Sustainability in action:

Keeping locomotives moving down the track

Norfolk Southern is continually looking for ways to increase the efficiency and productivity of operations. Devina Miller has played a key role in a Mechanical Department initiative dubbed Mission Critical.

Devina Miller, a systems engineer in Atlanta, is slow to take credit for keeping more of Norfolk Southern’s locomotives out of repair shops and on the track. However, she is enormously proud of the Mechanical Department’s successful Mission Critical troubleshooting program.

“We’ve critically reduced the number of locomotive breakdowns, so we have more locomotives available to move freight for customers,” Miller said.

Mission Critical is designed to reduce the five most common mechanical and engine problems that can literally stop a locomotive in its tracks while on the rails transporting freight. Miller helped develop a computerized system that enables the department to easily trace locomotives that go into shops for a Mission Critical repair. She generates weekly reports that are emailed to locomotive-shop employees across the system, showing which shops handled repairs successfully and where locomotives had to be returned to a shop for additional work. A shop scores a success if a locomotive remains in the field for at least 30 days without another Mission Critical failure.

“One important thing to come out of this is that we have changed our locomotive troubleshooting techniques,” Miller explained. NS shop employees previously made only obvious repairs, without necessarily checking for other potential failures. Now, using standardized troubleshooting guides developed by teams of department employees, shop mechanics are checking engines more thoroughly and catching things before they become critical problems.

“Everyone is using the same troubleshooting guide now,” Miller said, “so basically anyone can follow the step-by-step process and repair a locomotive.”

The process has increased knowledge transfer from more experienced employees to younger ones and given people greater pride in their work, Miller reported. It’s also sparked friendly competition among the shops.

“We can see how each shop is performing and how the shops stack up against one another,” she said. “No one wants the locomotive that failed to be the one with their name on the work order.”

The results have been good for business. In 2012, the department’s overall success rate with Mission Critical repairs was nearly 94 percent, up from nearly 87 percent two years earlier.

“Now we’re running more trains and getting freight to the customer faster,” Miller said. “Our goal is to have a quality locomotive out there on the tracks.”

Devina Miller

Devina Miller

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