Norfolk Southern quickly regains its operational mojo

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NORFOLK, Va. — Norfolk Southern’s new operating plan is gaining traction.

The railroad is moving faster than it has in nearly two years as average train speeds have climbed 28 percent during the past eight weeks.

Last week’s 22.8-mph average train speed was the highest NS has posted since the spring of 2017 and was 20-percent above the 2018 average speed of 19 mph, according to data NS reports to the Association of American Railroads.

Terminal dwell, which measures the amount of time cars spend in yards, is inching downward. It stood at 25.1 hours last week, down 6 percent in eight weeks. In the first three months of 2018, dwell was above 30 hours in 10 NS yards. Now only two terminals have dwell times greater than 30 hours.

The number of cars online has fallen nearly 4 percent even as NS traffic volume is up 16 percent.

NS declined to comment on the rapid improvements, which coincide with the naming of Michael Farrell as senior vice president of transportation in early November. The railroad said more detail would be provided during its fourth-quarter earnings call on Jan. 24.

As a consultant, Farrell for a year had been leading the railroad’s “clean sheeting” efforts to build new local operating plans from scratch.

The process, which starts in terminals and local serving yards, aims to make service faster and more efficient. Clean sheeting will be the foundation for NS’s new operating plan, which is under development and will incorporate elements of Precision Scheduled Railroading.

Farrell previously worked for Canadian Pacific and Canadian National, two railroads led by E. Hunter Harrison, who championed the Precision Scheduled Railroading operating model.

NS had been mired in an operational slump for more than a year and was particularly sluggish in Georgia and Alabama. The railroad’s single-track network in the Southeast was the epicenter of both traffic growth and congestion.

As the railroad slowed down in the Southeast, operating officials brought in more crews, stepped up hiring, pulled locomotives from storage, and leased more than 150 locomotives. The partial reopening of the hump at DeButts Yard in Chattanooga, Tenn., in May helped clear congestion, as well.

NS officials are expected to provide more detail on the new operating plan during an investor day scheduled for Feb. 11 in Atlanta.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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