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12/17/2002



Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

Six Sigma will produce $67 million in annual savings, NS says


Earlier this year, Norfolk Southern Railway formed a Six Sigma Council, which so far has trained 135 greenbelts and recently identified 21 employees to receive blackbelt training, according to the Class I's January newsletter.


Six Sigma is a quality-control, science-based process designed to achieve 99.99 percent reliability. Greenbelts design and complete an initial Six Sigma project; blackbelts receive additional training and complete more projects.


For the past year-and-a-half, NS, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, CSX Transportation and Union Pacific Railroad have been using Six Sigma to develop a fact-based process analysis of departmental functions aimed at improving operations, eliminating variations and cutting costs.


NS' council is responsible for establishing and maintaining Six Sigma principles throughout NS, and using best practices to plan and improve quality initiatives. The council also tracks Six Sigma projects and helps establish training policies.


"At the end of the day, Six Sigma is all about project completion and taking money to the bottom line," said Jeff Yates, NS assistant vice president of quality management.


It can take up to five months to train and certify a greenbelt, who spend about 30 percent of their time on a Six Sigma project, and up to nine months to train and certify a blackbelt, who devote all their time to projects. Certified blackbelts manage their department's quality processes and projects.


Eventually, NS plans to train a small number of blackbelts to become master blackbelts, who coach and mentor blackbelts and greenbelts, and train greenbelt candidates.


To date, NS has completed 17 Six Sigma projects that will save the railroad about $36 million annually, said Yates, adding that once current projects are completed, the Class I will save another $29 million a year.


NS plans to certify a blackbelt class in February and conduct a greenbelt class each quarter in 2003.


Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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