Using Simulation to Make Hump Yard Capital Expense Decisions

The Belt Railway of Chicago

15%

Improvement in railway yard dwell​

Overview

Belt Railway of Chicago’s (BRC) Clearing Yard is among the largest hump yards in United States. BRC spends millions of dollars annually in projects aimed to increase capacity, reduce cost or improve efficiency. We developed a hump yard simulation system for BRC to use when making these decisions.

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Business Problem

BRC’s Clearing Yard near Chicago is among the largest yards in the United States and processes approximately 3,000 cars daily.  BRC spends millions of dollars annually for capital expenditure decisions to reduce costs, increase capacity and improve efficiency. The company had previously made these decisions using experience and intuition, but decided to use science to supplement these business insights. BRC hired Optym to build a hump yard simulation system so it could evaluate and investigate its capital investment and operational decisions before implementation.

Our Approach

We first visited the yard several times to gather business requirements and understand yard operations and processes. We documented its operations and how decisions were taken in the yard in the form of flow charts. This resulted in a detailed design of the system that modeled the yard’s operations end-to-end – how cars are transported from inbound trains to outbound trains. We then developed a discrete-event simulation engine to turn this design into software and packaged this engine into a web-based system. This decision support system allowed the user to modify the yard layout, train plan, resource availability and cost parameters. As a result, we created a product known as YardSYM®. We validated the system by visual inspecting train animation in the yard. Next, we compared key performance indicators (KPIs) in the simulation system with those in the real world to ensure they closely matched. Once we validated our new platform, we deployed YardSYM® to perform a variety of what-if studies related to capacity expansion, capital investment and operational improvement decisions.

Key Benefits

  1. YardSYM’s® enabled Belt Railway of Chicago to make informed major capital expense decisions.
  2. Thanks to YardSYM’s® animation of train operations in the yard, yard managers were able to identify the causes for yard congestion and to determine their solutions.
  3. To reduce the time between two consecutive train arrivals, YardSYM® suggested that a pair of receiving tracks should be extended up to the hump. This would improve the yard dwell by as much as 15 percent, if the yard’s volume were to increase by 10 percent or more.

Results

By using YardSYM®, we recommended that BRC change manual switches to power switches and add several class tracks to increase throughput and improve service. YardSYM® helped identify the ideal configuration of tracks connecting the class yard to the departure yard, which had been the capacity bottleneck for the yard. With YardSYM®, we evaluated how effectively the new layout in the receiving and departure yards would be used once the new mainline tracks were laid out through the yard.