Preparing for the Rail Recovery with Simulation Training

The pandemic created an unprecedented and lasting shift in the global supply chain. After an initial dip, demand for intermodal transport is set to increase – rapidly. With Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) in play for a few years now, running lean leaves little room for error as railroads gear up to meet this demand. And this is where simulation training creates efficiencies that reduces errors and enhance safety, as train lengths are set to increase.

Railroads have always played a vital role in the U.S. economy and their ability to quickly adapt to support the nations’ recovery is more important than ever. The PSR railroad revolution was already underway prior to the pandemic being seen as a global event. Railroads had changed their operating strategy, with PSR in full swing when traffic volumes in 2020 showed a steep decline due to COVID-19.

Railroads’ 2020 Decline
According to The Association of American Railroads (AAR), when comparing 2020 to 2019 numbers, we see the year-over year change in annual carloadings decrease by 7.2%.

The last half of 2020 saw rail traffic increase in its least profitable commodity (Intermodal) increase of 10.7%. This segment shows where rails will grow in 2021 and beyond %. And although that’s still a significant loss, numbers are trending in the right direction, as plans to adjust to a new normal begin to take shape on the horizon:

Data Source – Union Pacific 2020

As states and commerce slowly reopen, industry is taking tentative steps toward recovery as well, and U.S. Class I railroads are moving in tandem with this demand. The expected upswing is apparently significant, as the FRA and STB issued a rare joint letter warning railroads to get ready for the rebound.

Railroads have responded, “assuring the two agencies that they are prepared for an upsurge in traffic.” Plans are underway to accommodate these unprecedented reopening challenges. Railroads plan to leverage existing resources to support the demand by bringing equipment out of storage and increasing train sizes. This will mean workforce will need to be more flexible and be Qualified/Certified on different roles. An example is QMIs (Qualified Mechanical Inspectors) for inspection of locomotives and cars –  1 Employee for 2 Inspections.

The new brake laws may also need less people, and railroads can take that capacity and move it to locomotives – and so on. Railroad leaders will want to pause and understand this shift to a multi-skilled employee workforce.

Meeting Demand While Controlling Costs with Simulation Training
As the economy recovers, leveraging existing resources efficiently will be critical as the railroads meet the expectations of customers and shareholders. Simulation training offers scalable solutions that will make training through the recovery efficient and safe, while reducing operating ratios.

With little room for mistakes, particularly on longer trains, railroads want to ensure a safe and expedient return to service. Refresher classes to support any craft can take up anywhere from eight hours to five days, depending on the regulatory requirements they have to follow. That’s the in-person timeline though. With simulation training, one day of training can be covered with one hour on a simulation. And it’s not only faster, but the learner retention is superior as well.

Learning by doing creates optimal results, because students are shown what to do and then do it themselves. The practice on real-time visualizations that are tailored to wherever they are and that guide them through to mastery. The ability to practice anytime, anywhere from a laptop or tablet combined with repeated, targeted practice that is easy to monitor and evaluate for progress, makes simulations ideal. There’s no need to miss work, no disruption to tight timelines. And the associated muscle memory significantly enhances retention.

Not to mention, workers can train in emergency scenarios using simulations as well – and there are many associated long-term cost savings.

Having worked with BNSF, Union Pacific, CSX, Amtrak, Norfolk Southern and KCS to design a number of rail simulations and guides, we understand what railroads need to get their Mechanical, Transportation, Engineering, Safety and C&S workers up to speed. We have existing trainings supporting – Air Brake Test (CFR 232, 238), Pre-departure Inspection (CFR 215, 238), Locomotive Daily Inspection (CFR 229), Air Flow Simulation (CFR 232, 238) – and many more in development.

We’d love to take you for a tour of our simulations and help you enhance operational efficiencies in 2021 with a solid, safety-enhancing training plan in place. Reach out to schedule a demo or ask any questions.