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DENNIS G. BOLL is Assistant Vice President Signal for BNSF Railway Co. He is responsible for overseeing safety, budget, productivity and quality issues for the BNSF signal department.
What will be the main challenges facing the C&S department during the next five years? How do you intend to overcome the hurdles?
I see three major challenges facing BNSF Railway's C&S group in the next five years: 1.) Manpower; 2.) Track time for expansion and maintenance of existing systems; and 3.) Application of new technology with emphasis on reliability.
1. Manpower: I address this important challenge in my answer to the second question (at right).
2. Track Time: BNSF Railway is seeing significant growth in all four major commodity groups. That equates to more trains requiring more maintenance of the infrastructure. As train volumes increase, track time to do maintenance and install new systems is becoming harder to get. Our systems must be pre-tested, work as designed on a reduced cutover window, and be reliable in the future. In addition, we must design automatic testing where practicable to reduce maintenance and testing track time.
Last year, BNSF piloted a joint Transportation and Engineering initiative on the Northwest Division to schedule all maintenance work through the utilization of a work order system. In this program, called "Maintenance Excellence," a Division maintenance planning office reviews a list of work orders that have been submitted by Track, Signal and Structures personnel. The planners then work closely with the Transportation and Engineering groups to coordinate and schedule track windows, which allow for completing as many work orders as possible within allocated track windows. With advanced planning, the allocated track windows have minimum impact on Transportation's goals and service to our customers. The planners establish a plan that looks four weeks out and work the plan for optimization of engineering resources. The result is fewer track windows, which are guaranteed for Engineering to accomplish more work and, ultimately, improved track availability and reliability for Transportation. Maintenance Excellence will be rolled out system-wide in 2006.
3. New Technology: The need for new technology is a constant for railroads. In the past year, we have implemented ICS (independent crossover switch control), hand throw switch monitoring in dark territory, and a broken rail detection system on parts of our network. We have also continued to test and refine ETMS (Electronic Train Management System). All new technologies are designed with one goal in mind: reliability. We simply cannot afford an equipment failure that delays trains on a network often operating at maximum capacity.
What steps are you taking to ensure your department has enough manpower and skilled employees despite the entire rail industry's aging workforce and "brain drain"? Are you doing anything differently to recruit, train and retain workers?
BNSF Railway will lose nearly 20 percent of its existing C&S workforce in the next five years due to retirement. We have developed and implemented a hiring plan to stay ahead of attrition. Our Human Resource group has been visiting campuses, advertising locally using all forms of media and participating in Job Fairs in many of the communities we serve. In addition, our Web-based "Careers" site has been an excellent recruitment tool and has helped us identify many qualified job seekers.In the past, retention of employees has not been a problem. The people we hire today are concerned about quality of life issues, so we need to ensure we provide work-life balance and allow adequate time away from work.
My biggest concern is the "brain drain" we will experience among system design engineers. Since our merger 10 years ago, we have primarily contracted out our signal design. To avoid depleting our internal expertise, we plan to build up our Engineering staff to do more in-house design, which will aid in the training of future design engineers.
PETER ARATO is General Manager Signals and Communications for Canadian Pacific Railway. His railway career began in 1990 in CPR's information technology department, where he's had a range of responsibilities. Among them: establishing the Project Office, leading the corporate Y2K program, managing the development of the current train control system and directing IT Operations. He currently "enjoys the challenge of meeting operational needs with a blend of electrical engineering and information technology."
In the past 25 years, C&S has been transitioning from legacy electromechanical to microprocessor-based trackside equipment. The future is a railway electronics infrastructure of networked mobile and wayside systems that control on-track movements and deliver business applications to locomotives, vehicles and MOW forces. The underlying technologies to build this infrastructure are available today, but the continent-wide communication network to support it does not yet exist.
The rail industry's challenge is to secure wireless spectrum across North America and define standards for railway electronics that meet three core requirements:
1. Interoperability so that trains can navigate the entire North American rail network;
2. Incremental adoption, allowing for the coexistence of past technologies for a number of years as new technology is phased in; and
3. Cost-effective implementation with tangible business value.
Canadian Pacific Railway is working to add wireless functionality to its existing trackside fiber network that will support future railway electronics. The industry is also fast approaching an FCC deadline to narrowband all frequencies below 500 MHz. This requires the replacement of base stations, and mobile and handheld radios. The cutover to narrowband frequency use will need to be done in an industry-coordinated manner to avoid any loss of communications.
CPR implemented an Integrated Operating Plan (IOP) to more efficiently handle increased volumes of traffic. C&S's challenge is to support the IOP with improved service levels (fewer trouble tickets and faster MTTR) with less available track time. Our approach is to analyze trouble ticket information and employ process management to identify and implement standardized best practices.
To address the expected shortage of wiremen and signal maintainers, CPR's Signal & Communications Department has developed a "fast track" qualification training curriculum and is ramping up a multi-year hiring program. We have also developed an apprenticeship program wherein employees receive formal classroom training, alternated with "on the job" experience working with qualified signal maintainers.
In anticipation of a management and engineering "brain drain," CPR has been hiring new university graduates during the past four years as management trainees. These trainees first complete a three-month front end cross-functional learning experience followed by a nine- month ES training program in both the field and head office after which they assume a permanent front-line supervisory role. At this time, we are exploring opportunities to hire interns on a larger scale as a recruiting and candidate selection process. We are also actively evaluating our existing talent pool and looking for non-traditional opportunities to move high achievers between disciplines. Recently, there have been a number of moves between Engineering Services and Information Technology, Mechanical and Field Operations.
CRAIG KING is Chief Engineer - Communication and Signals for CSX Transportation. He started with CSX as a "trackman" in 1976 and held a variety of positions — including signal maintainer, trainmaster, service lane coordinator, director signal
maintenance, and assistant chief engineer-signal maintenance — before taking on his current position this year.
The main challenges from a CSX perspective will be two-fold:
The first item requires us both to increase our proactive approach to maintenance and to improve our capacity for preventive maintenance in order to reduce the number of incidents.
To increase our proactive approach to maintenance, we are expanding our electronic test and inspection application to signal tests not required by the FRA and to communications systems. We plan to increase our use of data to better target our capital funding. These two items are our key to reducing incidents. To be more proactive in resolving incidents, we are expanding long-standing communications network management practices to signal systems in order to enable more effective trouble isolation (and, possibly, remote resolution).
To improve our capacity for preventive maintenance, we are relying on productivity tools like mobile office capability (to reduce office time) and on implementation of work order scheduling and tracking.
To do all of this in an environment of increasing traffic and increased attrition, we are working toward electronic track authority and increased visibility of train movement on the network for our field personnel. We expect that, together, these tools will allow the maintainer to be able to find available maintenance windows and to more efficiently work with the dispatcher to gain access to those maintenance windows.
We are very fortunate now to have such an experienced workforce. Our people have worked with C&S systems for many years, especially on the signal side. Often, they have maintained the same territory for a long period. This has allowed us to rely on traditional methods. It has allowed us to rely on experience rather than on the documentation of our processes. It has allowed us to depend upon on-the-job training as a substitute for continuing training.
Going forward, we will have to improve our documentation so that newer people can have tools to get up to speed faster.
We will depend on newer technology to improve both efficiency and effectiveness. We are counting on newer employees to bring a certain amount of computer literacy to allow them to adapt quickly to essential technology applications. We are not looking to hire programmers to maintain C&S systems. But, we do not want to teach new employees how to use a computer, either.
Finally, we will have to consider the development of a continuing education program for C&S. We do an excellent job of teaching new employees. We also do well with teaching new systems as they are installed. However, we do not update training or capture best practices on a regular basis. Unlike some companies, we do not require minimum amounts of annual technical training for all employees. That may have to change.
BUCK JONES is Assistant Chief Engineer Signals and Administration for Kansas City Southern's U.S. operation. He began his career in 1978 as a construction gang worker with the Kansas City Southern Railway Co. (KCSR) Following his promotion to Centralized Traffic Control maintainer, Jones held a number of railroad signaling positions with increasing responsibility and technical expertise. He was promoted into management in 1986.
A primary challenge is making capacity improvements fast enough to keep pace with growing traffic. The kind of expertise needed for these improvements is often not available in house, creating additional challenges of finding the right talent at the right time and within budget.
KCSR works continuously to keep the resource pool staffed, in addition to recruiting and developing talent from existing construction gangs and signal crews.
RAY RUMSEY is Assistant Vice President Communications & Signals for Norfolk Southern Railway. He began his rail career with Conrail in 1977, where he served in various positions until joining NS as Chief Engineer MW&S in Atlanta in 1998.
Norfolk Southern's No. 1 challenge is dealing with workforce hiring and training. It is more difficult now to convince the younger workforce to make a commitment to a railroad career as a C&S maintainer or construction gang signalman. We need to hire the right people and prepare them well to accept the responsibilities of their job. Knowledge and confidence are key areas that must be passed on to new employees.
Another very important challenge is to replace aging C&S equipment and systems at a sufficient rate to prevent deterioration from current levels of reliability. This is especially important at a time when unprecedented traffic levels are placing increased demands on these systems. NS is installing equipment and systems which reduce maintenance requirements and allow for remote monitoring of system status. This development needs to continue to improve productivity.
We are looking for new technology that will replace existing equipment and stretch the capital dollars available. We need to continue looking for ways to streamline upgrades and the replacement of deteriorating equipment.
Also, NS' development of Optimized Train Control as a vital PTC system will enable us in the future to "eliminate the light bulbs" of our present signal systems by providing safe, onboard positive train control.
NS has stepped up our hiring of C&S signalman trainees, as well as management trainees. There have been major changes in NS' hiring process with our Web-based system that requires all new job positions be applied for online. This permits pre-screening and a wider reach of qualified applicants for the hiring process.
Also, NS has stepped up efforts to promote awareness of careers in railroading for college graduates. Efforts included a College Placement Directors Summit. NS hosted a two-day seminar for placement directors of 41 colleges and universities within our service area. During this seminar and at other events, placement directors are provided information on railroad career opportunities for college graduates, and provided exposure to NS as a company and the railway industry as a whole.
Additionally, we are cooperatively exploring ways to address the lifestyle issues that are so important to our current employees and the younger people entering today's workforce.
BRUCE WILLIAMS is Union Pacific Railroad's General Director Signals. He began his
signal career as an Assistant Signalman on the Western Pacific Railroad in 1972. After a brief stint outside the rail industry,
he joined UP in 1984 and has held several
What will be the main challenge facing the C&S department during the next five years? How do you intend to overcome this hurdle?
An aging work force and the resulting "brain drain" is the main challenge we are facing on the Union Pacific Railroad.
Over the next 10 years, primarily as a result of retirements, we anticipate we will be losing nearly 75 percent of our agreement signal workforce. These are our most experienced and knowledgeable agreement employees, and they are going to be very difficult to replace. We also anticipate that the attrition in our management ranks will be even higher.
This turnover will impact all functional areas, including design, maintenance and construction. The signal "brain drain" on our railroad will be coming at a time when we are handling record traffic levels as well as record construction budgets. Unfortunately, the signal group is not alone. Within the Engineering Department, the track and bridge groups are facing identical problems with an aging workforce.
The UPRR Engineering Department is utilizing a departmental approach in addressing the challenge. We are:
As an industry, there are no easy answers to address challenges associated with our aging workforce. I am sure that the challenges we are facing with the "brain drain" are very similar to those of the other railroads. We all need to work together and share information on effective approaches to address these issues.