PSR: What is it? Why is it bad? What does it mean for the future?

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Cal

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I've heard a lot about PSR, but I've never completely understood it. Can someone enlighten me?
 

Ryan

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It's the same sort of "just in time" BS that's proving itself to take efficiency to such a high level that there's no margin for error when something goes wrong. If our supply chain was a little less efficient and a little more resilient, we wouldn't be seeing the massive disruptions and random shortages that we're seeing today across the economy.

In a perfect world it works perfectly, but here in the real world when things break they break spectacularly.
 

MikefromCrete

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Although I'm no expert on this topic, it seems to me that the main idea of PSR is to run very few, very long trains. The plan is to cut costs as much as possible, customer service be dammed. Railroads run trains that are two to three miles long, in many cases way too long for existing sidings, thus messing up service. Many of Amtrak's delays can be blamed on this. VIA's Canadian is an extreme victim of CN's PSR program. Although it's called Precision Schedule Railroading, it is neither precise nor scheduled. Probably the worst idea railroading has ever seen. It's designed to make rich Wall Street types even richer.
 

me_little_me

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Trains magazine, in the current issue, talks about BNSF's alternative that still keeps customers happy. Basically, if there are multiple trains going a long distance in the same direction, they attach one to another (vs PSR where they make it one train) so the second engines and its cars are together attached to the first with those engines acting as helpers and leading its own cars - until the trains split up, wherein the second train is disconnected and taken over by its own crew. On PSR, the cars would be dropped off somewhere (possibly indifferent locations) then attached to other trains to continue their journey, delaying them and their customers. The advantage is fewer engineers and engines, and fewer trains so more density on the tracks.

Think of it this way. With PSR in the trucking industry, one truck would pull three trailers. Then it would drop off two that would be going elsewhere and continue. With BNSF's version, three trucks (i.e. each with a cab) would be attached together. When the second two are dropped off, they can continue further because the semi is attached already and the driver just has to jump aboard. When it gets to the end of its joint trip, it can separate again and go in two directions.

Customers don't get delayed. Less fuel is used and fewer engineers needed than the old way (but more than PSR). If the train has a problem, the lead engines and their cars or the trailing engines and their cars can be moved to a smaller siding (than a PSR train) with the other train continuing.
 

Cal

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Trains magazine, in the current issue, talks about BNSF's alternative that still keeps customers happy. Basically, if there are multiple trains going a long distance in the same direction, they attach one to another (vs PSR where they make it one train) so the second engines and its cars are together attached to the first with those engines acting as helpers and leading its own cars - until the trains split up, wherein the second train is disconnected and taken over by its own crew. On PSR, the cars would be dropped off somewhere (possibly indifferent locations) then attached to other trains to continue their journey, delaying them and their customers. The advantage is fewer engineers and engines, and fewer trains so more density on the tracks.

Think of it this way. With PSR in the trucking industry, one truck would pull three trailers. Then it would drop off two that would be going elsewhere and continue. With BNSF's version, three trucks (i.e. each with a cab) would be attached together. When the second two are dropped off, they can continue further because the semi is attached already and the driver just has to jump aboard. When it gets to the end of its joint trip, it can separate again and go in two directions.

Customers don't get delayed. Less fuel is used and fewer engineers needed than the old way (but more than PSR). If the train has a problem, the lead engines and their cars or the trailing engines and their cars can be moved to a smaller siding (than a PSR train) with the other train continuing.
Great explanation, thank you.
 

Just-Thinking-51

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It's the same sort of "just in time" BS that's proving itself to take efficiency to such a high level that there's no margin for error when something goes wrong. If our supply chain was a little less efficient and a little more resilient, we wouldn't be seeing the massive disruptions and random shortages that we're seeing today across the economy.

In a perfect world it works perfectly, but here in the real world when things break they break spectacularly.
Actually greed is the current problem with our supply chain. The ports are making money, the trucks are making money, the railroads are making money. Everyone is making money and to try and fix or add capacity to the system would decrease your revenue. Certain shipper, and end user are getting creative, but that a limited amount of cargo. The ports have a fundamental issue with huge ship dumping all cargo in one port, but there profit levels are at all time high. So no plans to fix it.

Side note, need shipping done. Use a American flag ship, they cut the line and are unloading first.

 

20th Century Rider

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It’s neither consistent, reliable or predictable, nor does it benefit the customer.
Precision Scheduled Railroading? At Amtrak??? Are you kidding??? Ever hear of freight delays???

Just tell passengers that the freight lines... are going to work around Amtrak? Is the TE ever within three hours of arrival in CHI? PSI is a make believe fantasy dream unachievable on American tracks.

But don't we wish😬

railroad-up-image-0918.jpg
 

20th Century Rider

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The forum software made that chart really hard to read, here is the actual data: ASMAD - Amtrak Status Maps Archive Database - Train History Search

If you accept your 1h59 min late as 2 hours (not the original 3 hours claimed), 7 times in the last two months has the train been that late.
And two days prior was on the MO road runner almost 2 hrs late getting into Jeff city… so perhaps I’m hitting it wrong. Late arrivals / departures are frustrating to the pax.
 

jis

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This just illustrates that it is important to use actual statistics than personal anecdotes to come to conclusions.

That is not to say freight railroads are blameless. Their issues are constantly documented by Amtrak as part of the STB driven project now. It was documented by Amtrak and RPA for several years before that too.
 

20th Century Rider

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Freight delays are a major issue with Amtrak service and becoming more prevalent with supply chain disruptions especially on single track lines. Don’t have access to stats now (bouncing around on a moving train) but it’s certainly problematic.
 
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jis

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Freight delays are a major issue with Amtrak service and becoming more prevalent with supply chain disruptions especially on single track lines. Don’t have access to stats now (bouncing around on a moving train) but it’s certainly problematic.
Absolutely, It has been much worse problem at times past. Actually it is middling bad at present and likely to improve as the STB tightens the screws a bit. All this is well documented by Amtrak and FRA. I would be surprised if anyone claims that it is not a problem, so in my mind there is very little to argue about the general phenomenon. All that can be done is spend hours arguing about whether it is three hours or two hours :D
 

20th Century Rider

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Absolutely, It has been much worse problem at times past. Actually it is middling bad at present and likely to improve as the STB tightens the screws a bit. All this is well documented by Amtrak and FRA. I would be surprised if anyone claims that it is not a problem, so in my mind there is very little to argue about the general phenomenon. All that can be done is spend hours arguing about whether it is three hours or two hours :D
Right… 2 hours late or 3…. Service disruptions disrupt people’s schedules and upset plans. That’s the point.
 
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MARC Rider

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Think of it this way. With PSR in the trucking industry, one truck would pull three trailers. Then it would drop off two that would be going elsewhere and continue. With BNSF's version, three trucks (i.e. each with a cab) would be attached together. When the second two are dropped off, they can continue further because the semi is attached already and the driver just has to jump aboard. When it gets to the end of its joint trip, it can separate again and go in two directions.
When I worked at EPA, we would have meetings with the truckers where they would try to convince us to advocate for allowing triples or higher gross vehicle weight, because that would save fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, we had no legal authority to do anything about it, except perhaps advocate it, but we didn't want to touch that issue with a 3.048 meter pole. First it's the states that have the final say on vehicle weight and combination trailers, and the states don't want to deal with heavier vehicles that degrade the roads and bridges faster, not do they want to deal with the voters, who are also mostly drivers of cars, who don't want to deal with having to drive around 3 or 4 trailer "road trains" (as the Aussies call them).

With PSR, I guess it would work better if they upgraded the infrastructure to work with the concept, like enlarging the sidings to fit these new longer trains. There's probably other infrastructure upgrades that need to be done, but I don't know enough about the issues to know what else to do. Perhaps the public policy tool should be some kind of "efficiency tax" or "resiliency tax" that would reduce or eliminate the financial incentives for overemphasizing efficiency at the expense of the resiliency of the system.
 
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Willbridge

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Freight trains aren't the only source of delays, We just got held up at the Indiana-Illinois state line because of an open drawbridge accommodating "precision scheduled barging." :) But we're on the move now.
My sympathies. In Portland, Oregon bridge lifts were restricted in peak hours -- EXCEPT for U.S. Government vessels and "...ships bound for the open sea." It sounds romantic until your train is held at Willbridge or North Portland or Vancouver or maybe more than one of those places.
 

PeeweeTM

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To add to the above: in the Netherlands, where we do railroad with a precise schedule, bridge openings on the passenger rail lines are scheduled, too.

All according to the widely known '6P theory of logistics': "Proper Planning Prevents *iss Poor Performance".
 

basketmaker

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This just illustrates that it is important to use actual statistics than personal anecdotes to come to conclusions.

That is not to say freight railroads are blameless. Their issues are constantly documented by Amtrak as part of the STB driven project now. It was documented by Amtrak and RPA for several years before that too.
ASMAD's (Amtrak's database) times don't always jive. Have seen #6 show departing Denver but then not move for 30 minutes to an hour later. They pass my home just about 22 minutes after departure if no enroute delays. BTW those have been much more frequent recently as they have been put into a siding usually for a long coal drag.
 
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