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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

NS' encouraging 2001 performance to carryover into 2002, Wolf says


Norfolk Southern Railway last year reduced its workforce to 29,828 employees, lowered its operating ratio to 83.7, and improved key performance metrics, such as cars on line, velocity and terminal dwell time.
For a railroad that in 2000 employed 35,996 workers, recorded an operating ratio of 87, operated more than 230,000 cars at speeds slower than 20 mph and averaged more than 25 hours in terminal dwell time, 2001 was a pivotal year.
But 2002 also is key, said NS Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer Henry Wolf Feb. 13, addressing Deutsche Banc Alex Brown's Global Transportation Conference in Naples, Fla., according to a prepared statement.
NS reduced its workforce through early retirement, furloughs and attrition, and improved equipment efficiency by disposing of 12,000 surplus rail cars.
The railroad now averages about 200,000 cars on line, which is the Class Is' goal for 2002.
"While carloads increased 1 percent in December 2001 versus December 2000, the average cars on line decreased 9 percent for the comparable period," said Wolf, adding that average train speed improved 10 percent and terminal dwell time, 12 percent.
NS currently averages train speed of 22.9 mph, exceeding its targeted 2002 velocity of 21.3 mph, and terminal dwell time of 23 hours, which equals its goal.
The railroad also last year implemented Thoroughbred Operating Plan (TOP) across 95 percent of its network, helping NS improve network efficiency while at the same time reducing operating costs.
"This new operating plan will improve service reliability, minimize transit variation, reduce car handling and circuitous mileage, and improve asset utilization," said Wolf.
TOP provides schedules for 245 trains, including regular schedules for general merchandise traffic. To date, 85 percent of departures and arrivals are on-time within two-hours and steadily improving, said Wolf.
NS last year also began rolling out Thoroughbred Information System (TIS), a suite of secure, Web-based tools designed to enable registered users to track shipments, perform mileage queries, divert and reconsign equipment, obtain performance reports and manage coal shipments.
TIS includes a bill of lading function enabling customers to receive an acknowledgement that Web-submitted bills of lading are turned into waybills; a rate inquiry feature; and E-Cars, a recently introduced application that enables customers to forecast empty-equipment requests two weeks in advance.
To better allocate resources and improve productivity, NS is developing several analytical tools, including "Operating Plan Developer," which would assess any impacts from operating plan changes prior to implementation.
"This 'what if' capability will allow us to assess changes in the operating plan and all of the consequences of a particular change, avoiding the old 'trial-and-error' approach," said Wolf.
"Locomotive Routing Model" would forecast network locomotive supply and demand, recommend more-efficient locomotive repositioning strategies, and determine NS' locomotive requirements per changes derived from TOP.
Meanwhile, "Car Distribution Utilization Model" would forecast the availability of specific car types to help the railroad more-efficiently distribute cars to the next point of demand.
"As we continue to make changes to our network and associated business processes, we are going to concentrate on ways in which we can enhance our internal information delivery system to improve our railroad operations and customer service," said Wolf.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 2/14/2002