Former event planner turned railroader helps NS manage the complexities of positive train control
A Mechanical Department employee who works in Atlanta has won the 2015 Chairman’s SPIRIT Award for his contributions managing positive train control – one of Norfolk Southern’s most complex and challenging technology and communications and signals projects.
Getting into the NS SPIRIT
Norfolk Southern’s SPIRIT Award program recognizes employees for exceptional accomplishments that advance the company’s business goals and exemplify NS’ core values of safety, performance, integrity, respect, innovation, and teamwork. The Chairman’s Award recognizes the most outstanding achievement among the year’s SPIRIT winners as determined by the CEO.
David Norwood, program manager advanced train control, earned the honor for helping to create a customized database dubbed PosiTraC, a one-stop source for all things PTC. The digital system enables NS to easily and accurately track the status of PTC deployment across more than 8,000 route miles at thousands of wayside locations. In addition to its usefulness as a project management tool, PosiTraC has provided a reliable way for NS to update federal agencies on the company’s progress in meeting deployment deadlines under the congressionally mandated program.
CEO Jim Squires recognized Norwood and his achievements at a June luncheon at NS’ McKinnon Building headquarters in Norfolk. Squires selected Norwood from more than 200 employees who earned SPIRIT Awards in 2015.
“David’s innovation and teamwork reflect Norfolk Southern’s SPIRIT values,” Squires said. “PTC is a huge undertaking for us, and it takes a team to deliver this very complex program. David’s leadership and determination ensured that the data involved in installing PTC would be brought together into a user-friendly tool. He’s made a terrific contribution to one of our largest projects.”
An extensive undertaking
Tracking PTC deployment posed daunting challenges. About 10 layers of work are involved in installing PTC infrastructure at each of more than 3,000 wayside locations, including design work, ordering materials, and installing various types of equipment. Before PosiTraC, NS used spreadsheets to track the work, a process that was clunky, often included outdated information, and offered little to no visibility across NS work groups as to the status of each location's completeness.
“When we started, we didn’t have a method to track this level of complexity because this volume of work had never been done before,” said Tom Schnautz, assistant vice president mechanical, who oversees the advanced train control group. “David was instrumental in helping create a tool that gives us the kind of visibility we needed. I can pull up PosiTraC and say, ‘Give me a status of every location,’ and it will tell me how many sites are at each stage of progress.”
PosiTraC is used primarily by NS communications and signals and ATC teams. It provides the ability to capture information from PTC working groups involved in design activities, lab validation of wayside locations, engineering construction activities on the signaling system, the installation of PTC radios and wayside equipment, and tower construction. The ATC regulatory compliance group uses PosiTraC to quickly collect and analyze data that otherwise could take weeks to obtain from internal sources.
Norwood’s supervisor, Lisa Wilson, manager ATC regulatory compliance and training, nominated him for a SPIRIT Award.
“David’s leadership, interpersonal style, and commitment to the project’s success have been the secret sauce to get a team of more than 20 PTC employees, plus Karyn Thomas, manager engineering systems, to create such a valuable tool for NS,” Wilson said. “What makes David’s contribution special is the effort he has expended in making sure PosiTraC is easy to use, is accurate, and is enhanced as new uses for data are realized. He has enhanced PosiTraC reporting to provide timeline views and to conduct gap analyses with the press of a report button to see where resources need to be aimed.”
Norwood, who has slept, eaten, and lived PTC for more than five years, said he was “really shocked” to learn he had won the Chairman’s Award.
“A lot of work went into this over the past five years, and as PTC grows, there’s always something new,” he said. “Getting this award is acknowledgment that you’ve done the right thing and continued to push the limits. Obviously, that feels great.”
Event planner turned railroader
Norwood, who holds a master’s degree in project management, ran a special events company in Atlanta before joining NS in 2007 as a clerk in central yard operations, now known as operations service and support. He became interested in the railroad after an NS employee attending an event Norwood organized commented on how nicely run it was and asked if he had ever considered working at NS.
“I researched openings at NS and saw the CYO position,” Norwood said. “I thought the customer service skills I had learned while dealing with a wide variety of special events clients would transfer well toward the CYO requirements, so I applied.”
Early on, Norwood distinguished himself by volunteering on special CYO projects, including efforts to resolve customer service issues. He also took on leadership positions, serving as chairman of the board of trustees for the union representing CYO employees.
Since moving into his nonagreement position with the ATC group in 2011, Norwood said he has applied his project management skills to railroad issues. Currently, he’s working to complete his Six Sigma green belt and black belt training, and he is working on a Six Sigma project to enhance LEADER train-handling technology.
“Coming on to NS, I had no railroad experience, but I knew projects,” Norwood said. “Budget, scope, timeline, mitigating risks, whether it’s PTC or an event for a corporate client, these are the same questions you need to answer.”
About Positive Train Control
In 2008, Congress mandated that large U.S. railroads install Positive Train Control on mainline tracks that are used by regularly scheduled passenger trains or that move poisonous-inhalation-hazardous materials for freight customers. NS is equipping more than 8,000 route miles of its approximately 19,500-mile system with PTC technologies. PTC is designed to automatically stop a train before certain accidents caused by human error could occur, including train-to-train collisions; derailments caused by excessive speed; and train movements through a track switch left in the wrong position.
NS is working with other railroads to create a seamless, interoperable PTC system, a tremendous undertaking that includes development of technologies that did not exist when Congress issued the unfunded mandate.