Disruptive Innovation in Rail Yards: How Real Time Planning Can Transform Operations
By Jeremiah Dirnberger, Senior Digital Product Manager, Wabtec
Classification yards play an important role in the rail network. Separating and sorting railcars and building new outbound trains are central to delivery performance. With over 50% of carload volume passing through classification yards, these transportation nodes impact departure performance, car cycle time, and operational efficiency. Yet, today, much of the work being done in these yard operations is manual and inefficient. For example:
- Minimal Decision Support: Planning is largely being done in the heads of the yard masters and train masters … using brainpower, their experience, and information they can get from their inventory systems. And the planning task is even more challenging for these individuals as they simultaneously answer radio and phone calls, manage crews, and resolve issues.
- Localized Planning and Execution: Imagine, you are coming in for your shift … you arrive 30 minutes early … you talk to the previous yard master to get the lay of the land … get enough information to start your day … figure out where things are … talk to your crews, give them their information … everything is very localized. I’m thinking about my node or half of the node and managing that. I’m not really thinking of the broader network.
- Minimal Real Time Asset Tracking: Shippers want to know where their railcars are in real time. While there are pockets of visibility, most yards don’t have asset tracking and what they do have is usually based on an inventory system that requires the input of a human, which creates work, can be error prone, and does not tell you the location on the track. In addition, misrouted or misclassified cars ultimately creates more work and takes more time.
- Ad-Hoc Network Connections: For the most part, there is limited integration of rail yards to proactively balance the flows on the rail network.
Wabtec developed a unique digital solution to address these needs. Classification Yard Planner combines dynamic planning tools, increased visibility, and powerful decision support to unlock productivity and network efficiency. It is designed to help railroads make the best decisions around asset use and resource allocation so they can get cars connected and out of the yard faster. It’s a game-changer that can transform how rail yards operate.
Jointly developed with Class I Yard Operations Expertise:
- Pilot location has 50 class tracks, processes 1,000-1,600 cars/day
- Planning algorithm thoroughly vetted
- Able to handle traditional and PSR yard operations
Forward Looking Planning:
- Considers all inbound traffic for the next 12 hours
- Plans hump/switch and pull/build tasks for the next 8 hours
- Displays the tasks for the next 4 hours
- Generates a new plan every 2 minutes or less
New Levels of Operational Consistency and Visibility:
- Consistent rules enforced
- Human stays in the loop to improve upon plan when appropriate
- Plan and execution data captured and displayed real-time
- Brings precision to yard planning and work execution
Improves Asset Velocity and Yard Productivity:
- Works to maximize connections, right cars on right trains
- Effectively stacks blocks in bowl if desired, better utilization of class tracks
- Planner allows Yardmasters and Trainmasters to focus on safety and crew management instead of the complex sorting problem
Automatic updates to Dispatch and Movement Planner:
- Proactive notification so Movement Planner will be able to better plan train routes in and out of the yard
- Proactive departure time updates
- System will provide accountability to all parties to increase fluidity
Train Building Rules Considered at Hump/First Switch:
- Avoid time consuming re-switch due to train build rules at pull-back/build end