Locomotive Operating Plan Optimization

BNSF Railway

Overview

Railroad blocking is an important part of operating plan design. After licensing our railroad blocking optimizer, BNSF Railway, the second-largest freight railroad in North America, used it to incrementally optimize its blocking plan periodically, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in annual savings.

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Business Problem

A railroad’s operating plan consists of railroad blocking and train scheduling. The blocking plan specifies how railcars are routed over a train network between a specific origin-destination pair of locations. Creating a blocking plan for a railroad is a very large-scale optimization problem, since it needs to determine the optimal routing of hundreds of thousands of origin-destination pairs of shipments. As shipment volumes on a railroad network change or their movement patterns change, the blocking plan needs to be reoptimized. BNSF Railway, the second-largest freight railroad in North America, licensed our blocking optimizer and integrated it with its main planning platform so it could maintain the optimality of its blocking plans.

Our Approach

Through several years of research and development, we developed an algorithm to solve the railroad blocking problem and completed a pilot project for BNSF Railway. Our pilot project demonstrated that our blocking optimizer could generate implementable blocking plans, and we showed the potential benefits of plans generated by the optimizer compared to the plans in use at BNSF.

At BNSF’s request, we added several modifications to the optimizer to incorporate new functionalities and enhanced existing capabilities to better model the client’s unique business practices. We helped prepare the data for the blocking optimizer, created a data bridge and integrated our solution with BNSF’s production systems.

Key Benefits

  1. Since its deployment, the blocking optimizer has helped save tens of millions of dollars annually in operating expenses.
  2. It has reduced the time to create, evaluate and implement design changes from weeks to days, using fewer service design personnel.
  3. BNSF also uses the blocking optimizer for special studies, such as upgrading or downgrading a yard or adding a new yard.

Results

Optym’s blocking optimizer is now an integral component of BNSF’s service design suite, and BNSF frequently uses it to identify opportunities for improvement. As a result, BNSF regards this project as a highly successful optimization project.