pursuing their deployment of wireless? There are two points to consider to address this question, i.e., MOTIVATION and PROCESS.

MOTIVATION

In the case of railroads with 1000s of locomotives and the possibility of incorporating them as mobile nodes on the IT architecture, as a manufacturer would consider fixed nodes, then there is definitely something missing. What is missing is the understanding by railroad management, and suppliers failing to taking a proactive position, of what can be done with IN-TIME data. I am not referring to REAL-time data. The difference between IN-TIME and REAL time is critical in understanding the constraints of using wireless data, versus the seemingly infinite capability of wired links as in a manufacturing environment.  To be explained in a future posting, IN-TIME data for train speed and position information in unscheduled operations is no more frequent than every 5 minutes for other than moving block operations. Hence, the railroad technicians that are charged with designing wireless networks can’t help themselves, nor are they held responsible, in making technical decisions which are not related to true business evaluation. Stated simply, technicians will always over design to make sure that they don’t come up short.

PROCESS

As nearly everyone now appreciates with the proliferation of cell phones and laptop computing, wireless is clearly limited in its throughput speed and coverage. It has been an eye-opening experience for those folks that expected that their internet connectively on their cell phone and notebook would match their in-the-office-cubicle desktop performance. There are two primary ways to determine what needs to be done.

1.      evaluate every possible wireless-based application as to data requirements and calculate the ultimate throughput requirements.  At least one railroad tried this approach several years ago, and the process bogged down in detail thereby insuring nothing would be resolved.

2.      evaluate on an 80/20 basis as to evaluating throughput requirements relative to a variety of wireless options recognizing the two key parameters of wireless data parameters. i.e. throughput and coverage. This approach was used a decade ago when I structured such a study that was participated in by the big 4 railroads in the U.S. with oversight by the AAR. The results of that study were used at that point by the AAR to justify the industry’s usage of the 160 VHF spectrum to the FAA. However, that was all the farther it went. Basic details follow.

Developing a Wireless Strategy for a railroad, or for an industry, needs to be pragmatic and adjustable to each railroad’s technical agenda, assuming there is one.

The process is rather simplistic in structure, but a true commitment is required by a railroad’s upper management to provide the players involved with the proper motivation to address the bottom line at the same time. To be brief, the process requires developing a matrix that plays off THROUGHPUT requirements against COVERAGE.  For railroads, the THROUGHPUT requirements may include simple categories such as Voice, Monitoring (locomotive diagnostics, shipment status), Out-bound Transactions (PTC targets), Process Control (moving block), and Interactive (M of W activities, in-train management). As to COVERAGE, the categories can be as simple as Terminal, Metropolitan (major cities with multiple railroads), Main Line, and Group (M of W gangs, Trains/Cars).  Within each Throughput / Coverage block of  the matrix, the possible applications are identified with a pragmatic evaluation of data requirements.  This provides the Demand perspective.

The next step is to evaluate the various wireless data options, both commercial and private, as to their ability to service the demand. This is the Supply perspective that results in Wireless Corridors, if you will, that permits structuring a manageable number of wireless strategies based upon business evaluation as to costs vs. value. Such an analysis, in my belief, would have prevented the phenomenal, unwarranted investment in the 220 MHz spectrum that is being made in the name of PTC, even though the railroads are required to spend $100s millions to rebuild the 160 MHz infrastructure as required by the FCC by 2013.

For those small to medium railroads outside of North America that are being slammed with ETCS, and the requirement for GSM, the analysis goes even deeper. That is, as described in other postings on this blog, the use of dark territory (with or without PTC) and the deployment of cost-effective wireless solutions can provide substantially lower capital investments to run a railroad both safely and efficiently.

Bottom Line, railroads should be benchmarking the use of wireless technologies with a pragmatic understanding of both Demand and Supply. Further details of such a process can be obtained by contacting me to discuss individual situations. This is what I provide as a consultant.

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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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Full Spectrum is a quarterly railroading journal authored by Mr. Ron Lindsey. The majority of executives in the US railroad industry, including top members of the FRA and the major railroads, have subscribed to Full Spectrum for the past fifteen years.

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