Technical Reports

Optimizing Staffing Levels and Schedules for Railroad Dispatching Centers

  • 01
  • Sep
  • 2004
AUTHOR: Judith Gertler, David Nash*
KEYWORDS: railroad dispatcher, staffing level, schedule design, scheduling system
ABSTRACT: This report presents the results of a study to explore approaches to establishing staffing levels and schedules for railroad dispatchers. The work was conducted as follow-up to a prior study that found fatigue among dispatchers, particularly those who worked permanent night shifts. The present study had four objectives: 1) document current industry practices, 2) assess impact of current schedules on dispatcher fatigue, 3) develop methodology for establishing staffing levels, 4) develop alternative scheduling strategies. Through site visits to six dispatching operations, current industry approaches to dispatcher staffing and scheduling were documented. All six sites have three categories of jobs: regular, relief and extra board. Staffing levels are established through experience and management judgment. These methods compute an objective staffing level based on management criteria and historical data for “not at work days.” Staffing projections using the RFF assume that absences are equally likely to occur on any day of the week or season of the year so it is possible that there will be a limited number of days when overtime may be necessary. Current dispatcher schedules have a number of possible problems with regard to dispatcher fatigue and quality of work life. Alternative scheduling strategies that can relieve these are the following: A) Create a three crew self-relieving system, B) Allow fixed weekday shift for senior dispatchers and rotate days off for remaining positions, C) Assign relief dispatchers to a single shift and use extra board to cover unplanned vacancies on a single shift, D) Convert weekends to two 12-hr shifts. All of these options have the potential to reduce fatigue and ease the burden for schedulers who must fill last-minute vacancies.