Posts Tagged ‘train length’

NS Focusing on Longer Trains

January 28, 2021

You can expect to see even longer trains on Norfolk Southern in the coming months.

NS Chief Operating Officer Cindy Sanborn said this week during an investor’s call to discuss 2020 fourth quarter financial results that NS is seeking to lengthen its trains.

The objective is to reduce its operating ratio, which NS said lags other Class 1 railroads.

The operating ratio reflects the percentage of revenue that is used to cover expenses.

Over the past two years NS has sought to cut operating costs by shifting to the precision scheduled railroading operating model.

It has ceased humping cars at six classification yards and sought to reduce its fuel, labor and locomotive-related costs.

Sanborn said NS is seeing more business but at the same time reducing resources and improving productivity.

“Our push for efficiency led to record train weight and record train length in the [fourth] quarter,” she said.

“These larger trains, combined with our strategy of better matching train size and locomotive horsepower, drove us to record fuel efficiency and enabled us to get the job done with a smaller workforce and a record low count of locomotives.”

NS is now moving freight with 16 percent fewer locomotives and 15 percent fewer crews.

The length and weight of its trains has grown by 10 percent.

That resulted in an 8 percent cut in operating expenses during the fourth quarter.

“Traffic coming back is both our challenge and an opportunity,” Sanborn said. “We can and will add resources to meet customer needs, but first we must explore every option to fully utilize our existing crews and locomotives.”

That will mean that ncreased traffic will be accommodated on existing trains.

It doing this, NS plans to re calibrate operations by re-balancing traffic among existing trains. Extra section trains will operate only when necessary.

Sanborn said doing this will involve seeking to optimally match train size with the pulling power of locomotives while minimizing the number of crew starts.

This is expected to result in an increase in mixing different types of traffic in the same train. It will be done by blocking traffic for the most distant points on the NS network.

“We will continue to look at yards and see how we can speed up cars,” Sanborn said. “The real mission around terminal capability and terminal footprint is around keeping cars moving, or not pushing cars into terminals, moving cars faster. So I think there’s still quite a bit of room there.”

NS expects its workforce size to hold steady or only decline slightly this year.

However, it will recall and retrain furloughed employees for work in other crafts rather than hire new employees.

NS did suffer some increase in terminal dwell times and lower trains speeds as volume picked up around the late 2020 holiday season.

Service also took a hit at time due to high numbers of workers having to quarantine due to the pandemic.

During the fourth quarter, cars spent 16 percent more time in yards while average train speeds fell 5 percent.

“We’ve gotten a lot better. We’re not at 2020 levels, but we are much, much better,” Sanborn said.

All Class 1s Join Long Train Parade

July 9, 2018

CSX is not the only railroad that is running very long trains.

All of North America’s Class 1 railroads are dispatching trains ranging between 10,000 to 15,000 feet in an effort to boost productivity, become more efficient and slash operating costs.

The railroads also contend that longer trains maximize locomotives, crews and fuel while presenting dispatchers with fewer trains to handle.

These long trains are double the typical train size of between 5,000 and 6,000 feet.

However, not all Class 1 routinely operate such monster trains.

BNSF, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern and, yes, CSX, operate 10,000 plus foot trains on a case-by-case basis although any trackside observer of CSX and, increasingly, NS might swear that nearly all of their trains are monster length.

At Canadian Pacific, Canadian National and Union Pacific long trains are routine.

The Association of American Railroads said that 95 percent of trains in the U.S. are less than 10,000 feet in length, but that Class 1s have been seeking to lengthen train length for several years.

A CSX spokesman told Progressive Railroading magazine that longer trains did not begin with E. Hunter Harrison and his precision scheduled railroading operating model.

“CSX data shows that over time, train length has evolved as business demands have warranted,” said CSX spokesman Christopher Smith.

He said that the demands of shippers and supply chains have led Class 1 railroads to lengthen average train length.

Nonetheless, during the first quarter of 2018 the average train length for all CSX road trains was 6,890 feet, or 5 percent longer than the same period in 2017.

Smith said that the scheduled railroading model that the late Harrison implemented has increased train lengths by consolidating train profiles to achieve efficiencies.

“Increased train length contributed to a significant reduction in the number of trains operated on a daily basis,” Smith said. “Year over year, [we] reduced the total number of active road trains per day by approximately 26 percent, or about 222 trains per day.”

Another benefit has been a decrease in grade crossing accidents because there are fewer opportunities for trains and motor vehicles to collide at crossings.

The result of longer trains has been that Class 1 railroads are lengthening sidings to at least 10,000 feet and laying more double track.

Positive Train Control is also expected to enable railroads to lengthen trains.

Longer trains have not always been well received by railroad workers. The SMART Transportation Division unsuccessfully asked the Federal Railroad Administration to issue an emergency order limiting train length.

But the FRA declined, saying there is no evidence to justify such an order.

SMART argued that a traint that is 2 or more miles in length can interrupt crew radio communications, block grade crossings for long periods and increase the probability of a mechanical failure.

“In mountain territory, a conductor can walk quite a ways from the locomotive, making communication with the cab difficult. That puts workers in dangerous situations,” said SMART National Legislative Director John Risch, who was a locomotive engineer for more than 30 years.

He also said that additional in-train forces can make it more difficult to keep a long train intact.

“When you double a train from 100 cars to 200 cars and then the train breaks up, the efficiencies the railroads talk about go out the window,” he said.

In the meantime, the Government Accountability Office is conducting a study on the effects of long trains and their potential safety hazards.

Railroad managers have countered that there is no evidence to support the arguments of the unions that operating employees lack sufficient training in handling long trains and say their companies are doing all they can to improve safety.

3 Federal Agencies Examining Train Length

December 13, 2017

Three federal agencies are reported to be looking into the longer trains that Class 1 railroads have been running of late.

The probes are occurring despite a lack of federal regulations of train length.

The Government Accountability Office is looking into whether increased train length is a safety risk.

That review was prompted by derailments that occurred this year in Pennsylvania and Florida on CSX. In both cases, hazardous materials were involved.

The derailments came as CSX has increased its average train length by 400 feet to 6,833 feet this year. Like other Class 1 railroads, CSX sees longer train lengths as a way to reduce costs.

The Federal Railroad Administration and the Surface Transportation Board are conducting independent investigations of the safety of longer trains.

FRA inspectors have reportedly been spending more time on CSX property in recent weeks due to a spike in incidents.

If the investigations lead to proposals to regulate train length, it is likely that the railroads and their trade association, the Association of American Railroads, will resist those efforts, arguing they would increase operating costs.