Finally Henry asked, “What are we going to do about the trains we have parked in Wyoming and Appalachia? More specifically, I’ve engineers wanting to route back home, and we don’t have a bill of sale from a bona fide buyer to even give them a destination to head towards.”
Mr. Tomkins dryly remarked, “Well, they should have realized that working extra hard to diligently add to the oversupply problem would create additional problems for us all. The extra hauls that are showing up on my reports contributed to our oversupply problem. But, to your point, I’m in contact with all my domestic buyers and some new foreign ones to try and find a home for these extra loads of coal. I’ve got some new contacts in the Netherlands, but they are currently off-line, based on their time zone.
“I appreciate our engineers’ work ethic to bring in extra runs for us, but right now tell them to stop and breathe. All the extra runs they made have us buried in product that is consequently dropping daily in value.”
Henry did a double take and was unable to contain his astonishment. He exclaimed, “What are you talking about, Mr. Tomkins? They haven’t been doubling up on their runs. In fact, these engineers, to a man, are grousing about how little work they have had. I know all our engineers and their work ethic, but I am here to tell you they have not exceeded their standard quota runs based on our expected sale rate. What numbers are you looking at, because it sounds like the numbers you are looking at are wrong?”
Now irked that anyone would question his math or his precise calculations, Mr. Tomkins spun the display terminal around to show Henry the extra four runs of coal that were shown to have been made in the last six weeks, two extra by each of the currently stranded engineers.
Mr. Tomkins calmly offered, “See there? These engineers have been exceeding our contract commitments since late last year. Frankly, all it has done is drive down the price for our product on the open market. I’m sure you feel justified to demand we do something for them, but bluntly stated, we are in this pickle because of them.”
Henry stared incredulously at the loads being delivered at the stated rate shown on the display. Henry had an incredible memory for details and statistics. Once seen they were always available for recall. He was one of those people who could accurately quote, off the cuff, sports statistics for the last twenty years or more, populations of cities they hauled in and other trivia statistics. Though not a mathematics wiz like Mr. Tomkins, his recall was almost never questioned.
After the information sank in, Henry looked up from the screen to Mr. Tomkins’ face and slowly said, “These numbers can’t be right.
“In 2013, Powder River Basin pumped out 407,566,885 short tons of coal, which was down from the peak of 462,600,212 in 2011, or a drop of 12% in three years. If the demand for coals continues to fall as we were seeing at that time, we expected to see about 359,080,608 short tons of output. Your numbers are going in the opposite direction.
“I don’t remember the Appalachia output figures like Powder River Basin, but what you are showing in this spreadsheet are almost what the entire U.S. market shipped in 2013, which was 641,190,957 short tons of coal. Where are you getting your numbers from?”
Henry typed in the website without a pause. The numbers came up.
Now somewhat alarmed, Mr. Tomkins pointedly asked, “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by your memory of coal output in this country, you and that recall of yours. But what you seem to be saying is that our train engineers are not making multiple runs to our suppliers. If that is the case, then my numbers have been polluted somehow.”
Henry then added, “It is 1,222 miles one way from Powder River Basin Wyoming to Austin, Texas. The maximum train speed allowed is 60 mph on a class 4 railway line. However, we classified them as only class 3 which means max is 40 mph. You know, our average speed due to city traffic, curves, and grades is only about 25 mph. If you do that math,” he emphasized, “then it’s about 50 hours one way.
“Further, the trains would have to be loaded and unloaded multiple times at each end. That can take up to three days. The best you could hope for is for a train to load in two days, travel without incident for 2.5 days and unload in another 2 days for a total one way pickup and delivery of 6.5 days or one full week. Add on the return run of another 2.5 days and that has a full cycle of 9 days for a coal train.
“Those are the simple physics of rail transport with no delays, which never happens. For your spreadsheet to be right, we would have to be turning trains around in 5 days which means we would have to shave almost 40% of the transport time off.”
Mr. Tomkins silently ground his teeth at having been pinned by his subordinate on mathematical computations, which he felt were beyond Henry’s ranking in the company.
After the two men stared at each other, Mr. Tomkins questioned, “Weren’t you let go yesterday? Why bring this issue to upper management after you have been laid off?”
Henry boldly stated, “That’s the difference between you and me. I care about other human beings that I have worked with for so long. They become part of my extended family, and when they need my help, well, that’s what I do.
“Back to my original question, what are we going to do about my two engineers who are stranded?”
Mr. Tomkins uncharacteristically smirked and then allowed, “Please issue instructions to bring both of them back with our trains of coal. I don’t have a buyer for them yet, but it is reasonable for the coal to sit in Texas, devaluing, as easily as it would in their current locations.”
Henry almost smiled at having gotten Mr. Tomkins to allow the trains to roll home. But before he could go call his two engineers, Mr. Tomkins stated, “Oh, and please shred the layoff notice that was issued to you. It occurs to me that we need more level-headed thinkers around here like yourself. Don’t worry, you can continue to tell people that I’m an alien here on my adopted planet. It will help to maintain my mystique.”
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