Home Sidings PSR: a little more control

PSR: a little more control

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Written byDavid Schanoes, editor-in-chief

Concerning the “point-counterpoint” debate initially published in Fortune on Precision Scheduled Railroading and reproduced in Age of the railway, with Brannon and Gorman on the “for” side of PSR, and Rep. DeFazio (D-Ore.) not exactly on the “against” side, but on the “questions must be answered” side. I have read the invitation to submit a reasonable, factual, and non-political response to encourage discussion. Thank you. I will do my best, and I promise: no blasphemy.

I’ve written about PSR before on any side, but rather on the singularly unimpressed side. I said that PSR is not new. Its value is believed to reside in this holy grail of all transport companies, the optimal use of assets. Maybe it does, but if it does, that’s nothing new. That’s what every railroad tries to do, has to do, to stay in business. Big problem, or rather “what’s the problem?” ”

Compensation for Hunter Harrison of CSX, now was a big deal, I understand, but that certainly cannot be the motivating force behind the leaders’ enthusiasm for RPS. Can not be. Of course, this is the land of opportunity, but let’s take control.

Senior officers told me when I was a young, somewhat wild conductor (“puzzle” they called me) by senior officers both sympathetic and unfriendly in my unique way of being. doing it right, “No one is irreplaceable.” This applies today, from the bottom up.

A railway that pays $ 151 million * to anyone with a vested interest other than providing the safest and most efficient service possible. But that is not the subject of the debate.

Our lead researcher and president of operations and analytics says the railways are starting to better protect their wallets because DeFazio is coming for them. Well, it actually isn’t. He asks questions. He wants to study the impacts, the effects that PSR has on the operating environment. It is no longer a threat. This is … company. You can’t manage what you can’t measure, and so far no one has produced the metrics that can measure the changes in operational efficiency and train safety precipitated by the adoption and adaptation of the PSR.

Now, maybe it’s because not many people really know what PSR is. In other words, PSR is whatever the executives say about a particular railroad. “Regular service”? Of course, PSR. How is that different from what railways have long established in passenger service and attempted to establish in freight? Beats me.

“Longer trains”? Well, here’s the problem: Longer trains are more difficult to operate on a schedule. It is a fact. Do you remember “BT-FT-OT”? “Big trains, fewer trains per hour.”

“Shorter trains”? It is also the PSR. The timetable indicates that the train leaves at 7 p.m., not at 7 p.m. + X hours.

The increase in train length and weight does not depend on the PSR. Trains were getting longer and heavier for years before PSR, and if that length and weight has increased dramatically over the past decade, it is thanks to technology, such as distributed radio-controlled power, that took advantage of improvements in freight car design to carry heavier weights in longer trains.

MM. Brannon and Gorman question the merits of concerns that PSR will lead to “more train accidents as well as unhappy customers and overworked employees, potentially jeopardizing the long-term health of the rail industry,” as the ‘DeFazio said. They tell us, “None of the objections stand up to scrutiny,” without providing the slightest scrutiny on their part. This is a great way to prove a point: assert that a dissenting point of view cannot withstand scrutiny, then move on.

Those of us who have been doing this for a while, evaluating operating programs for safety and efficiency, are kind of prone to scrutiny. We call it “data-driven analysis” or “objective analysis,” or the aggregate product of years of experience, but whatever name you call it, scrutiny is the foundation of a take informed rather than ideological decision-making.

So, let’s apply a little examination to some of these concerns. We are all aware of the customer complaints that were triggered by the deployment of what is called “PSR”, so we can take some points of debate away from MM. Brannon and Gorman for that.

But let’s look at train accidents. Now full disclosure: I have no idea if any of the train crashes I looked at was caused by a so-called PSR, but I’m not interested in a single crash. I just want to know if anything has changed before and after the adoption of ESP, in the frequency of train accidents that might worry an operations officer, and to push them to look at more cases with a little more attention.

So just for fun, let’s say we take the 8 years 2013 to 2020, inclusive. For more fun, we will divide them into a pre-PSR 2013-2016 period and a post-PSR 2017-2020 period. And for more fun, we will compare them for the frequency of train accidents, not to mention accidents at level crossings.

For fun, we will find the frequencies, the prices of:

• Train accidents per total train-mile.
• Train accidents per employee-hour.
• Injuries in service per employee-hour.
• Employee deaths per total train mile.
• Employee deaths per employee-hour.

(Note: the raw data is taken from the FRA Safety Data Tables; the calculations are my own. As much as I would like to hold the FRA accountable for any errors, I cannot. They are mine.)

Frequency of train accidents:
• 2013-2016: 1 (one) every 398,192 train miles; 2017-2020: 1 (one) every 364,107 train-miles.
• 2013-2016: 1 (one) every 251,815 employee hours; 2017-2020: 1 (one) every 226,682 employee-hours.
In both cases, train accidents occurred with a higher frequency over the period 2017-2020.

Injuries in service per employee-hour:
2013-2016: 1 (one) every 112,814 hours; 2017-2020: 1 (one) every 116,388 hours.
An improvement of about 3%.

Deaths of employees in service:
• 2013-2016: 1 (one) per 61.6 million train-miles; 2017-2020: 1 (one) for 58.1 million train-miles.
• 2013-2016: 1 (one) for 39 million hours; 2017-2020: 1 (one) for 36.1 million hours.
In both cases, the frequency of deaths increased.

Again, I have no idea if PSR played a role in these crashes, but I think these issues deserve careful consideration. While PSR has been shown to have no part in these changes, the numbers represent changes that put our industry on the wrong side of a trend.

Other statements need a little examination, or at least qualification. For example, MM. Brannon and Gorman claim that PSR increases operating capacity by “running longer trains … Two 100-car trains need less spacing than four 50-car trains, so more cars can be accommodated.” Those of us with some operating experience will look at this and say several things, like “not always”, “it depends” and maybe, “we’re not talking about going from 50 cars to 100, but from 100 to 200 or 250; from 7,000 feet to 12,000 feet.

The determination of the operating capacity requires a complex calculation which depends on the geometry of the track, the type of control system, the maximum authorized speed, the two-way or one-way movement, the number of sidings, the length of sidings, dominant slope and traffic mix.

So, and again just for fun, let’s put a 12,000-foot train over there 150 miles of single track, CTC territory, with eight sidings, only one of which can accommodate 12,000 feet of train. , with a MAS for 40 mph freight operations. Then we will start the opposite number of the train, also 12,000 feet long, from the opposite end. And for even more fun, we’ll have an Amtrak train with a MAS of 79 mph scheduled to follow each of these trains three hours later.

In these circumstances, the longer trains devoured and destroyed the operating capacity of the line.

The editorial by MM. Brannon and Gorman is uniquely political. Their real target is the “unions”, which they say oppose increased productivity. This charge is, in a nutshell, absurdity. The number of train and locomotive workers employed by Class I railways has declined by 25% since the 2007 number before the recession. At the same time, revenues per ton-mile improved.

Unions have an obligation to protect the well-being of their members. It is a legitimate concern. As railway operating officers, we also have obligations. One of the most important is to scrutinize supposed solutions to operating problems that are in reality of short-term financial interest.

David Schanoes is a director of Ten90 Solutions LLC, a consulting firm he started when he retired from MTA Metro-North Railroad in 2008. David began his railroad career in 1972 with the Chicago & North Western, as a brakeman in Chicago. He came to New York in 1977, working for the New Jersey division of Conrail. David joined Metro-North in 1985. He has spent his entire career in operations, ranging from brakeman to conductor, block operator, dispatcher, supervisor of rail operations, conductor, superintendent and deputy head of field operations. “A better railroad is 10% planning and 90% execution,” he says. “It’s simple math. Yet we also know, or should know, that technology is no substitute for supervision, and supervision that does not use technology will not do the job. It is not so simple.

*The compensation CSX disclosed in 2017 to Hunter Harrison was $ 151 million, but about $ 116 million from his package, consisting of stock options that were to vest over four years, vanished afterwards. his death on December 16, 2017, the company said in its annual proxy. statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.