Optimized rail crew planning on the fly: Myth or reality?

Casey starts her shift at 5:00am and the day’s already looking like it’s going to be a disaster.

Optimized rail crew planning on the fly: Myth or reality?

The weather forecast indicates a heavy downpour. As a conductor on the 10:30am train from Rockville to Upton, Casey expects to be working late today – this older line has many turns that require careful driving, and passengers would be slower when boarding and getting off the train.

To top it all off, today is the first day that Casey’s company is going live with a new real-time planning and optimization system.

“Let’s see how good this new system is,” Casey thinks with a wry smile.

Checking her smartphone, Casey’s schedule appears to be normal with everything running on time. She moves through her pre-boarding routine, and the train gets underway to its first stop in Rockville. Casey checks off her progress in the app on her smartphone and prepares herself to take the tickets and assist passengers for their ride to Upton.

So far, the trip is actually running on-time. But upon arriving in Middlebury station, the weather starts to eat into the 10:30am train’s carefully planned schedule. The rain thunders on, and passengers are slow getting on and off as they pause to open umbrellas, zip up jackets, and battle the strong winds.

As a result, the train’s engineer informs the passengers that they’d have to take the next stretch very slowly, that there will be a delay of 20 minutes.

“Great, there goes my break this afternoon,” Casey mumbles to herself.

Meanwhile, back at planning headquarters, Sarah is springing into action.

Reviewing her KPI dashboard, Sarah immediately spots that Casey will have conflicts in her schedule, unless Sarah can do something proactive to resolve them.

Using their new planning and optimization system, Sarah knows this will be easy. Spotting Casey’s issue on her graphical Gantt chart for crew planning, Sarah clicks on the highlighted conflict and asks the new system for a proposed solution.

The system returns with four possibilities, with the top-ranked choice listed first. Sarah agrees that the top-ranked choice is the best, since it only requires one other employee to swap trains with Casey in order to resolve the conflicts. Sarah confirms her selection and her KPI are back in the green. Brilliant!

Casey’s mobile buzzes with a new push notification. She swipes and sees that upon arrival in Upton, she will now work as the conductor on the northeast branch one-way, before taking a ride on a different route back to her home in Rockville.

“Wow, that was fast!” she says, huge smile on her face. And as if on cue, the 10:30am train moves forward in the rain, with Casey cheerfully taking tickets for the rest of the day. She will be well-rested for tomorrow’s schedule, ready to serve customers and handle any changes that come her way with confidence.

Does this story sound like fact or fiction? How well does your crew planning and optimization system adapt to disruptions and communicate with personnel out in the field? Tell me in your comment below.

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Pete Nelson

About Pete Nelson

Pete has helped clients in the last 20 years implement planning and scheduling systems to improve their business processes. As a Solutions Architect for Quintiq, Pete helps clients focus on areas of resource planning where improvements will be most effective, and clarifies the steps necessary to achieve great results. Pete strives to be a thought leader in resolving difficult planning puzzles.