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Trip Planning

Do what you say you'll do.
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In a short period of time, trip planning has gone from concept to driving top-quartile on-time performance, and has become the new gold standard at CP. Trip planning is the way we do business, how we run operations and how we keep commitments to our customers.

“Trip planning is a by-the-hour measure of the car, from the time a customer releases it, to the time it gets to destination,” said Keith Creel, President and Chief Operating Officer. “It’s a commitment we make to the customer and when we measure our success, the expectation is 90 percent or better on a daily basis for on-time performance.”

Day 1


It’s 05:30 a.m. The waybill for car number TTGX 982978 is released before the cut-off time at the Toyota plant in Woodstock, Ontario, setting in motion its trip plan and starting the clock for CP’s standard of service.

TTGX 982978 and every other car that is way-billed on CP’s network has a trip plan designed to get each car to its destination in record-setting, industry-leading time. Ray Elphick, General Manager, Service Design and his team have worked hard to develop plans that ensure cars get through our network as efficiently and effectively as possible.

“When you’re building a trip plan everything goes into the blender,” said Elphick. “Customers’ needs and wants, our service capability and capacity. It’s not just a system to help us deliver a consistent service—it’s one that allows us to optimize our assets and resources, and run an efficient network.”

An illustration of a blender.
“When you’re building a trip plan everything goes into the blender, customers’ needs and wants, our service capability and capacity.”

CP is an operations company and velocity and asset cycle are the core drivers. Trip planning is an extension of these core drivers, tightening up operations and allowing us to make more trips with fewer cars. In turn, we can keep customer fleets better balanced, deliver cars on time and use trip planning as a measurement tool to gauge how successful we are at doing what we said we would do.

Pulled from patron siding

Meeting our commitments requires leadership from people on the ground, such as our superintendents and trainmasters. It’s not just about operating trains on time, they have to get the shipments out on the trains they are supposed to be on, they have to know customers and work with them on service days, local train timing, billing and releasing cars, and they have to really tune up their local operating plans. “Timing is everything for them,” said Elphick. “It’s a higher level of accountability with a deeper level of information.”

For TTGX 982978, the commitment requires local assignment, Train 78 serving the Toyota plant daily and pulling cars that have made cut-off to Wolverton, Ontario. Here, Trainmaster Kevin Edwards is responsible for its connection with Train 242 to Toronto Yard.

Edwards relies on the tools available, such as Railway Performance Monitoring and the Trainmaster Toolbox to ensure cars make their designed connections.

“I’m looking as far out as I can in terms of what’s coming at me, so I can ensure I’m getting traffic where it needs to be to make its next connection,” said Edwards. “At its core, trip planning is a fairly simple idea: ‘right car, right train’, and success comes from being prepared and knowing your territory.”

Managers on the frontlines understand that trip planning is how CP does business and they ultimately own its success. They are out in the field, ensuring we are performing at 90 or better. For Edwards, the heightened level of accountability is not new and trip planning feels like the natural evolution of CP’s operations.

“If we’re missing connections we definitely have some explaining to do, but we have always had to be accountable in terms of terminal dwell and train departures,” said Edwards. “If you follow the trip plan, yards stay clean and customers get their shipments on time, and that’s what we’re in business for. To me, it just makes sense that we have progressed this way.”

Historically, CP’s focus was on terminal dwell: which cars are over their processing time? Trip planning adds another level of focus: are these cars on time?

Daily reviews ensure we are meeting targets and performing as expected. Every service exception is scrutinized to verify the root cause of issues and learning opportunities are discussed. Nothing is missed. Everything from the mechanical history of locomotives, railcars and crossings to local assignment timetables are reviewed to break down any failure that has occurred.

With every car being switched, Train and Engine personnel are also aware of the importance of trip planning.

Day 2

Departure from location

An illustration of a pair of glasses.

Once TTGX 982978 has departed Wolverton, it makes connections en route to its final destination. Having visibility to those connections is vital to tracking performance and measuring success. This is where our Information Services (IS) team steps in, creating the tools to help support trip planning service.

“IS has worked hard to enhance the tools Operations uses and has introduced new tools so that they have what they need to set themselves and their teams up for success,” said Elphick. “We’ve improved tremendously in terms of the level of visibility we have for our service and we can make better business decisions because of it.”

IS developed a trip plan console for our operations dashboard to make it easier to drill down to the root cause of failures, arming our Operations team with the facts to make informed decisions.

“Every car has a destiny and the console allows us to measure how we are performing to fulfill that destiny,” said Lucky Strauss, Manager, Organizational Change Projects. “We now have visibility to ensure that what has been mapped out by Service Design is actually implemented on the ground.”

IS works closely with Service Design, Operations, Marketing and Sales to ensure the tools are intuitive and have the correct data in real time.

“We’ve improved tremendously in terms of the level of visibility we have for our service and we can make better business decisions because of it.”

“Accessing information through cellphones is really important for trainmasters and superintendents because they are constantly out on the property. We’ve increased mobile functionality to support that,” said Strauss.

Day 3

Placed at customers’ facility

Getting TTGX 982978 to its designed connection with the 242 to Toronto Yard, the 118 to St. Luc Yard and ultimately spotted by the F43 local assignment takes the effort and dedication of many. The focus, through leadership, is driving this change in culture, where everyone is accountable, right down to the handling of an individual car.

As an organization, we can view trip planning as an evolution in providing service. We’ve taken our improved operating model, which is based on precision railroading, and applied it to a next-level service offering.

For Todd Workman, Director, Operations Planning and Analysis, trip planning is an all-encompassing change from how we manage the company operationally. It integrates everything—cars, trains, customers—to create success.

“Our Operations team is thinking differently about how they are moving traffic,” said Workman. “Customer service undoubtedly drives this initiative, because consistent service is what creates competitive advantage in our industry and contrary to conventional railroading wisdom, delivering high-quality service is actually the lowest cost operating model. Through trip planning, CP is setting new standards and living up to customer expectations. We’ve made attempts at this before and it never quite came to fruition, but now we have strong leadership and a firm commitment to action.”

CP has undergone a tremendous transformation in the last four years, taking us from an industry laggard to an industry leader. The status quo was challenged and every department looked internally to see if what had always been done could be done better. This challenge resulted in streamlined operations, infrastructure and Information Services improvements, and put the right leaders in the right roles, all while following each of our five Foundations.

“We have the right people in place and the appropriate technology to follow through, execute the plan and measure success,” said Workman. “We couldn’t have done this 10 years ago.”

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