As freight rail traffic continues its historic decline in volume ( a 25% drop, year-on-year, during one recent week in the US), we believe that freight railroads must deploy new tools for updating their operating plans. With such a dramatic, and possibly sustained, drop in freight volume railroads need the tools and flexibility to build new operating plans that reflect these trends. In addition to the reduced traffic volume, the mix of the traffic is shifting, which could cause mis-allocation of assets such as locos, cars, crews and yards.

Tom Forbes, Vice President for Navis Rail, wrote recently in Railways Africa that the only way for freight railroads to quickly create and execute new operating plans is to deploy automated service design and planning tools for developing service plans. Operating plans can be rapidly developed using tools such as Navis Rail, powered by Biarri Rail, to improve all aspects of traffic management, train schedules and routing. Railroads can also simultaneously optimize network, locomotives, wagons and crews to lower capital and operating costs.

The Navis Rail planning system is based on the concept that quantitative analysis is the key to planning a railway. Quantitative techniques allow rail planners to develop and test multiple options in a reasonable amount of time; quantitatively measures the outcomes by costing various scenarios to understand trade-offs; and have the flexibility to quickly test the plan when an input is changed – such as traffic volume or asset availability. This can only be accomplished with automated planning tools.

In the Railways Africa article, Tom Forbes cites the work that Navis Rail has done with Kansas City Southern (KCS) to deploy new technology that allowed KCS to build asset allocation plans. They were able to use a “bottom up” approach to perform scenario analysis, such as locomotive procurement plans, and minimize the ongoing locomotive requirements for a train schedule. 

Even though traffic volumes may be depressed in the short term, all freight railroads need readily available tools to respond to rapidly changing conditions. And as a more normalized operating environment evolves, railways need to continuously improve plans and execution. This calls for a specialized set of automated planning and optimization tools, such as Navis Rail, powered by Biarri Rail.

For more information on Navis Rail, please contact Tom Forbes at

Photo by Gerardo Martin Fernandez Vallejo