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Posts Tagged ‘Teddy Bears’

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.

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.

Teddy Bears – Scheduled Railroads

“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.

Teddy Bears – popular but erroneous notions in rail

Industry management comfortably clings to a number of convenient, but ill-justified, statements and beliefs that greatly affect the current efficiency of operations. These Teddy Bears are also restricting the opportunities to advance operations via the deployment of advancing technologies and associated business processes. Nonetheless, railroads, suppliers, and regulators alike embrace them partially due to a combination of traditional practices and a lack of understanding of the technical & financial issues. Most importantly, however, it is the lack of executive management directives along with the proper resources that prevents the development of pragmatic, achievable strategic technology plans in sync with strategic business plans for the railroads, both individually and collectively.

I’m creating a new category of post dedicated specifically to Teddy Bears.  Interspersed with my regular posts on strategic railroading, these posts will be dedicated to exposing “Teddy Bears” in the railroad industry. Hopefully, discussion on the topic will be the beginning of the end for these ill-conceived fallacies.

Stand by for the first “Teddy Bear” post, coming soon.

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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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