Railinc Tracks Blog

Railinc tracks are everywhere although you don't always see them. The Railinc Tracks blog reveals them one at a time and shows you how we help to keep railroads, railcars and rail shipments moving across America. The blog is staffed by the Railinc Corporate Communication team and will give you news and insights about our company, our people and our products.

Big Data Means Better Rail Shipment Visibility

Each time a wayside detector logs a passing railcar, Railinc receives information about the car. The rail industry uses these event messages to track railcar movements.

As the hub for rail industry data, Railinc receives more than 11 million of these messages every day from all seven Class I railroads and more than 500 short line railroads. That’s more than 4 billion annually, each carrying vital information that supports rail operations. The sheer volume enables Railinc to offer the most comprehensive data feed available to the industry.

Railinc uses these data to create car location messages (CLMs). And despite the name, CLMs aren’t just about location.

They can contain information about waybills, embargoes, bad orders, interchanges, arrivals, departures, estimated time of arrival, loaded and unloaded status, and the start or end of a railcar’s trip, among other data points.

These CLMs feed Railinc’s RailSight Track and Trace solution. The industry’s only comprehensive, single-source shipment-tracking service, RailSight Track and Trace sends out real-time rail data around the clock, enabling the most complete view available of a rail shipment’s lifecycle. RailSight helps users track railcars and intermodal equipment on more than 530 carriers across North America. Railinc supports various integration and connectivity options, including EDI, API and others.

Shippers, railroads, car owners and third-party logistics providers can use RailSight Track and Trace to access actionable information about equipment and shipments, enable process improvements, and reduce and avoid costs related to railcar storage, bad orders, IT support and infrastructure, billing disputes and other areas. Here are just a few ways RailSight can support logistics needs:

  • Shippers can tell whether a railcar is ready to be loaded or unloaded and have resources at the ready to minimize or avoid demurrage.

  • Railroads can gain complete visibility through a single source into a railcar’s status, even on foreign lines, so they can keep their customers informed about a shipment all the way through to delivery.

  • Car owners can monitor the health and usage of their leased equipment, keeping track of information like trip length and mileage, and who has possession of the railcar.

  • Third-party logistics providers can eliminate information gaps to deliver improved productivity and customer service.

From custom reporting to systems integration, RailSight Track and Trace can deliver the data you need, when you need it, providing information that improves visibility and helps you manage your business more efficiently and effectively.

Ready to learn more about RailSight Track and Trace? Visit the RailSight Track and Trace resource page or contact the Railinc customer support team at 877-724-5462 or csc@railinc.com.

Railinc Named a Top Logistics IT Provider

For the sixth time in the last seven years, Inbound Logistics magazine has named Railinc Corp. among its Top 100 Logistics IT Providers.

"When choosing the 2017 Top 100 Logistics IT Providers, we looked at excellence in optimizing transportation and logistics operations, and how a company’s solutions impact business activities across internal and external business processes," said Felecia Stratton, editor of Inbound Logistics. “Railinc was selected because its solutions solve specific rail industry challenges, improve processes and create a ripple effect of efficiencies across the entire value chain. Inbound Logistics is proud to honor Railinc for its innovative solutions empowering logistics and supply chain excellence in 2017."

Many of Railinc's products support critical operations throughout the freight rail industry. The company’s RailSight™ suite of applications delivers valuable tracking and tracing data to improve network, equipment and shipment visibility, manage exceptions, optimize rail fleets and manage loaded and empty rail equipment. Railinc's Umler® system is the industry's official resource for data on rail equipment used in interline service across North America. The company utilizes its software and technology systems to deliver operational data, provide business intelligence and produce custom reports to that enhance freight rail shipping.

“Enhanced supply chain visibility that provides companies and their transportation partners the ability to identify shipment opportunities and issues, take appropriate actions sooner and maximize logistics performance is more important than ever,” said Chuck Hieronymi, director of business solutions. “With our comprehensive, near real-time rail and intermodal data, tools and analytics, Railinc provides key intelligence for today’s advanced transportation management, planning and visibility platforms. Our customers know that better data leads to better business performance and higher returns on their technology investments.”

Every year, Inbound Logistics editors recognize 100 logistics IT companies that support and enable logistics excellence. Drawn from a pool of more than 300 companies, using questionnaires, personal interviews and other research, Inbound Logistics selects the Top 100 Logistics IT Providers who are leading the way. Click here to see the complete list of the Top 100 Logistics IT Providers.

"It’s an honor to be recognized again for this award and for our service to the freight rail industry," said Allen West, president and CEO. "Our people are committed to providing value to the industry every day. I’m proud of the positive impact they have on our customers and the industry and the high-quality products and services they deliver."

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Railinc Reports Detail Growth of Fleets

Railinc’s Umler system is a rich industry resource that contains data on more than 2 million pieces of rail equipment and includes details such as railcar dimensions, capacities and weight, and locomotive horsepower and fuel capacity. Analysis of these data can provide powerful insights into the size and makeup of the North American railcar and locomotive fleets.

Since 2010, Railinc Senior Analyst Dr. David Humphrey, right, has used Umler data to create demographic profiles of the railcar and locomotive fleets for an annual presentation at the Rail Equipment Finance Conference in La Quinta, Calif. Railinc representatives have appeared at the conference since 1999.

“This year, as always, attendees of the Rail Equipment Finance Conference appreciated David Humphrey’s presentations on the state of the railcar and locomotive fleets,” said David Nahass, president of Railroad Financial Corporation, which holds the conference. “At REF, senior executives from companies throughout the rail finance industry are joined by numerous financial and rail industry analysts to hear David speak. They know that Railinc is a trusted data source. David’s presentations help set the tone for thoughtful discussions and a great conference.”

About 400 people attended the conference in March, including representatives from railcar lessors and lessees, banks, shippers, Class I railroads, short line railroads and finance companies.

In the Q&A below, Humphrey discusses the railcar and locomotive fleets, what’s new in this year’s railcar review, and overall trends for railcars and locomotives. Detailed information about the fleets, including full-color charts, is included in the 2017 North American Freight Railcar Review and the 2017 North American Locomotive Review, both available via free download here.

What types of railcars are in the revenue-earning fleet?
The revenue-earning fleet, a subset of the North American rail fleet, is made up of six subfleets: hoppers, covered hoppers, gondolas, flat cars, tank cars and box cars. These cars can be used in interchange service and can be associated with an interline waybill. The revenue-earning fleet doesn’t include locomotives, intermodal trailers and containers, maintenance-of-way equipment and end-of-train devices.

What’s new in this year’s railcar review?
In past years, the railcar review presented data on car types grouped by their gross rail load (GRL) capacity. This year’s report presents car types by the kinds of commodities they carry, which provides a more nuanced view. This lets us focus on the most commonly shipped commodities for the most popular car types. For example, while covered hoppers—which grew the most of all the car types in 2016—carry grain, sand, plastic pellets, and other commodities, the types of covered hoppers that transport those commodities have different characteristics. The covered hopper that typically carries sand is going to be smaller than the covered hopper that carries corn or soybeans.

How do people use the data you present?
My presentation is one of the first on the Rail Equipment Finance Conference agenda, and the information serves as an overview for all of the freight car-related topics covered in the first two days. Railinc and its Umler Equipment Index are known as a definitive source of quality data on the status of the North American railcar fleet. The conference has a focus on the financial aspects of buying, selling, leasing and building freight cars and locomotives, which means the data we present are particularly relevant to the attendees and the companies they represent.

What were the major trends for the revenue-earning fleet?
The revenue-earning fleet grew by 1.4 percent in 2016, driven by increases in the covered hopper and tank car populations. The hopper car type contracted for the seventh year in a row, and the gondola population decreased for the fourth straight year. For the first time in years, the number of box cars held steady from the previous year. The fleet continues to grow younger, with the average age of the fleet declining again in 2016. The trend of GRL 286 cars leading among additions to the revenue-earning fleet continued in 2016.

What were the trends for locomotives?
Locomotives continue to join the fleet at a steady rate: 2016 was the seventh consecutive year of growth for the fleet. The average and median ages for locomotives both increased in 2016. Also, high-horsepower, AC locomotives with six axles and high fuel capacity continue to make up the majority of new additions to the fleet.

The 2017 North American Freight Railcar Review and the 2017 North American Locomotive Review are available to download for free, as are past reports. Railinc also provides quarterly updates on the revenue-earning fleet in its Umler Equipment Index.

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Railinc Wins Tech Award for Rail Industry Service

Railinc has been recognized as the 2016 Industry-Driven Company of the Year at the NC Tech Awards, the largest and most prestigious statewide technology awards program. Given annually by the North Carolina Technology Association (NCTA), the awards honor the companies and individuals who represent the best and brightest in technology and business in North Carolina.

This is the second time Railinc has been named Industry-Driven Company of the Year. The award recognizes companies that have provided a product or service to a specific industry and that have made a notable impact to the betterment of that industry.

“North Carolina is known for its world-class technology community, and it’s an honor for Railinc to earn this recognition,” said Allen West, Railinc president and CEO. “The award is a real tribute to our great employees and their commitment to serving the freight rail industry through our innovative technology solutions.”

Railinc’s nomination highlighted the company’s work on the AskRail mobile application and its work to support freight rail operations in the Chicago Terminal, the busiest rail terminal in North America.

“Since 1995, the NC Tech Awards has honored excellence and innovation throughout North Carolina, representing the best and brightest,” said Brooks Raiford, president and CEO of NCTA. “As a winner, Railinc has distinguished itself as a peer-leader, and we are proud to recognize them as a 2016 NC Tech Awards winner.”

You can see the complete list of award winners here. Winners were recognized at NCTA’s annual awards gala on November 10 at the Raleigh Convention Center.

—Railinc Corporate Communications

 

Found on a Sticky Note

A sticky note detailing a user story from a Flex-to-AngularJS migration.


The sticky notes you find around Railinc tell stories about our culture and how we develop our products; how we learn from and work with our customers; and how we meet the technology needs of the freight rail industry. A recurring feature on the Railinc Tracks blog, Found on a Sticky Note takes a look at an individual sticky note and provides insights into who we are and what we do.

One of Railinc’s biggest challenges is managing technology refresh. Our people work hard to stay in front of technology changes so we can adopt new tools and development approaches as our customers’ needs shift.

Sometimes that means we leave behind old technologies.

For example, Railinc completed its four-year mainframe migration project in 2015, moving the company from an expensive and rigid technology approach to a less costly, broader and more flexible midrange solution. How is that helping? By enabling us to grow applications and systems and to handle the ever-increasing amount of railroad data we manage.

Even more technology changes are under way. Right now, Railinc is migrating its RailSight applicationsDemand Trace, Track and Trace, and Monitor—from Flex to the open-source, HTML- and JavaScript-based AngularJS framework. Already, Railinc has transitioned nearly two dozen applications to AngularJS, including the Damaged and Defective Car Tracking system, Clear Path, and Car Accounting Self-Service, and expects to complete the RailSight migration in early 2017.

The move from Flex will enhance the quality of RailSight applications, support changes to how customers access and use RailSight, and lower the cost to serve customers, said Charles Paye, director of commercial products.

“It lays a foundation for future growth and changes in RailSight,” Paye said.
 

Demand Trace Changes Support Query Capabilities, Improved Functionality

With the move from Flex to AngularJS, Railinc is making application changes—like the one in the sticky note above—that can have a real impact on how customers work. The note reads:
 

RS Demand Trace Flex Migration: Equipment Formatting Validation

Description: As a Demand Trace User, I’m unable to enter invalid equipment formats when running a trace.

About: This keeps users from searching invalid formats that won’t produce any trace results.

Requirement:

  1. Only alphanumeric entries allowed to be submitted in equipment field.
  2. Equipment can be separated by comma, space, or page break (enter)
  3. User can copy/paste using mouse clicks.
  4. User can copy/paste using keyboard shortcuts


Part of the RailSight suite of applications, Demand Trace gives users the ability to access data through the complete lifecycle of shipments and equipment. Instead of subscribing to a feed of data, a Demand Trace user can keep tabs on a shipment by manually submitting or scheduling a query whenever they want.

“It’s really data on demand,” said William Holt, a business analyst who works on Demand Trace. “You’re searching the equipment you want to find, when you want to search it, and you pay for those queries.”

To submit one of these queries, a user enters a series of alphanumeric characters—two to four letters and one to six numbers—associated with a particular piece of rail equipment. Demand Trace returns data on shipment events, including location and scheduled arrival and departure times.
 

The move to AngularJS allows for more separation of the UI on the back end. You can make changes to the front end, improving the way users interact with the app, without having to change the application itself.

 

With the newly migrated Demand Trace, the development team set up restrictions for queries. Without the restrictions, users could input any alphanumeric combination—one letter and seven numbers, for example—and run a trace no matter whether the rail equipment ID format was valid. Instead, as soon as a customer enters an invalid character, an error message appears and the user cannot submit the search, preventing “bad queries” on cars that may not exist and any unnecessary charges.

Developers also made it easier to copy and paste using keyboard shortcuts and the mouse. This makes it easier for users to move large amounts of data from an application like Excel to the query box in Demand Trace so they can get their work done more efficiently.

“The move to AngularJS allows for more separation of the UI on the back end,” Paye said. “You can make changes like these to the front end of the app, improving the way users interact with the app, without having to change the application itself.”
 

Migration Supports Richer Apps, Better User Experience

Railinc employees work together during an Agile training session.There are reasons beyond flexibility to make the move to AngularJS.

“Chrome and other browsers aren’t supporting Flex,” said Prabhu Kompella, a project development manager. “It’s becoming obsolete.”

The ubiquity of mobile devices makes the move to AngularJS all the more necessary. While Flex supports interactivity, it is not supported by the two most common mobile operating systems—iOS and Android—and doesn’t enable responsive web design, which automatically adapts a web page to the type of device a customer is using.

Not only are applications on the AngularJS platform mobile friendly, they’re easier to build and update.

“The level of productivity for developers is better,” said Ryan Nguyen, a user interface architect. “It cuts down on the development time.”

There is also more opportunity to automate testing, which speeds the development process. The platform also supports changes that will improve the overall user experience, bringing applications in line with what customers are used to on non-Flex web pages.

“What we’ll end up with is a richer application for users,” Paye said. “That helps us deliver a better user experience.”

—Railinc Corporate Communications

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