Watch: NS Debuts Updated Operating Plan

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
(NS Video Screenshot, Courtesy of NS via Twitter and LinkedIn)

(NS Video Screenshot, Courtesy of NS via Twitter and LinkedIn)

Norfolk Southern (NS) on June 27 announced a new operating plan that it says will drive service, productivity and growth.

The TOP|SPG plan—which stands for Thoroughbred Operating Plan|Service Productivity Growth—evolved from NS’s previous plans, the Class I railroad reported.

“TOP|SPG guides how our teams move freight each day,” NS explained via a LinkedIn post. “This isn’t a radical change in how we work with our customers, but a shift in how we execute our operations to move their shipments more directly and consistently. The most substantial changes affect intermodal markets, our most time-sensitive business. TOP|SPG will modify roughly 90% of scheduled intermodal and merchandise trains to reduce terminal congestion, improve network fluidity and create capacity for growth. Ultimately, TOP|SPG will simplify the network and create an operating plan with a high level of executability that will drive greater consistency and service improvements for our customers.”

While the plan will not require operating changes for “the vast majority of our customers,” NS said it has been in communication with impacted customers “to ensure they are prepared.”

(NS Video Screenshot, Courtesy of NS via LinkedIn, Twitter)

The plan is built on:

• Service: “Providing a platform for consistent service was the top goal in designing TOP|SPG,” according to NS, which “worked with customers to ensure that plan changes will have minimal impact on their operations and is designed to meet their future growth.” 

• Productivity: “TOP|SPG works by making the company’s operating plan simple, consistent and executable every day,” NS said. “Shipments will travel more directly across Norfolk Southern’s network; one-market origin to one-market termination. Additionally, a balanced network flow helps ensure that shipments are less likely to get caught at choke points and facilities keep goods moving.”

• Growth: “Team members, engines, rolling stock and terminals are aligned to effectively serve customers, while being nimble enough to handle future volume,” according to NS.

Where it made sense, NS said it “began to shift daily operations to TOP|SPG ahead of June 27, realizing early benefits.”

“Improvements within our Merchandise and Bulk segments were the focus of TOP21 [the previous NS operating plan], and the primary focus of TOP|SPG is our Intermodal business,” NS Vice President Network Planning and Operations Paul Duncan said. (NS Video Screenshot, Courtesy of NS via LinkedIn, Twitter)

NS executives addressed the new plan in a video the railroad released June 24 via LinkedIn and Twitter posts (scroll down to watch).

“We have an imperative for service, and we know that we need to meet our customers expectations,” NS Vice President Network Planning and Operations Paul Duncan said in the video. “So in the framework of the current environment, in the framework of our current service, we knew that collectively we needed to adjust our plan and our offering in order to facilitate service that our customers expect and deserve, as well as to facilitate and set up the railroad for future growth opportunities.”

(NS Video Screenshot, Courtesy of NS via LinkedIn, Twitter)

“There were three focus areas of TOP/SPG,” Duncan continued. “One, we wanted to ensure we built a simplistic network that optimized work events as well as optimized the utilization of our main line and our corridors. That included minimizing handlings at our intermediate yards.

“The second tenet of TOP/SPG was our ability to execute the plan. We wanted to build a plan that not only improved service, but was achievable, consistently achievable, across the network. The third tenet was consistency. We wanted to ensure that we built in predictable service our customers could rely on in order to grow in their supply chains. …

“Whether it’s intermodal containers, intermodal trailers, shipper-owned railcars, we wanted to facilitate a railroad that improves service, that helps drive the productivity of those assets.”

(NS Video Screenshot, Courtesy of NS via LinkedIn, Twitter)

Added Floyd Hudson, Vice President Transportation: “The combination of fewer, better-timed trains and the addition of more crews will drive improvements in our service, improve reliability in the coming months and throughout the remainder of the year.”

“TOP/SPG is designed to enhance our service recovery,” NS President and CEO Alan H. Shaw summed up in the video. “It reduces the complexity of our network by reducing train meets and reducing work events. And ultimately creates a much more executable plan for our field team. That’s our focus. TOP/SPG and the additional resources that we’re adding through aggressive hiring, conductor trainings, will help create a much better service product for us and for our customers.”

(NS Video Screenshot, Courtesy of NS via LinkedIn, Twitter)

While the plan will allow the company to “improve our service product, improve our network velocity, improve our capacity … it’s not going to happen overnight,” Shaw said. “I can assure everyone that the entire Norfolk Southern organization is focused on it intently. We are adding resources; we are modifying our plan. Those will build off each other to enhance our service product and create a greater platform for growth for our customers.”

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