Darell cites the importance of including your rail, truck and/or barge partners. I would add that it is also important to include — and get participation and buy-in from — the appropriate teams inside your company. Probably most important is the sales forecast — what destinations and customers does the commercial group intend to target, and the projected volumes to each? If there are base and stretch targets: what are those and what is the risk of not achieving them? If you supply your own railcars, the sales forecast, along with good cycle time data, will drive how many cars you will need. It will also inform the discussions with your carriers on the capacity you will require on each route. You can then discuss issues the carriers may have and assess the risk of them performing. The analysis of risk will help you develop Plan B and understand how much you can justify paying for the alternatives.
If you ship by rail, RailState can provide you with the data to help assess the risk of performance of your carriers and the risk to your shipping and production plan. RailState provides you with a complete view of the rail network, so when you meet with your carriers to discuss your plan, you will already know the number, type and priority of trains, along with the available capacity on the routes you use. You will know the size and make-up of the trains on which your cars move. Armed with this data, you can have a much more informed discussion with your rail carriers to create a shipping plan that meets your needs and one on which the railroads can succeed.