Operating a short line or regional railroad has been aptly described as playing Mr. Spock's three tiered chess game. It’s all about thinking ahead, days ahead at times, with one goal in mind. Serving the customer in the most efficient and cost effective manner possible.

And it’s not all that difficult. Simple things such as making sure the locomotives are serviced consistently. Nothing can disrupt a well running operation then to have a locomotive run out of fuel because the shop folks were to busy to see that it was properly serviced. Cars are not delivered… connections are not made…. Car hire costs go up as does the overtime expense for the train crews. The customers business is interrupted causing their own problems with serving their customers and in many cases increasing their costs.

There are also things like making sure connections between trains are met. Whether it is receiving cars in interchange or one train passing off cars to another. There is no excuse for a train to leave without cars that are about to be delivered. Again, it’s all about having control of the operation and seeing the big picture. One example from my past experience was one train consistently left the yard a few minutes ahead of one that always had cars for that train… Setting the call time back from “we always go then” to an hour later resulting in those car not sitting in the yard 24 hours and got them to where they were going.

There are also the basics. Operating Rules compliance. From air tests to radio rules. The railroad must be run by the book. It’s not only the law of the land, it also is safe. If a train crew consistently disregards the radio rules… you can be sure they are also skirting others… the result may be as simple as a fine from the FRA or in the worst case some is killed or worse.

It really comes down to an attitude throughout all the departments. The locomotive folks don’t maintain locomotives, the train crews don’t run trains, the track maintenance people don’t repair track, etc. It’s everyone works together to serve the customer.

Without the customer there would be no need for locomotives, train crews or track.