Thursday, July 30, 2009

Fixin' What Ain't Broke

When I was a young and enthusiastic first-time manager, one of my employees was an older gentleman originally from the Southern part of the US. After I described a complex new procedure we were going to put in place, he left the room muttering under his breath, "Fixin' what ain't broke …". As it turned out, he was absolutely right – the "old" way worked fine and my shiny new idea added nothing but complexity.

I often think of this when I read about people suggesting complex changes to the 4-cycle car-card-and-waybill (CC&WB) system. As regular readers of this blog and my articles in the Operation SIG's Dispatcher's Office (July 2007) know, I'm a big fan of the tried and true CC&WB. They are self-correcting, easy to get started and maintain, and they are used on so many layouts that most visiting operators know how to use them.

And yet, folks feel compelled to add more and more complications: three (or even four!) car card boxes for each industry, extra tags for cars that are still being loaded or unloaded, extra tags for cars that are off-spot, convoluted routing detail, etc., etc. Hey, if this seems like fun, knock yourself out! But the basic destination-based information on each cycle of the waybill can actually provide all of the car-routing sophistication needed with just one box per industry and reasonably complete information on the train instructions.

Not to say that there aren't some simple tweaks to the traditional system that can add interest. Bad Order, Icing, and Clean Out tags, for example, are simple to add but can enhance operating realism. And we should always be open to new ideas that provide a benefit in terms of easing reset overhead or improving the operator experience.

I find that many of the CC&WB permutations are suggested on Internet forums by theorists. They've rarely operated with CC&WB and have certainly never set up a session using the system, but they've got a lot of ideas for radical changes that are "needed". Maybe so. But "fixin' what ain't broke" might not be necessary when the basic system works so well.