NS Revising its Operating Plan

Norfolk Southern has given its operating plan a new name.

During a fourth quarter earnings call with investors this week, company officials said the new plan, known as TOP SPG, involves a reworking of the railroad’s merchandise operating plan.

TOP, which denotes Thoroughbred Operating Plan, is the NS version of precision scheduled railroading, which the company implemented in summer 2019.

SPG stands for service, productivity and growth, which Chief Operating Officer Cindy Sanborn described as the three facets of the plan.

The operating plan covers all types of trains and freight. The plan calls for long trains and a more balanced train plan that NS President Alan Shaw said seeks to improve efficiency and service.

The new operating plan will be implemented this spring as NS places into service a new wave of conductors who are going through training.

Sanborn acknowledged that during the fourth quarter service quality was not where the company wanted it to be, which she attributed in part to crew shortages in some regions of the NS network when the number of operating personnel fell by 8 percent.

NS has sought to compensate for this by boosting its locomotive fleet by 5 percent by putting back into service idled units. It also has been operating fewer but longer trains.

During the fourth quarter average train speed declined 17 percent compared with the same period in 2020. Terminal dwell increased 24 percent.

Sanborn said both metrics have improved this month but NS remains hindered by crew shortages stemming from COVID-19 infections and quarantines.

NS plans to continue to convert locomotives from DC to AC traction operation. Sanborn said the motive power fleet is now 60 percent AC traction and two-thirds of it is capable of being used as distributed power.

During the fourth quarter NS completed one siding project and plans eight additional siding projects in the Southeast where many routes are single track.

Adding siding capacity is key to being able to operate longer trains.

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