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Stock prices started rising at CSX when there was but a whisper of Hunter Harrison, former CEO of Canadian Pacific, moving to its helm.  This septuagenarian, now CEO at CSX, matters to shareholders because he improves operating ratios in an industry that has legitimate excuses.  Building a train takes time as productivity is limited by track space, inertia and locomotive availability; running trains efficiently on congested rail has its limits and safety is paramount but slows work down because “it’s hard to stop a train”.

I don’t have an opinion yet on Mr. Harrison’s long term impact, but he’ll start with some proven moves, coined as ‘Precision Railroading’:

  • Boundaryless metrics- train productivity based on the speed and accuracy of individual cars from pickup to destination instead of the scorecards at each terminal
  • Optimized run times – customers are incentivised to partner with their transporter to reduce cost by running during non-peak hours, avoiding congestion
  • Addressing the rulebooks – some “belt and suspenders” safety rules edited to keep employees both safe and productive

These changes have been repeated successfully by Harrison and the concepts are easy to find in the public domain.  So, why wouldn’t every transportation organization take a serious look at adopting some or all of these efficiency techniques?  It’s too late for some of the previous CSX leadership team, but we can all learn from them. At least once a year, consider the following for the organization:  

Who’s the “Hunter Harrison” in your industry… what best practices are you going to emulate… what’s needed to deploy quickly… what could your “Hunter” do next to disrupt the status quo?

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