Posts Tagged ‘Scheduling’
Capitalizing on RR Industry Intra-Operability
Any Class I railroad’s Chief Engineer can quickly and dispassionately list the challenges of handling an “unequipped train” when new technologies, equipment, and systems are being deployed across the property. This perspective of railroad intra-operability is an inherent aspect of maintaining the physical plant and functionality of a railroad as technologies evolve. For example, the migration to narrow-band VHF will involve the eventual replacement of nearly ¼ million radios nationwide without interfering with operations. Now, with the enactment of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, an additional level of operability that has been long discussed and studied, but effectively unresolved, has come to the forefront of the technicians’ tasks. I refer to railroad inter-operability as the ability of trains with foreign power to cross onto and perform PTC effectively.
With the pursuit of railroad inter-operability consuming unprecedented levels of resources and cooperation across the industry to meet the end-of-2015 deadline, a different perspective of operability is not even being considered, yet alone pursued. This is the concept of industry intra-operability that provides the ability to track resources without regard to the property over which they are operating. Unlike railroad inter-operability, industry intra-operability offers substantial business benefits that are either being handled poorly today or are not even available to the railroads, both individually and collectively as an industry.
The business benefits fall into three categories, i.e., resource management, equipment maintenance, and security, as follows -
Increased resource management effectiveness is potentially available via industry intra-operability including moving from the current crisis-based management processes prevalent today to that of being proactive. This means having timely data on train position and speed and approaching a railroad’s network in sync with the tools to project conflicts in a railroad’s lineup whether truly scheduled or not. Such projections will permit the various resource managers to minimize, if not avoid altogether, the effect of projected conflicts including track-time, yards, train crews, locomotives, and critical rolling stock.
Industry intra-operability offers unique advantages as well in the maintenance of locomotives including knowing the status of a foreign locomotive and the opportunity for performance-based maintenance in lieu of prescriptive mandates. An accurate and complete history of diagnostic data could also result in a different concept of competitive nationwide maintenance and warranty services contracted on a railroad if not an industry basis.
Given the increasing expectations and requirements for security of shipments for both commercial and safety purposes, industry intra-operability provides a reliable and commanding level of data for both a shipment’s status and its chain of custody, including TIH shipments. As noted in the Teddy Bear posting PTC Delivers Business Benefits, these business benefits as well as a range of other business benefits that are mistakenly associated with PTC, can be achieved relatively easily with a strategic railroading perspective leveraging the three core technologies discussed in the three prior postings – if the appropriate human resources are provided.
As noted earlier, the railroads are applying substantial technical resources to obtain railroad inter-operability. Fortunately, these technicians are not the same resources required to pursue the business benefits. Unfortunately, the appropriate human resources actually don’t exist in the railroads today, i.e., technologists that can deliver a unique blend of multiple disciplines including wireless & IT technologies, business case development, business process analysis, operations research, and a touch of Six Sigma. Fortunately, however, the ROI’s of the business benefits that can be delivered are quite substantial and can thereby justify obtaining and committing the appropriate resources. Unfortunately though, few railroads, if any, have identified the use of technologists to rethink operations based upon advancing technologies, most specifically wireless. It seems that there are no senior technologist positions in the railroads that can develop and present a threshold business case to senior management to pursue developing a strategic technology plan in sync with a strategic business plan.
As to the supplier community, there are at best a few that have the wherewithal to put together synced business / technology strategies, albeit somewhat biased undoubtedly. But even those suppliers that may be capable of doing so are reluctant to take on the railroads in a top-down fashion instead of the politically correct but likely ineffective bottom-up approach. In either intrinsic railroad practices or supplier marketing practices, senior railroad management is not getting the message as to what can be done with advancing technologies.
The bottom line is that the railroads don’t need to wait for the business benefits that have been inappropriately associated with the deployment of PTC. The financial justification is there to deploy a team of technologists to structure the business and technology strategies, the implementation of which will handsomely offset the investment required for narrow-band 160-161 MHz and PTC’s 220 MHz. The cost to take full advantage of narrow-banding as well as the somewhat green-field deployment of the 220 MHz bands for PTC by 2016 will be extraordinary. However, the business value that the new-found wireless capacity can deliver is unprecedented, that is if the railroads collectively expand the dimensions of operability.
“We run a scheduled railroad”
Last week I was reading a Rex Stout Nero Wolfe Mystery, The League of Frightened Men, published in 1935. Known for his verbal bashings, the title character offers the following in a conversation with a suspect in a murder.
“It occurs to me that no publication either before or since the invention of printing, no theological treatise and no political or scientific creed, has ever been as narrowly dogmatic or as offensively arbitrary in its prejudices as a railway timetable…. You know that idea could be developed into a first-rate little article. Six hundred to seven hundred words, about The Tyranny of the Wheel, you could call it , with a colored margin of trains …”
Hmmm! I like the suggested title and perhaps I can turn that into a future Full Spectrum. But the truth is that ¾ of a century later, the freight railroad schedules are anything but schedules. One of my favorite quotes is from a discussion with a Class I Service Design executive several years ago when I questioned him about how scheduled his railroad was. He stated: “Well! We’re not totally unscheduled.” That’s seems about right given that another knowledgeable individual stated recently that only 30% or so of a railroad’s operations are truly scheduled. But then again, what is a scheduled railroad?
For the traditional operations manager, a schedule seems to be the lineup that was set up within the last 24 hours with continuous changes as deemed necessary. That is not a schedule as in how an airline runs with specific crews, specific aircraft, and even specific gates locked into a specific time table. Indeed, there are some reasons why a railroad has difficulties in maintaining a schedule that has been developed by Service Design, e.g., a labor action at a major seaport. But there are so many reasons that are truly manageable, and therefore not justified excuses, for going off schedule. For example, there are major shippers who determine when the trains would run. The operating executives will use that as an excuse as to why the schedule must be flexible. What they don’t ask is what does the railroad need to do for that shipper to get a real schedule? E.g., more reliable service, contractual agreements with potential penalties for both parties, etc. One of the major explanations from railroad management of why their railroad must have a flexible schedule is that the railroads with which they interchange do not run to schedule. This mutual abuse is always the other railroad’s fault, it seems.
But what is the problem for not maintaining a true schedule. Again, I quote an ex-executive for a Class I when I asked him if he ran a scheduled railroad. “ Hell yeah, we run a scheduled railroad. And, almost every day I am able to save a few crew starts by cutting short trains.” Then I asked: “But what happens when the locomotives don’t show up in Chicago?” Without hesitation he proudly proclaimed. “ No problem, we have plenty of locomotives up there.” The example here is that operating executives can’t stand what they believe are the inefficiencies of short trains. What they don’t understand is that unstructured inefficiencies that they create by chaotic management of the lineup that has been configured by Service Design are greater than the structured inefficiencies that were built into the schedule. The latter is what airlines do with their schedules. It has only been in the last few years that major airlines have learned to compliment monthly scheduling with daily adjustments. By doing so, they risk losing customers that get angered by canceled flights. They understand their business and they know that their overall on-time performance is actually quite good. That’s the trade-off that they can make … that they deserve. Railroads are no way near that level of customer reliability.