The Chicago Terminal is the busiest and most complex rail terminal in North America. About one-third of all freight rail traffic in the U.S. goes through Chicago. Each day more than 37,500 railcars are processed there and nearly 1,300 trains go through the terminal.
Now imagine trying to develop a multi-layered, digital map of the entire terminal, which is composed of a network of rail carriers that traverse over each others' lines but that operate separately.
One of Railinc's technology projects for 2015 will do just that. The map will include detailed data such as tracks, yards, corridors, trackage rights and capacities and will serve as a foundational resource for future work designed to improve the fluidity of rail traffic through the terminal.
Railinc Customers Shape the Work We Do
Railinc didn't decide on our own to tackle this projects or the related work that will follow. Most of our project work, like this mapping effort, originates each year in industry committees sponsored by the Association of American Railroads.
Industry committees work to ensure the smooth and efficient interline movement of freight, identifying common business problems that can be addressed through centralized data and technology resources, like the ones Railinc develops and manages.
"The committees give railroads and others a chance to help shape and provide input on rules, processes and technologies that have an impact on the movement of freight and on their business operations," said Barbara Bostian, director of our project management office. "Our work with the committees gives us really valuable insights into our customers' needs so we can better serve the industry."
In 2015 alone, we will focus on a dozen critical industry projects that will provide valuable, consequential technology solutions for the freight rail industry. In addition our development of a map of the Chicago Terminal, our work this year will focus on projects that will:
Enable mileage to be assigned to railcars in real time
Implement new data indicators and summaries to support railcar inspections and data sharing
Develop an industry capability to more quickly identify component and equipment failure patterns
Multi-Year Process Leads to Consequential Technologies
Planning for an upcoming calendar year’s projects starts a year in advance, when committees begin to develop detailed proposals that define railroad operational requirements. In some cases, the project will address an industry rule or process change. In most cases, though, projects are part of larger, multi-year programs that focus on solving rail network challenges in areas such as asset health, car hire or traffic fluidity.
The committees give input to the AAR Railinc Project Support Working Committee (RPSWC), which provides business representation and sponsorship from Class I railroads for key initiatives that can facilitate common industry solutions for challenges related to IT and business processes. The goal is to gain consensus from railroads on reasonable, centralized solutions to those challenges.
The RPSWC evaluates and prioritizes project proposals from the AAR committees. Only a dozen or so of the many proposed projects are selected for recommendation to the Railinc Board, which provides final approval.
Once a project begins, we work closely with the sponsoring committee throughout the year to ensure that we meet milestones, make adjustments when necessary and stay focused on the needs of our customers. The committee's guidance and the hard work of our people enable Railinc to deliver products year after year that provide measurable benefits to the freight rail industry.
—Railinc Corporate Communications
(Photograph of the Belt Railway of Chicago's Clearing Yard courtesy of Railinc employee Matt Beaver)