Railroad Operations

Ultimate Guide to Rail Shipment Management: Part 2 – Trip Plan Compliance

Rail Shipment
Read Part One Here

Still not checked out Part One? Click on our link to hear how the operating performance of railroads, trip plan compliance, and rail shipment ETAs are calculated and how rail shippers can use these metrics to improve their networks 

What is a Railroad Trip Plan?

Trip Plan Compliance is a new metric now reported by the Class 1 Railroads and is related to Precision Scheduled Railroading. After implementing operating improvements (train speed, yard dwell, car velocity), railroads can measure the impact through the performance of shipments to specific ETAs:

  • Each railroad determines the specific details and rules of their calculations, but the general structure is consistent across railroads with the following two: 
  • Trip Plan Compliance measures the availability of the railcar at its destination compared to the ETA created when the shipment is first picked up by the railroad. 

For interline movements, where more than one railroad is involved, the Trip Plan is measured to the end event for each railway – for example, from pick up at origin to availability to the next railroad at an interchange.

    Current Railroad Performance to Trip Plan

    Not all railways publish Trip Plan Compliance metrics, here are some examples below of companies who have used other metrics or don't report TPC. 

    • CSX was the first to publish a carload metric, which has improved since their PSR implementation. 
    • UP is also publishing both carload and intermodal metrics publicly. 
    • CN and CP do not publish their metrics to the public, but the CEOs of each Canadian railway have disclosed their Q2 performance to the STB and in media interviews. 

    Q2 2021 Trip Plan Compliance by Railroad and Traffic Type

    Railroad Operations

    Trip Plan Compliance ≠ Rail Shipment Performance

    So how does Trip Plan Compliance help rail shippers get to reach their markets on time? The answer is: it’s complicated. 

    There are some positive aspects – railroads are adept at managing metrics, and even measuring and reporting trip plan compliance is good news for shippers. But there are complexities in the rail network that no single railroad can solve. 

    • Most rail shipments involve multiple class 1 railroads to move from origin to destination. So, a single railroad’s trip plan metric doesn’t tell the whole picture for the shipment.
    • There are 630 short-line railroads in North America involved in moving freight at origin, destination, or junction between class 1 carriers. These transit times are not considered in railroad trip plans. 
    • Even in single line-haul moves, where only one railroad is involved in the route, the first mile / last mile, where delays often occur, are not included in the railroad trip plan calculation

    Railroads should be applauded for trying toward more consistent, predictable service. But it doesn’t help answer their customer’s questions about when rail shipments will arrive. An end-to-end ETA, calculated when the bill of lading is created, and recalculated while the railcar is moving toward a destination, is critical for rail shippers to provide that Amazon-like experience to their customers. 

    Check out Part Three of our series here

    Read the last article in our series to learn how rail ETAs are calculated, what factors need to be considered to predict an accurate ETA, and how rail shippers can provide quality ETA information to their end customers. 

    One approach shippers are taking to manage their shipments in this new era of railroading is implementing supply chain visibility and management software. ICL offers software and 3PL services to help shippers reduce the cost and complexity of shipping by rail and learn more.