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NS rolls out redesigned operating plan to shorten routes, transit times


To provide more reliable and consistent service, Norfolk Southern Railway is striving for the TOP — a redesigned merchandise network operating plan that aims to reduce car handling, shorten routes and improve asset utilization.

The Thoroughbred Operating Plan (TOP) — now implemented over two-thirds of NS' network — was jointly developed by a team comprising railroad marketing, transportation planning, car distribution, strategic planning and field operations employees, along with consultants from MultiModal Applied Systems. TOP planning began in late 2000.

"We started from the premise that reducing the number of times a car is handled and the distance it travels will reduce both costs and variability, with improved shipment velocity," said Don Seale, NS senior vice president, merchandise marketing, in a prepared statement.

NS employees and MultiModal officials earlier this year studied daily waybills over a three-month period to track daily traffic variances, then developed optimum schedules for light, medium and heavy traffic days.

The NS team then built car blocks, streamlined routes and tested the new routes using MultiModal's software in lieu of field tests — saving time and resources.

To date, TOP has helped NS reduce transit times: A Birmingham, Ala.-to-Allentown, Pa. route that previously took 96.1 hours to complete now takes 57.4 hours.

NS plans to continue implementing TOP in phases to prevent service disruptions and give its team an opportunity to fine-tune the plan; the railroad expects to fully implement TOP during first-quarter 2002.

"TOP is a work in progress," said Tony Ingram, vice president transportation operations. "We're closely monitoring performance to ensure that connections are made, we have the right cars on the right trains and that overall train performance continues to improve."