Future Track Committee
On track to the future
“The processes we’re using in Future Track are going to make the railroad safer, more efficient, more productive, and more profitable. At some level, one or more of these processes is going to touch every single employee on the railroad.”
Deb Butler, executive vice president and chief information officer, and chair of Future Track Steering Committee
Norfolk Southern has developed a rigorous process to identify, prioritize, and implement initiatives that enable us to meet annual business goals while ensuring long-term success as a transportation-industry leader. Our Future Track Steering Committee helps lead the effort.
Every month, most of our company vice presidents gather at our Norfolk headquarters, with some joining in from regional offices in Atlanta and Roanoke via telepresence screens. Their mission: to help the railroad improve performance in six broad areas: safety, service, asset utilization, fuel efficiency, revenue growth, and workforce productivity.
This committee was formed in 2007, when we launched a five-year strategic plan known as Track 2012. In 2012, after meeting a number of key goals, we adopted another plan, Future Track, that outlines long-term business strategies and gives us the flexibility to update goals annually to respond to unexpected changes in the U.S. and global economic conditions.
The renamed Future Track Steering Committee reflects the importance we place on maintaining a competitive edge in an era of rapidly changing business markets. The Future Track plan helps ensure that strategic projects get the right support, the right priority, and the right resources. Among other things, Future Track is helping us to become a better railroad by:
- Getting new technologies into the hands of frontline workers to make their jobs safer and easier and to help them make better decisions. Dispatchers, locomotive engineers, and conductors, in particular, have benefitted.
- Targeting capital investments in equipment, infrastructure, and technologies based on business and operational priorities.
- Providing new insights into our business operations, including sponsoring studies that examine such things as how customer service levels and train network velocity affect operating costs
In short, Future Track is transforming how our railroad operates and ensuring that we meet the needs of customers in the 21st century. It’s helping us accomplish our goal of being a sustainable corporation, and being the safest, most customer-focused and successful transportation company in the world.
Key Future Track technology initiatives:
Unified Train Control System (UTCS)/Movement Planner
Using advanced algorithms coupled with our corporate business objectives, UTCS, a next-generation dispatching system, and Movement Planner generate optimal train movement plans for our entire rail network. As they have been rolled out, these technologies have helped us to improve network velocity, boost employee productivity, and make better use of locomotive and railcar assets.
Process Control Implementation
This initiative is automating the railcar classification process at our hump yards, including car speed, spacing, and switch positions.
Geographic Information System
Aerial mapping of our entire rail network has been completed, and integration with our various enterprise operating systems is occurring. The GPS-based mapping allows us to pinpoint the location of every piece of infrastructure on the network, including sidings, switches, and signals.
Locomotive Engineer Assist Display Event Recorder (LEADER)
LEADER prompts locomotive engineers on optimal train handling to achieve maximum fuel efficiency on long-haul freight moves. LEADER-equipped locomotives now are running on main lines in all three of our operating regions.
Top-of-Rail Friction Modification
These solar-powered systems that dispense a lubricant to the top of both rails to decrease wheel-to-rail friction, reducing wear and tear on wheels and rail and conserving energy, are operating on strategic lines across our network.
Remote Intelligent Terminal
This wireless technology enables conductors to send and receive work assignments in near real time to deliver or pick-up railcars for customers, improving employee productivity and customer service. We completed our initial systemwide rollout of the handheld devices in February 2013.
Remote Control Locomotives (RCL)
This remote technology enables a ground operator to control a locomotive via radio signals sent to an onboard computer. To date, more than 1,000 employees have been certified as RCL operators, and RCL locomotives operate in some of our largest rail yards, increasing efficiency and safety of operations.
Wayside Detection Systems
These remote systems monitor passing trains for wheel defects, and NS now has a 24-hour help desk that manages preventive wheel alerts. In 2012, we implemented alerts for dragging equipment devices.