The Loadstar recently reported that forwarders in the US are demanding changes to the railway system as Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) has not been effective. Many forwarders are frustrated with the delays and unreliability of rail services, which have only gotten worse since the implementation of PSR. As a result, they are calling for railway companies to invest in infrastructure and resources to improve services and meet the needs of customers.


Precision railroading, also referred to as precision scheduled railroading (PSR), was introduced by E. Hunter Harrison in 1993 and has been embraced by nearly all major North American Class I railroads. This approach brought about a shift in focus away from traditional methods like unit trains, hub and spoke operations, and individual car switching at hump yards, and instead emphasized streamlined point-to-point movements of freight cars on simplified routing networks. Within the framework of PSR, freight trains adhered to fixed schedules, akin to passenger trains, rather than being dispatched whenever a sufficient number of loaded cars became available. Previously, intermodal trains and general merchandise trains operated independently, but PSR combined them as necessary, typically utilizing distributed power. This consolidation resulted in reduced inventories of freight cars and locomotives, and fewer workers were needed to handle given levels of traffic.


Rail services are crucial in the logistics industry as they play a critical role in moving goods and products across the country. It is therefore essential that they operate at a high level of performance to meet the needs of customers. Despite PSR’s intention to streamline operations and reduce costs, it has not led to improved services for customers. In fact, forwarders are saying it’s costing them and their clients profit and fulfillment of service goals.


PSR has faced significant challenges and criticisms, leading to its inability to achieve desired outcomes. One of the primary reasons why PSR didn’t work is the negative impact it had on service reliability. By prioritizing cost-cutting measures and operational efficiency, PSR often resulted in poorer service quality, increased delays, and reduced flexibility for shippers. This led to dissatisfaction among customers, especially smaller businesses and industries heavily reliant on rail transportation, who experienced disruptions and difficulties in meeting their supply chain demands.


Another critical factor contributing to the failure of PSR was the safety concerns it raised. With reduced staffing levels, there were heightened risks of accidents and derailments. The emphasis on longer trains, spanning up to three miles in some cases, introduced safety challenges beyond the capacity of the existing infrastructure and operating procedures. Crew members faced increased stress and fatigue while operating these lengthy trains, further compromising safety standards.


PSR’s short-term focus on financial gains often came at the expense of long-term capacity and network reliability. By eliminating services on low-traffic shipping lanes and consolidating intermodal terminals, PSR hindered the ability to adapt and respond to changing market demands. 


PSR also led to significant workforce reductions and layoffs within the railroad industry. While this may have achieved short-term cost savings, it resulted in a loss of experienced personnel and expertise. The reduced workforce posed challenges in maintaining necessary levels of service quality and safety, further exacerbating the issues associated with PSR implementation.


One solution to improve rail services is to invest in infrastructure and resources, such as upgrading tracks and equipment, increasing staffing levels, and implementing new technologies to improve efficiency and reduce delays. Improving communication and collaboration between rail companies and customers could also ensure that services are tailored to meet the specific needs of different industries and sectors.


The demands of forwarders for change in the US rail industry highlight the importance of reliable and efficient transportation services in the logistics industry. The current system’s inefficiencies, coupled with the implementation of PSR, have led to delays and unreliability. However, investing in infrastructure and resources and improving communication and collaboration between rail companies and customers can help to create a more sustainable and efficient transportation network for all.


With the challenges facing the US rail industry and the importance of reliable and efficient transportation services in the logistics industry, it is crucial to partner with a company that can provide the necessary solutions. RS Express is committed to providing top-notch logistics services to meet the unique needs of our customers. Whether you need rail or road transportation, our team is dedicated to ensuring your shipments arrive on time and in excellent condition. Contact us today to discuss how we can help you navigate the challenges of the transportation industry and optimize your supply chain.