On Monday Feb. 11, 2019, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific—both of which are rolling out their own versions of Precision Scheduled Railroading—will deploy jointly developed new routing protocols for domestic and international intermodal interline services.
NS, in a Dec. 7 bulletin to customers, called the changes, which apply to westbound traffic, “part of our ongoing efforts to improve our interline services.” NS’s changes, illustrated below in two matrices (Domestic and International), affect nearly 260 interchange points involving more than 20 NS origin terminals. Only 26 domestic interchange points will retain interline service; no international interline service will be available. Customers have the option of providing their own truck drayage and rebilling. Any traffic in-gated on or after 12:01 AM, Feb. 11, 2019 will be handled in accordance with the new routing protocols, NS said. Traffic in-gated before midnight on February 10, 2019, will be handled according to the current plan.
NS said the changes “will increase the amount of traffic that will utilize steel-wheel interchange, particularly through the Chicago gateway, and improve overall effectiveness of NS-UP interline services.”
Union Pacific issued its guidelines for eastbound traffic on Dec. 6. In a letter to customers that same day, UP Executive Vice President Marketing and Sales Kenny Rocker said the railroad’s performance metrics “are showing improvement compared to where we stood prior to the launch of the new operating plan,” UP (Unified Plan) 2020.
Since September, Rocker noted, on-time delivery of cars increased by 5%, car velocity (daily miles per car) increased by 7%, and dwell times have been reduced by 10%. “Our metrics are trending in the right direction and you should be seeing service improvements as Unified Plan 2020 is rolled out across more areas of our network,” Rocker said.
“In mid-November, we began planning for the next phase of implementation on our two rail corridors between Los Angeles and Chicago,” Rocker said. “Originally, this work was planned for the first quarter of 2019. Because of the steady progress, we are adjusting the Unified Plan 2020 rollout to be completed in three phases rather than four. Planning for the third and final phase is scheduled to begin in early 2019 and will encompass the Pacific Northwest, Northern California and I-5 corridors. Based on this new schedule, we now expect full implementation of Unified Plan 2020 by mid-2019 rather than our previously announced target date of year end 2019.”
“Overall operating inventory has been reduced by 10% since September, and we are moving your freight at a faster pace,” Rocker noted. “Your support to achieve our mutual goal of ‘right sizing’ both system and private car fleets has helped to drive this progress. We appreciate your cooperation as these initiatives are critical to improving overall service and reliability.”
Unified Plan 2020 also involves “a terminal rationalization strategy intended to identify opportunities where we can improve velocity and efficiency throughout our terminals,” Rocker said. “Effective Dec. 1, manifest switching operations at Roper Yard will begin moving to Ogden, a more geographically efficient location. Automotive trains will continue to run through Roper’s auto facility and available space at the yard will be repurposed to support our focus on increased asset utilization. With this new transportation plan in place, we expect more streamlined operations and improved car cycle times, resulting in more efficient and consistent service in the Utah Valley.”
Rocker promised customers that UP’s sales force will keep them “engaged on what will change, when the change will happen and what you should expect.”
Railway Age Contributing Editor Jim Blaze offers these observations on UP:
“It’s good to see UP officially communicate the UP 2020 rollout to its customers. I’d give UP recognition ‘applause’ for the terminal dwell and the train velocity improvement. However, it’s sad to see that customers get ‘briefed’ after the investor community does. There continues to be this urge/image of rushing forward ASAP into 2019 for financial results. Is this a race? What’s a 5% improvement on a really sloppy 60% or so on-time final delivery report card worth? Better perhaps not to mention it?
The reference to reducing “operating inventory” introduces a new ‘term” that I translate as total locomotives, train starts, crews used, recrews, and cars on hand across the network. Is this what UP is talking about? I’m not sure why a freight shipper would care. Converting this metric to something that speaks to fewer forward days of customer product inventory on-hand would get the shippers’ attention (and applause). But UP doesn’t seem to be telling its story that way.”