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Rail Roundup: Norfolk Southern launches new intermodal operating plan

Strategy seeks to build on existing procedures for merchandise segment

News items featuring Norfolk Southern, CN and MxV Rail. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

NS introduces new operating plan for intermodal shipments

Norfolk Southern has officially launched its new operating plan aimed at boosting intermodal service.

It’s called TOP|SPG, standing for “Thoroughbred Operating Plans” and “service, productivity and growth,” NS (NYSE: NSC) said Monday. A thoroughbred horse is part of NS’ logo.

Executives in past earnings calls have mentioned the railroad’s strategy to develop an operating plan for intermodal shipments following TOP21, NS’ operating plan for its merchandise and bulk segments. TOP21 utilized some elements of precision scheduled railroading, a way to streamline operations.

“Our robust hiring efforts, coupled with TOP|SPG, will enhance our overall service recovery,” said NS President and CEO Alan Shaw. “Everyone at Norfolk Southern is focused on bringing our service product to a level our customers expect, and TOP|SPG gives us additional alignment, while boosting productivity and creating a pathway for future growth. This is an important part of our effort to become more customer-centric and operations-driven.”

The new operating plan guides the day-to-day movement of trains and shipments through the NS network, with the goal of shipments traveling more directly across the network because daily operations are simpler and more consistent. These modifications will help balance the network and minimize the potential for shipments to become caught at choke points, according to NS. 

The plan also seeks to ensure crews, engines, rolling stock and terminals are aligned with customer needs, while providing a cushion for volume growth and an increase in service demand, NS said. The operating plan’s design is scalable so that if a customer’s operations grow, so does NS’ service to that customer.

NS said it has been working closely with customers throughout the plan’s development. It even shifted some daily operations to the new procedures ahead of the official implementation date in areas where it made sense.

“TOP|SPG is not a radical change in how we’ll serve our customers but a shift in our operations to move their shipments more consistently,” said Floyd Hudson, NS vice president for transportation. “As our new operating plan is implemented, and we hire more crews, over the coming months we will see an improvement in our service products.”

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CN plans to invest $110M in Louisiana and Wisconsin

Canadian railway CN announced even more capital investments to its network on Tuesday. This time, the investments include $25 million for Louisiana and $85 million in Wisconsin. 

This brings the company’s total to $1.78 billion in announced capital investments so far for 2022.

In 2021, CN (NYSE: CNI) dedicated $2.25 billion for capital expenditures, according to its 2021 annual report.

In Louisiana, CN intends to replace 4 miles of rail track, install 20,000 new railroad ties and rebuild 16 road crossing surfaces. The railway has spent more than $300 million in the state over the last five years, where it operates 239 route miles. 

In Wisconsin, CN will spend $85 million. Maintenance projects include the replacement of 10 miles of railroad track, the installation of 10,000 railroad ties and the rebuilding of 53 road crossing surfaces. CN has invested $700 million in Wisconsin over the last five years, where it operates 1,428 route miles.

In both states, the capital expenditures will go toward network improvements and investments in technology, capacity, rolling stock units and decarbonization initiatives, CN said. The budget also funds maintenance work. 

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2 US and UK rail research organizations sign knowledge sharing agreement

Pueblo, Colorado-based MxV Rail, formerly known as TTCI, and the Global Center of Rail Excellence (GCRE), a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Wales government in the UK, have signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate and share technical expertise. 

Both companies research and develop advanced rail technologies, saying the memorandum solidifies their intention to exchange information and compare knowledge while also supporting clients’ needs. MxV Rail is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Association of American Railroads (AAR). 

“This is an exciting opportunity for both organizations to grow railway research globally,” said MxV Rail President and CEO Kari Gonzales. “After visiting the expansive facility in south Wales, we look forward to supporting GCRE in their efforts to advance rail research in the UK.”

Said GCRE Chief Executive Simon Jones: “We share a common ambition to support clients in the global rail industry through the development and operation of purpose-built railway testing centers. Our collaboration will enable these clients to accelerate innovation and improve their own customer’s experience, reduce costs and accelerate decarbonization.”

MxV Rail says its new multi-campus operation in Pueblo will be fully functional in October. The campus will feature an on-track test facility for research, as well as testing and training for freight and passenger rail programs. It will include a security and emergency response training center for hazmat response training. The campus also will support programs such as AAR’s M-976 truck testing, performance testing new rail technologies and qualification testing for rolling stock.

GCRE, established in 2021, is in the process of securing funding from public and private sources and has plans for a number of projects, including a net-zero carbon railway.

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Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.