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Posts Tagged ‘Railroads’

Shaken! Not Stirred

About 20 years ago there was a cartoon in The New Yorker, a monthly periodical best known, arguably, by non- New York City residents for its cartoons.  This cartoon showed two wealthy gentlemen (in the style of the Monopoly game millionaire) lounging in the bar car of a passenger train with their martinis. (I think of them as Reginald and Wilfred).  Reginald states:  “This is a lousy martini. (pause) This is a Hell of a way to run a railroad”.

Being a martini enthusiast (only gin of course),  I can appreciate the nuance of making such an evaluation.

Back then, this now-shallow perspective was in actuality one credible way to evaluate passenger and freight rail operations in that it was “take or leave it” from the railroads’ perspective of running their railroads. That is, railroads provided the service that they wanted to provide given their monopolistic position as to transport.  However, beginning with the availability of the interstate roads during the Eisenhower administration, followed by the passing of the Staggers Act in 1980 that deregulated the freight railroads as to the price that they could charge for services, there was a gradual, but sustained shift to the customer’s perspective. That is, with these two major game changes of the interstate road infrastructure and the Staggers Act, entered competition not only between rail and truck transport, but also competition between railroads.

In the last several decades, both passenger but primarily freight railroads have taken on a different perspective; a perspective on what technologies can deliver to make a railroad’s operation both more safe and efficient. I must state first of all, that US railroads, both passenger and freight, are extraordinarily safe, especially when compared to operations across the globe. (See previous posting “ What Price Safety” for some additional insight on this point.  But, I need to go back to the martini point.)

There are martinis, and there are martinis. James Bond’s infamous standard of “Shaken, not stirred” makes the point. But first, I should note that based upon an independent analysis of literature regarding James Bond’s life style, it has been determined that he was quite a drinker with his consumption of an average of 45 martinis within a given week. OK, so that is 6 +martinis a night which makes him somewhat suspect as to his objective credibility as quoted by Dorothy Parker of Algonquin Round Table fame:  “ I like to have a martini, Two at the very most, After Three I’m under the table, after four I’m under the host.” So!  6+ martinis in an evening is clearly past the line.

The point of shaken, not stirred, can be applied to railroad operations, me thinks.  The difference between the two versions of martini preparations is that if a martin is shaken, then the ice can “bruise” the gin, where as stirred is like “Whatever, don’t mess with my gin.” Therefore, the parallel to railroads, you may ask, is that railroads have only been stirring their operational processes for the last several decades, at least, by simply upgrading their primary core technologies, i.e. communications, positioning, and IT, most noticeably with the shift from analog to digital, and the integration of distributed decision making platforms with the back-office infrastructure. But, railroads have not truly shaken up their business processes, a.k.a. process reengineering (dynamic work order is a good example), to take advantage of how the operation can change with advancements in technologies. Arguably, the most critical example is that of the management of train movements as to the underlying means of functional vitality (how movement authorities are generated) and the efficiency that an be achieved with more timely and accurate positioning of trains to advance from crisis-based fixed block operation to that of proactive, flexible block.

In this light, the passing of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 that mandates PTC deployment across most of the freight and transit rail operations in the U.S. has been both a blessing and a curse. That is, the PTC mandate is forcing the railroads to deploy an industry-based wireless data platform with mobile IT platforms on locomotives. That’s super. But, the over-engineering of PTC and the lack of technology strategy across the industry, has dampened the progressive advancement of business processes that can use these technologies.  Simply state, there is no business strategy in sync with a technology strategy, a.k.a. Strategic Railroading, in most of the railroads, yet alone with an industry perspective for freight operations.

So! Do you want to shake things up in your railroad – or your client railroads if you are a supplier? Or do you just want to stir the same old stuff, the same old processes, albeit with upgraded technologies? If you want to shake things up, then consider what can be done with virtual positioning and wireless data technologies.  For one example, click on the VCTC category on the right side on the home page of this blog and review the postings.

Finally, permit me to add my personal notes on gin. With my 46 years of legally enjoying gin across the globe, I offer my following evaluation of several:

  • Bombay Sapphire: a classic, a standard, not insulting to anyone.
  • Hendricks: Just too much rose – only good for 1 a month
  • Blue Coat: made in the U.S and excellent, but then again keep it down to several week if you drink your martinis dry.
  • Gibson: my favorite when in France – can’t find it in the U.S.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should note that I wrote this posting while drinking wine only. Wine is for thinking and writing … and Martinis are for neither.

Next Generation Operating Systems

As the result of the study that my consultancy completed in Egypt in December 2012 to advance the safety and efficiency of the Egyptian National Railways (ENR), there is now what I refer to as the Next Generation of an integrated Traffic Control, Traffic Management, and Enforcement systems. That is, Virtual CTC (VCTC) uses advancing technologies such as wireless data and virtual positioning, in concert with a CTC-type back office, to deliver tremendous safety and efficiency capability at a mere fraction of the cost that would be required for conventional or advanced signaling such as ETCS and CBTC.

The video below places VCTC in perspective to the traffic control, traffic management, and enforcement systems across the globe and addresses how both railroads and suppliers may want to pursue its development and deployment.

Teddy Bears Revisited

Three years ago in this blog I introduced a category of postings referred to as the “Teddy Bears” (TBs), as listed on the right side of the home page. Simply stated, TBs are convenient, but ill-justified, statements and beliefs that too many traditionalists in the industry (whether they be regulators, railroaders, or suppliers) fatuously cling to justify their perspective of railroad operations as to safety and/or efficiency. Unfortunately, these TBs are also restricting the opportunities to improve operations via the deployment of advancing technologies and associated business processes. Why these traditionalists do so, whether knowingly or not, is very likely due to the following:
1. They truly don’t consider the bottom line of railroading by not providing cost-effect technology strategies aligned with a strategic business plans;
2. Railroads relies on technicians instead of Technologists who can make a business case in sync with a technology strategy; and
3. Railroads’ upper management is focused on short-term goals to maximize their annual bonuses; and
4. There is little to no business strategy as to the advancement of operations across the railroads as an industry.

The TBs that I have covered so far include the following:
• No Time For Strategy (November 2010);
• CAD Delivers Traffic Management (October 2010);
• Train Dispatching is Too Difficult for That Math Stuff (August 2010);
• Digital Authorities are Vital (July, 2010);
• PTC is Vital (June 2010);
• Operating a Railroad Safely Requires Signaling (June 2010);
• There’s Nothing Vital in Dark Territory (May 2010);
• PTC Delivers Business Benefits (May 2010);
• We Run a Scheduled Railroad (May 2010).

There are other TBs that have yet to be covered in this blog including:
• Real time data is the Real Thing for structuring technology solutions;
• The lack of reliable interchange by other railroads is a real problem for our railroad.
• The railroad environment is unique and therefore requires unique technology solutions. Hence the railroads’ technicians must do the design;
• Only traditional suppliers can possibly understand railroad operations;
• It’s all about the main line – yards operations are secondary;
• As regulators, we can only accept “zero-tolerance” for operational risk;
• The Service Design folks can’t deal with all of the exceptions that occur;
• Don’t question, yet alone criticize; and lastly
• Just a couple more years and it will be somebody else’s problem.

Most of the above TBs, if not all, still exist to a great extent across North America’s freight railroads, arguably the World’s most sophisticated freight operation. So! What chance is there for the antiquated and developing railroads across the globe that are being forced-fed the “conventional” traffic control and traffic management systems which are based upon century-old technologies?

Within the next several months I will have articles published in Railway Age , International Railways Journal (IRJ), and possibly another international journal that addresses vehicular technologies regarding the Virtual Centralized Train Control (VCTC) system I designed with my associates to address the requirements for the Egyptian National Railways (ENR), as well as many, many other railroads across the globe that are critical for expanding the commerce of their respective countries. Those articles in concert with the attached video, take on many of the TBs addressed above as to safe and efficient rail operations without the use of traditional, conventional solutions that are justified only for high density rail operations.

I should note that the ENR engagement was paid for by the U.S. Trade Development Agency (USTDA). SO! SHOULD THERE BE COUNTRIES OUT THERE THAT MAY WISH TO HAVE A SIMILAR STUDY MADE OF THEIR OPERATIONS, THEN LET ME KNOW AND PERHAPS USTDA WILL FUND SUCH A STUDY.

Lastly, I encourage you to suggest other TBs for my consideration of a possible posting.

The Goods, The Bads, & The Uglies

THE GOODS

Given my now–completed engagement in Egypt to design a new traffic control, traffic management, and enforcement system, titled Virtual CTC + Enforcement, for the majority of the Egyptian National Railways (ENR), I have an even increased appreciation of 2 primary GOODs of railroad operations in the U.S. that do not exist in Egypt and many other countries across the globe. First, U.S. railroads are privately-owned in a capitalistic society that promotes the investment in those operations based upon the bottom financial line, simply stated as optimizing the return on investment. Second, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) provides the regulatory oversight without which inscrutable railroad operators have and could tradeoff the bottom safety line for the financial one. This blend of regulated safety and fiduciary responsibility has well serviced the railroads and the public alike since the Staggers Act of 1980 that deregulated the railroad market. As such, I dare say that nearly every decision by the railroads is a financial one, including those that deal with safety issues alone and not operations. Arguably, however, there here have been several exceptions as is the case of BNSF’s pursuit of PTC.

For most railroads, PTC as an overlay system, was never seriously considered to be a pursuit given that the costs of deploying PTC far, far exceed the projected safety benefits. The first PTC system, CSX’s CBTM for which I was the architect, was pursued because its engineer was at fault in the 1996 Silver Spring, MD accident in which there were 11 fatalities.  Especially given the accident’s location within the DC Beltway, CSX feared that Feds would force some type of  driver-enforcement system, and the only system being tested at that time was a pathetically over-designed concept referred to as Precision  Train Control. This PTC was not an overlay, enforcement-only concept. This PTC was an overly ambitious and, at the time, technically-unachievable moving block concept. Hence, CSX’s decision was a defensive one to develop a pragmatic approach, and that I did with CBTM providing the foundation for the overlay PTC systems being pursued to meet the Federal mandate. Subsequent to CSX’s efforts, BNSF expanded on CBTM’s scope of dark territory to include signaled territory, and it did so because “it was the right thing to do!” according to one BNSF top executive. There did not seem to be any immediate financial justification for BNSF’s efforts . . . except for a possible hidden agenda to move to one-man crews at some point. Nonetheless, BNSF had seemingly made a too-rare decision to invest in safety for safety sake without the immediate financial justification.

 

THE BADS

The other railroads were clearly not following the leads of CSX and BNSF. The business case was clearly not there to make such a financial investment. However, those individuals and organizations that wanted PTC at any cost promoted analyses and statements about the business benefits of improved asset management (e.g., track time, capacity, locomotives, crews) that PTC could reportedly provide so as to falsely justify their position.  These individuals and organizations were without the willingness, perhaps intelligence, to understand the difference between traffic control and enforcement. Simply explained, traffic control generates movement authorities and therefore is the means of achieving asset management effectiveness.  PTC only uses the parameters of the authorities generated to provide enforcement. With the simplest of understanding and rational thinking, one will realize that it is the ability of a locomotive to reports its position AND speed that supports more effective generation of movement authorities, which determines the management of railroad’s assets. To provide locomotive position and speed data simply requires a wireless data path, which happens to be a requirement of PTC as well. But, a railroad does not need PTC to get the wireless data path, as readily demonstrated recently by several Class Is that are obtaining those alleged PTC business benefits without PTC.  Nonetheless, after very credible reports from both private and government entities that belie the existence of PTC business benefits, there are still lingering comments that surface occasionally claiming the business benefits of PTC. For example, it has only been in the last year that the FRA finally removed such fatuous statements from its Website.

The net of the above is that BNSF initiated and continued its pursuit of PTC for altruistic reasons, it seems, while CSX did so to prevent a mandate of an overly expensive, if even achievable, enforcement solution. But that truly was it for the industry until the end of 2008 even though were occasional meetings of AAR technical committees with purported PTC interests.

Even with the regulatory processes in the U.S. for primary industries such as the railroads, the Congress can bypass the regulators and create laws without consideration of the bottom line of the corporations affected. Such is the case with the Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA) that was a knee-jerk reaction in less than 2 months following the horrific Metrolink / UP collision in September of that year that resulted in 25 fatalities.  This Act mandated the implementation of PTC across major segments of freight and passenger operations.

So! What do the various parties do when 1. They (the Feds) want something at any cost, a cost that they don’t have to pay … or … 2. They (the RRs) are being forced to make very substantial investments in systems that are not cost justified, but are mandated to do so for the sake of zero tolerance for unsafe operations. Simply stated, “What price safety?” … and “Who pays the tab?” This is where it gets ugly.

 

THE UGLIES

When so confronted with Congressional mandates, a company has the choice to pay the price, pull up stakes, fight the action through the courts,  ….  and / or   ….. to delay, lie, misdirect, fake it, and/or use lobbyists to influence the Congress to amend such mandates in some fashion.  In the case of the PTC mandate of RSIA, those railroads other than BNSF, and possibly CSX, have clearly demonstrated an amazing amount misdirection, faking it, if not just outright lying, to obtain at least delays in the PTC mandate. The high mark of this activity to date was the NTSB conference on PTC, February 27, 2013.  I did not attend the conference, but I have reviewed the presentations of the various speakers, and provide below my perspective on both the credible and irresponsible, if not mischievous, points that were made.

Having been involved with PTC from the beginning, even before the FRA RSAC-PTC process a decade or so ago, I know most of the presenting individuals very well and could “hear” their oratory as I reviewed the decks. Hence, I was not surprised by most of the points made, but yet saddened and angered at what the railroaders find necessary to do to attempt to avoid the unjustifiable expense of PTC. Simply stated, they seemed obligated for their company’s sake (if not their job) to purposely mislead, misrepresent, and even lie about critical points that they believed would helpful in delaying the implementation of PTC and its tremendous capital outlay. At the same time, I was surprised and gladdened by some of the reversals in falsehoods that had been made by railroaders following the mandate. Below, I summarize and separate the uglies and the reversals into 4 categories of PTC Functionality, and the primary technologies that are involved with PTC and other primary applications associated with a railroad’s operations:  Communications, Intelligence Processing, and Positioning.

PTC Functionality

  • One presenter, at least, noted that PTC is much more complicated than anyone expected. However, its not PTC that is complicated, but rather it is a combination of Interoperabitity and the over-engineered communication, positioning, and intelligence processing solutions that ITC has been developing unchecked by senior management as to costs per necessary objectives (as discussed further below).
  • Again, as discussed above, PTC has nothing to do with asset management and the associated business benefits (other than preventing occasional disruptions due to accidents).
  • The various forms of “vital” have been used in confusing ways across the industry in addressing PTC. In the early days of RSAC-PTC I introduced the concept of functional vitality to separate the purpose of PTC from that of traffic control systems, e.g., signaling, dark territory. To be short, PTC is not functionally vital in that it does not generate authorities. Nor does the PTC BOS need to be a vital, fail-safe system, with I refer to as hardware vitality. There is an argument, however, for making a fail-safe on-board system so as to minimize the occurrences of traffic congestion as a train limps to the next yard due to regulated speed restrictions due to non-working PTC systems.
  • The comparison of PTC to European ERTMS / ETCS is totally inappropriate and purposely misleading. ERTMS is an integrated traffic control/ traffic management/ and enforcement system designed for high speed / high density traffic.  PTC is an overlay system, meaning that it acts independently of the traffic control / management systems already in place. Hence, the complexity, costs, and timeliness of implementing ERTMS, which is functionally vital, provides NO points of comparison for overlay, non-functional vital PTC.
  • A PTC-reliability study performed by ARINC was mentioned as a point of concern. Really! ARINC has a tremendous potential conflict of interest with the railroads and is clearly not in a position to be declared objective.
  • Two years ago I was the Chairman of the first World PTC Congress. During that meeting I challenged the attendees, including FRA, suppliers, and Class I railroads to explain why it was necessary, or just important, to monitor and enforce intermediate signals.  No one has ever stepped up to that question other than retired FRA employees who stated it clearly wasn’t necessary. Of course, it isn’t necessary since PTC provides a braking curve to the end of the authority. Nonetheless, the railroads have added this significant complexity, and associated cost of additional WIUs, to meet this unnecessary requirement. Originally, the first estimate for WIUs following the mandate was 75,000.  It’s now down to 35,000, and I’m pushing for 20,000 at the most.
  • Early on in the RSAC-PTC process it was agreed that grade crossings should not be an enforcement objective.  The reason was two-fold. First, it’s the railroad property and therefore they should not have to pay for the necessary infrastructure.  Second, and arguably most important, the pure physics of bringing a freight train to a stop would mean an excessive amount of gate down time, thereby possibly increasing the risks of vehicles running around the gates.

Communications

  • Contrary to what was noted by several presenters, it is clear that there was no true analysis of the data requirements for PTC for the railroads to make an actual evaluation of the need for 220, especially over that of 160. This is admitted to in the filings by PTC-220 with the FCC, and as identified (and not contested by PTC-220) in my written statements to the FCC regarding the same filing. Both my statements and those of PTC-220 in its filing for more 220 spectrum are available upon request to me. When last checked, the FCC had rejected PTC-220’s request.  On a positive note, the presentation by NS regarding PTC-220 was refreshingly honest compared to those statements and filings under the previous UP presidency of that entity. The individual noted that there is no expected need for additional 220 spectrum for most of the railroad operations.
  • As to why 160 was not considered by the railroads for PTC has little to nothing to do with the amount of spectrum available. Rather it has to do with the way in which the railroads proceeded to meet a FCC requirement to “narrowband” the frequency. To be short, they pursued conventional channel assignments instead of using “trunking” which is critical for effective usage of the spectrum in metropolitan areas.
  • It should be noted that UP / NS purchased the 220 spectrum the year before the PTC mandate – before the MetroLink/UP accident. Why they purchased the spectrum is unclear, but given their resistance to voluntarily pursuing PTC, it is doubtful that they did it for PTC. It was after the mandate that BNSF and CSX were “persuaded” to forego their own communication solutions for PTC, each of which was much less robust, yet adequate, then the required wireless claims stated without proof by PTC-220. Subsequently, PTC-220 purchased Meteorcomm from BNSF to produce the locomotive radios even though Meteorcomm had neither the proven technical nor available manufacturing capabilities to provide the radios.

Intelligence Processing

  • The Back Office Server (BOS) was suggested to be a portion of the critical path to meet the deadline. In my opinion there are 3 possibilities that this could be, with only one that makes any sense at this point. First, the functionality of the BOS is very, very straightforward and has already been achieved by BNSF with some minor changes remaining due to changes in the operating rules to address interoperability, as agreed to by the railroads during the conference. Second, the concept of vitality, as to failing safe, is clearly a red hearing. An overlay system can hardly fail other than safe in that it doesn’t generate authorities and instead only targets based upon the authorities generated. Even more misleading, one presenter likened the vitality of the BOS to the vitality of the European ERTMS. This is a purposeful misdirection. The vitality of ERTMS is that of the generation of authorities and the integration of the enforcement processes.  PTC is an overlay only and the functional vitality of generating authorities does not exist. Only the third reason has any merit. That is, linking the BOS with the individual Traffic Control systems in place for each railroad could be difficult. This is not due to technical reasons, but due to social/political conflicts that may exist between any given railroad and the suppliers involved, most importantly Ansaldo, formerly Union Switch & Signal. While Wabtec’s and Ansaldo’s HQs are only miles apart in Pittsburgh, their mindsets and willingness to cooperate between themselves and the railroads involved could span oceans, if you will.
  • PTC is locomotive-centric, meaning that all processing of data for enforcement takes place within the on-board computer. Normally, this would not need to be stated, but the fact that the conference included a presentation on ARES suggests that someone thought there was some value in understanding the pursuit and the ultimate rejection of ARES.  To be clear, ARES was a clever traffic control and traffic management concept that integrated some PTC-like enforcement capability in the back office systems for signaled territory. However, it really has nothing to do with locomotive-centric, overlay PTC systems that are designed for both dark and signaled operations.  CBTM established the threshold for PTC, and the Singularly Disillusioned individual (SD) that has been inappropriately promoting both the supposed vitality and business benefits of PTC based upon his ARES experiences has actually done some harm in advancing PTC in a credible fashion, as exemplified by the horrendous FRA-funded report on PTC benefits performed by ZetaTech several years ago.

Positioning

  • I didn’t note any significant comments regarding the issues of positioning, other than those of SD in the ARES presentation. Again, his comments are way out of fashion as to his focus on DGPS, as well as the fact that it was in my designing of CBTM that I introduced the monitoring of switch position in dark territory for “routing” trains, and which subsequently became relevant for the 4th objective of PTC of preventing movement through misaligned switches.
  • From my previous evaluation of ITC activities for a client, it became clear that the ITC technicians were way over-designing the accuracy of the positioning platform – I mean way, way overdesigning. The major effect of this is excessive cost for the on-board platform that could be in the range of $10,000 to $20,000 per locomotive, hence raising the cost of nation-wide PTC by several $100 millions

I would like to think that the NTSB recognizes that a number of presentations made at the conference to support an extended implementation period were highly prejudiced and even purposely misleading in some cases. Fortunately, PTC is beyond the need to evaluate the feasibility of its functional capabilities.  PTC does work. The primary constraints that are being presented by the railroads are a technical nature, as noted above.  Hence, if NTSB requires an objective analysis of PTC implementation issues, it requires a Blue-Ribbon Technical Committee, independent of the FRA, the railroads, and the likely suppliers, that can make such evaluations. The railroads will likely object to such evaluations. But, cannot any extension in time for the mandate be made conditional on such evaluations?

 

Outside of North America

For those railroads outside of North America that may be considering some type of enforcement system, e.g., V-CTC + Enforcement in Egypt, the above discussion as to the cost / benefit analysis of PTC does not likely apply. For example, the V-CTC + Enforcement system that I designed will prevent accidents due to mechanical interlocking operators and level crossing guards. In fact, my presentation of the final system design of V-CTC + Enforcement to Egypt’s MOT / ENR officials in December, 2012 was delayed several weeks due to two accidents, one each regarding the interlocking operator and crossing guard, that resulted in 5 and 50 fatalities respectively. V-CTC + Enforcement would have prevented those accidents; PTC as designed for the U.S. would not. Accordingly, Egypt’s Prime Minister directed MOT / ENR the following day to proceed with testing V-CTC + Enforcement.

 

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: 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.

High … or Higher … Speed Passenger Rail

The U.S. freight railroads are caught up in their own hype at this point.  They like to state how scheduled they are, when in fact they aren’t. Now, with the threat … err opportunity . . .  to integrate high speed passenger rail into those fine schedules so as to receive a bunch of Federal funds, they may have to fess up as to the true lack of scheduling. Well, maybe not. Perhaps the Feds will buy into the idea that if the railroads add more infrastructure, arguably sidings being the most popular, the freight railroads will be able to squeeze in those high speed passenger trains between the freight slugs. Really? Not a chance.  There may be an opportunity for Higher speed passenger rail, but clearly not High Speed Rail as enjoyed across a good portion of the globe outside of North America. The basic truth is that the only way to achieve High speed passenger rail is with so-dedicated track, save the 1-5 A.M window.

What is being missed by the Feds and several of the Class I’s is what can be done by investing in positioning technologies and mathematical tools, in lieu of additional trackage, to improve the effective capacity of the railroads’ current infrastructure instead of just the raw capacity. What is missing by several of Class I’s is how to complement (not replace) their current dispatching platforms (a.k.a. CAD) with execution platforms infused with mathematical planners fed by both timely train position and speed data via simplistic wireless data systems, whether commercial or private. (And don’t forget those OS reports). These are the type of data that are being fatuously promoted as a subsequent capability of PTC, when in fact it has nothing to do with PTC. It can be done NOW with or without PTC. This is really simple stuff, but railroad technicians are not expected, capable, or interested in focusing on the functionality and the business case of advancing technologies. Rather, their interest, their responsibility, is to deliver the ultimate systems whether they are required or not in the name of PTC interoperability. So be it!

I think the following quote of a quote in a recent on-line posting by John Boyd of the Journal of Commerce regarding the criteria for Federal funds being provided to freight railroads to incorporate high speed rail, is quite revealing.

Szabo (FRA Administrator) now says the agreements must include quantifiable service outcomes based onmutually agreed upon analysis / modeling that includes trip times, train frequencies and schedule reliability to the extent it is under a party’s control.

There are a number of key points being promoted in this quote, but arguably the most important is that of the last 4 words, i.e., “ under a party’s control.” Simply stated, the Class I’s don’t have control over a significant part of their “schedules”. But what they won’t admit to themselves, it seems, is that the need to dynamically schedule the lineup continuously is their own fault as to mutually-abusive railroad interchange, as well as specific customers, e.g., mines, that determine when the trains will run. The railroads don’t seem to understand that their lack of credible customer service is at fault here; the shippers are simply protecting themselves.

For more in-depth understanding of the above, you may want to consider obtaining the next issue of my quarterly publication, Full Spectrum, Volume 55, titled Buerre Manié which addresses the above in further detail along with other things you may want to consider.

Please contact me via the contact form or directly at ron@strategicrailroading.com, if you wish to discuss further.

___________

Teddy Bear – Train Dispatching is too difficult for that math stuff

Railroads & Math

I can’t quote exactly, but a railroad executive’s statement several years ago went something like:

“ Yeah, those math guys keep pushing those computerized traffic management tools, but they just don’t realize that mainline operations are just too complex with too many exceptions to make them useful.”

Wow!  What a jaw dropper. I was actually on pause for a moment as how to respond as several thoughts flashed through my mind starting with:

“So, I guess that high school algebra stuff wasn’t good for you.”

… to …

“ If it’s that complex, then how in the world is a dispatcher able to make the appropriate traffic management decisions?”

… to …

“Well if you ran your railroad in anywhere near a scheduled manner, there wouldn’t be the steady onslaught of crises.”

Fortunately, my IBM sales training some 30  years prior kicked in, and I took the CSI Miami’s Lt. Caine’s stance of tilting my head while removing (symbolically) my sunglasses, and  I responded with the fail safe :

“Why do you say that?”

All that I heard for the next 10 minutes or so were examples of train movement crises that had been handled “satisfactorily” by experienced dispatchers.

Again, a series of comments went through my mind during the executive’s tyrant starting with: “How do you know they were satisfactory solutions?” … to … ‘Did the dispatcher consider options as to alternate routings given yard or crew constraints?” … to … “So, what did the dispatchers learn as to how to prevent similar situations in the future?. Again, the IBM-conditioned response:

“Really?  How interesting?”

I had to get out of there; my sales training only took me to level 2, and this executive was pushing all the boundaries of cognitive rationalization.

Looking back, I can now understand where I was being too critical in evaluating this executive’s perspective of the railroad’s operations.  Simply stated: He didn’t understand what he didn’t understand.  He had been raised on traditional railroading based upon technologies that have changed little since their introduction in the early parts of the last century, i.e., track circuits and wireless voice. And, unfortunately the subsequent introduction of CAD platforms were limited to provide basic block status, from which dispatchers have been forced  to make decisions on untimely and overly-gross data. By default, this sophistic process had become the state-of-the-art traffic management methodology.

A study of dispatcher operations performed in Sweden several years back revealed (as in “a firm grip of the obvious) that dispatchers attempt to find workable solutions instead of ideal solutions. That means, in part, that dispatchers restrict their decision making process as to handling a very, very few variables to get out of a mess.  That is, they have learned through their experience to consider only a very few variables that provide the quickest solutions, but not necessarily the most cost-effective ones from the railroad’s standpoint; dispatchers are the heroes that master the inadequacies of antiquated practices based upon antiquated technologies.

In the last several years, two U.S. Class I’s have taken a more or less aggressive position that things have to change.  I say more or less, because one railroad bought into the concept of Proactive Traffic Management just way too much  They brought in a supplier who is so idealistic as to the movement of high speed passenger trains without the pragmatic, 80/20 perspective of what can be done with freight trains. In short, they blew it. Perhaps they are coming around, I don’t know. Reportedly, the other Class I has taken a more realistic perspective of what can be done with in-time data as to train status as to position and speed, if not just OS reports. I’m not going to give away all of the secrets here since I am a consultant that strives to make a living on dealing with the 80/20. But, permit me to just say that there are really important variables, that are much more critical than those considered by dispatchers traditionally, that can lead too much better analysis as to handling the dynamics of freight movements.

There is a next step, I can assure you, as how to merge higher-speed passenger trains into freight operation.  That’s a major perspective that sets up the importance of future posts on Strategic Railroading.

Okay, so let’s test your algebra. Consider the following problem.

Train A leaves Chicago at 11:00 A.M heading East at 30 mph (instantaneous acceleration assumed) on Track 1. At  9:00 AM  Train B leaves Cleveland heading West at 25 mph.on Track 2 (again, instantaneous acceleration).  These are parallel tracks with the distance between Cleveland and Chicago being 350 miles.  The question is where will the trains pass each other, assuming no hours-of-limits for the crews … or fuel limitations …or locomotive breakdowns … or wayside detector problems … or  other disruption issues?

ANSWER:  The trains meet at 200 miles West of Cleveland (150 miles East of Chicago) at 5:00 PM Eastern (clue).   For the equations contact me at  ron@strategicrailroading.com.

Lastly, now take this discussion to the next level of dealing with interchange between railroads, and quickly one realizes that dispatching is one freaking mess. That is unless we use timely train status, both position and speed, regardless of the interconnecting railroad over which it is operating, fed into mathematical planners.  While several railroads are beginning to realize this on their individual basis, there is clearly no industry perspective as addressed in the previous posting to this blog: Operability’s Dimensions.

Teddy Bear – Operating a railroad safely requires signaling

“Operating a railroad safely requires signaling.”

Major suppliers sell major signaling systems to major railroads for major bucks. But what about those small freight railroads, even those with some passenger service? Do they really require the traffic control systems that are offered to them; the ones that involve extensive investment in wayside infrastructure, communications, and back office systems?  Additionally, what about those railroads that are being planned for difficult terrain subject to extreme weather, a lack of power, theft of equipment, and a lack of trained maintenance personnel? Do they need to confront these hardships on top of extensive investment and on-going maintenance costs to provide for a safe railroad?

While signaling does provide for safe operations, that is not its purpose.  Signaling is used to provide capacity. It is possible to operate a railroad very safely without signaling, as well evidenced in North America. Specifically, nearly half of the freight trackage in N.A. operates as non-signaled territory (albeit only 20% of the traffic) meaning that there are no track circuits, no wayside or cab signals, and no code lines as required in Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) systems. The only technology requirement is that of some form of wireless communications that can be either commercial (satellite, cellular) or private network sufficient to provide for voice communications.  That’s it for the infrastructure.

As to the vitality (i.e., the integrity of train movement), as noted in the post “There’s nothing vital in dark territory.”, the computerized conflict checking process is the simplest of a traffic control process that doesn’t permit two trains to be in the same portion of track at the same time. In a way, this is not unlike the most ancient traffic control system based upon track occupancy referred to as token block. The key difference is that dark territory is programmed whereas token block’ vitality can be readily compromised by lack of discipline with the manual efforts required; indeed this is the case in some countries where it is still in use.

The only issue with dark territory is the time required for the iterative, manual process of the dispatcher transmitting the movement authorities to the train crew followed by the rolling-up of the authorities once the train crew has reported the train’s progress.  With such a simple process, a decent size freight or passenger railroad can operate safely. Additionally, there are even ways to tweak dark territory operation to improve capacity even further, e.g., digital transmission of authorities, automatic roll-ups, embedded signals (without CTC), and the ability to throw switches from the locomotive.  Lastly, with the combination of dark territory and Positive Train Crew (PTC), the railroad is assured of a safe operation both as to dispatcher errors and train crew errors respectively.

Also, Dark territory is really, really inexpensive. However, don’t expect those major suppliers or consultants to share its existence with small to medium railroads. First of all, those supplier don’t have a dark territory deliverable or mindset, and second, there is nothing for them to sell as to infrastructure and complex back office systems.

The team of railroad professionals at Maendeleo Rail is well experienced with dark territory operations as well as PTC. We can readily address the alternatives as to processes and wireless technologies, as well as determine the level of throughput that can be delivered for freight, passenger, or mixed traffic. Since we’re independent of any suppliers, and instead look to partner with railroad operators, we provide low cost, highly efficient solutions.

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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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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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