CPR streamlined scheduling garners top tech award

by Canadian Shipper

Canadian Pacific Railway’s approach to cutting the Gordian Knot of railroad scheduling has won the 2003 Franz Edelman Award for Achievement in Operations Research and the Management Sciences.

The award, recognized as the "Tech World Series" and sought after by operations researchers and planners around the world, is presented by the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences.

The railroad won for "Perfecting the Scheduled Railroad: Model-Driven Operating Plan Development" by Phil Ireland, Rod Case, and John Fallis of Canadian Pacific Railway, and Carl Van Dyke, Jason Kuehn, and Marc Meketon of MultiModal Applied Systems, Inc.

UPS Air Group won second place. The other finalists were Bank Hapoalim, Hewlett-Packard, Menlo Worldwide Forwarding, and Texas Children’s Hospital.

North American freight railroads rely heavily on "tonnage-based dispatching," in which trains are only run when enough traffic has accumulated. Although this approach attempts to minimize the total number of trains needed by maximizing their size, in practice it disrupts the efficient utilization of crews, locomotives, and equipment. It also yields inconsistent transit times, making delivery service less reliable at a time when shippers need better service to compete in their own markets.

Canadian Pacific Railway turned to the concept of operating every aspect of the railway on a fixed schedule. The change in railway operating philosophy and practice has reduced Canadian Pacific Railway’s cost base by more than $285 million (Cdn.$500 million), has made service more reliable and has increased profitability.

Working with MultiModal Applied Systems, the railway developed an operating plan that was tightly matched to traffic patterns. This included optimizing the routing and classification plan for each railcar movement and determining which trains to run. They tailored the plan for recurring daily fluctuations in car volumes and developed contingency plans for high- and low-volume days. Shortest path-based algorithms within MultiModal’s MultiRail application identified opportunities to reduce equipment miles, train-miles and train-hours, thereby reducing operating cost and transit time and improving service reliability for shippers.

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