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.

Tracking the Health of Your Assets

Rail cars must function safely and efficiently whatever the environment sends their way—fully loaded or empty; at the front, rear, or middle of a freight train; in extreme operating conditions; and across difficult geographical terrains.

There is an ever-increasing focus on asset health management leading to new solutions that improve safety and efficiency. With more and better data around asset health, failures can be reduced and the reliability of rail car operations can be improved.

This is being accomplished with more sophisticated wayside detection systems, tracking of critical railcar components, better operating practices, machine learning and automated intelligence. 

This new way of looking at railcar reliability is making rail operations more fluid. Traditionally, if a train stops due to an equipment malfunction the conductor is obligated to walk the train in search of the problem, whether it’s raining, snowing, blazing hot or bitterly cold. Sometimes, out there in the elements the cause remains elusive. 

Meanwhile, the main line is tied up. Traffic on either side of the stopped train comes to a halt. Sometimes, the chain reaction can extend far beyond a specific location. Costs quickly pile up. There are multiple impacts to a single event like this.

Fortunately, this scenario is increasingly being relegated to the past.

Faster, smarter networks of detectors help avoid these situations. Using data collected throughout North America, mechanical problems are identified before or as they develop, allowing ample time to take proactive measures that prevent those problems from causing track damage or train delays.

We now have data flowing from a number of wayside detectors and train events including:

• Wheel Impact Load Detectors
• Truck Hunting Detectors
• Acoustic Bearing Detectors
• Truck Performance Detectors
• AEI Detectors
• Line of Road Mechanical delays

These systems allow the industry to collect massive amounts of data on such components as wheels, axles, bearings and brakes. New advanced analytical algorithms make it possible to track cars that have proven to be culprits in multiple events—they’ll rise to the top of the list so they can be quickly taken out of service and fixed.

The benefits of improved asset health management are significant because all the players are working together. It is estimated that that one of the network improvements has been the prevention of as many as 5,200 car failures per year, translating to about $5 million in annual savings. That’s an important victory for both railroads and their shipping customers.

Chip Summey

As director of asset services, Chip Summey supports multiple Railinc product lines, leading efforts in project execution, product satisfaction and future investments. Summey joined Railinc in 2008 as a senior business analyst and was appointed to his current title in 2015. Prior to Railinc, Summey worked for Dallas Area Rapid Transit in Texas and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority in Florida. 

Global Conference Panel Features Railinc Analyst

Click the image above to watch the full panel session. 

The North American railcar fleet grew by about 30,000 cars through July 2019, adding about 11,000 tank cars and 8,500 covered hoppers. Those were among the takeaways from a recent Railcar and Locomotive Outlook and Overview panel featuring Railinc senior data scientist Dr. David Humphrey and others at Cowen and Company’s 12th Global Transportation Conference.

The entire panel session is available here.

Each year, Humphrey uses Umler® data to create demographic profiles of the railcar and locomotive fleets and presents the information at the Rail Equipment Finance Conference in La Quinta, California. Companion reports on the railcar and locomotive fleets are available to download for free on the Railinc Research Reports page.

Are You Making the Most of Your TMS?

The world of transportation management software (TMS) is moving fast. Over the past 24 months, we’ve seen things change more than in the previous six or eight years. If you aren’t among the many players already reassessing or reinventing what you have, it’s time to start working on it.

The good news is that it’s never too late to take inventory of where you are and what’s available in the marketplace to improve your operation incrementally, or wholesale. So how to catch up, or even get ahead of the curve?

Generally speaking, first make sure you take a fresh, unencumbered look at what you’re doing to improve short- and long-term supply chain (SC) performance. Second, identify the top handful of priorities, both for the next 12 months and for three to five years down the road. 

I spoke with a shipper recently who is replacing his legacy SC applications with a whole new generation of providers—no easy task. His company is also trying to streamline its IT and tech investments by going to cloud-based solutions. A number of companies still using legacy or on-premises systems—or old-style enterprise resource planning—are moving toward best-in-class cloud-based applications. 

I spoke with another firm—a global 3PL—which is taking a different tack. They plan to build their own open source global TMS solution internally by incorporating a number of industry standards that allow them to pick and choose the best players for their specific needs.

A lot of things currently are driving the constant search for better TMS solutions. One is the Amazon effect—the leading online retailer has raised expectations for what a supply chain should be. Another is the competitive advantage some companies have already achieved from advanced TMS.

Either way, the opportunities are increasing to create more efficient multimodal supply chain strategies.

As you look ahead to improving your own TMS, consider these basic layers of a strong foundation: What tools, apps, or systems do you need to improve? What kind of process—from internal reengineering to 3PL outsourcing—will you require to get the most out of them? And, do you have all the data you need to make better strategic decisions, this week, next month, and further down the road?

Even then, taking that next step will be a challenge. According to a recent article in DC Velocity, “While it is easier and cheaper than ever to implement a TMS solution, it is not a no-brainer. It may require a transformation of the company’s culture, especially if the project changes how its sales force traditionally does business. It demands total buy-in from upper management.”

This is the first in a series of posts in which I’ll explore various issues in the 3PL and SC arena. Some of the future topics I would like to address include: intermodal SC visibility, demand forecasting, and more reliable ETAs.

While Supply Chain demands are changing rapidly, and each situation is unique requiring appropriate strategic and tactical choices, I hope to help make things a bit clearer for anyone using advanced technologies to improve results for our customers. I welcome your comments and questions. 

If your company is interested in learning more about Railinc-provided transportation management software solutions, please contact us at commercialinfo@railinc.com.


Chuck Hieronmyi

Chuck Hieronymi has more than 30 years of leadership experience in consulting, logistics, technology and innovation, engineering and large-scale complex change initiatives that drive higher performance business solutions. A graduate of Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia, Hieronymi joined Railinc in 2009 as an AAR product manager. He has held his current title, director of business solutions, since 2012. Hieronymi was named a Provider Pro to Know by Supply & Demand Chain Executive magazine.

Railinc Recognized in 2019 CIO 100 Awards

Railinc Corporation is honored to announce that it has been named a recipient of IDG’s CIO 100 award. The 32nd annual award program recognizes organizations around the world that exemplify the highest level of operational and strategic excellence in information technology.

“Across the business landscape, companies everywhere recognize the vital role that an innovative, value-driven approach to information technology plays in their success,” IDG’s Executive Director of CIO Programs Maryfran Johnson said. “This year’s CIO 100 winning companies are inspiring examples of how IT leadership, business collaboration and digital transformation will drive future growth.”

Railinc was selected through a three-step process from a pool of more than 400 applicants for its work on the Chicago Territory Expansion project, highlighted in the written application. Using Clear Path™ technology, Railinc provides visibility to rail activity across the Chicago Terminal, the nation's busiest freight rail hub, by way of a multi-layered geographic map of the entire terminal, featuring train locations, tracks, yards, corridors, control points and more. In 2018, Railinc introduced a new “Dispatch View” layer to the Clear Path Map™, which merges traditional train dispatching “schematic” with GIS technology to increase velocity, reduce cost and maximize asset utilization. Through “Dispatch View,” train location and status are now available down the precise position on the track that it is occupying, as well as the related track, switch and signal information and train routing authority for each train. 

Click here to view the full list of winners. 

“I am humbled to receive this recognition and am honored to lead our talented technology teams and leverage our applicable technology advancements to continue to create valuable solutions,” Railinc CIO Joan Smemoe said. “Rail is a fascinating industry for IT; making sense of big data from IoT sensors, conducting predictive analytics and computing route optimizations are just few examples of the challenging but interesting obstacles we tackle. The Chicago expansion effort was a good example of how technology, innovation, dedication and perseverance allowed us to realize a tremendous vision. Congratulations to all of our internal and external partners involved.”

Executives from the winning companies will be recognized at The CIO 100 Symposium & Awards Ceremony, to be held Wednesday, August 21, at The Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Coverage of the 2019 CIO 100 Awards will be available online at CIO.com in August and in the summer issue of CIO’s digital magazine.

About CIO

CIO focuses on attracting the highest concentration of enterprise CIOs and business technology executives with unparalleled peer insight and expertise on business strategy, innovation, and leadership. As organizations grow with digital transformation, CIO provides its readers with key insights on career development, including certifications, hiring practices and skills development. The award-winning CIO portfolio — CIO.com, CIO Events, CIO Strategic Marketing Services, CIO Forum on LinkedIn, CIO Executive Council and CIO primary research — provides business technology leaders with analysis and insight on information technology trends and a keen understanding of IT’s role in achieving business goals. CIO is published by IDG Communications, Inc. Company information is available at www.idg.com.

2019 North American Railcar and Locomotive Review Q&A

Railinc’s senior data scientist David Humphrey traveled to La Quinta, California from March 3-6 to present his annual railcar and locomotive reviews at the Rail Equipment Finance Conference. Corporate Communications sat down with David post-conference to delve into some of the most significant takeaways from this year’s data and conference.

Corporate Communications (CC): What were some of the important trends that you touched on when presenting this year’s reviews?
David Humphrey (DH): There’s been a continuation of covered hoppers being added to the fleet, and in two subfleets — grain covered hoppers and box cars — we’re seeing older, smaller cars move out as newer, larger cars move in. C-114s are the new, 5,000- and 6,000-cubic-foot grain covered hoppers replacing older, 4,500- and 4,750-cubic-foot C-113s. There are tens of thousands of these older grain covered hoppers that are in the last decade of its life and as they go away, they’ll need to be replaced. A similar situation is unfolding with boxcars; older, 50-foot boxcars are being replaced by newer 60- or 70-foot boxcars. Also, the number of DOT-117 tank cars in the fleet is continuing to grow.

CC: Are you able to make any predictions about the future fleet based on this year’s data?
DH: Both myself and other presenters believe that there are too many C-112 small covered hoppers in the fleet; these hoppers transport sand and cement and have been affected by the recent downturn in the sand business, due to new fracking practices. Wisconsin white sand is generally regarded as the best sand in the world, but it usually needs to travel long distances by rail from Wisconsin to the fracking site. However local brown sand, usually sourced within 100 miles of the fracking site, is plentiful, cheaper and can travel short distances by truck. As drilling engineers move towards using local brown sand in place of Wisconsin white sand, I think we’ll find that there’s been an overbuild of C-112s in the past few years. So, I predict that we’re probably going to see a slowdown there.

CC: How do you feel Railinc, and these reports, add significant value to the Rail Equipment Finance Conference?
DH: Railinc is responsible for the Umler® system, which is the one database for which all railcars used in interchange service must be registered to. We have ready access to this data, plus we work with this data all of the time. Other organizations may receive parts of files from time to time, but still, they aren’t spending as much time with the data as we are. So, Railinc is able to exclusively offer a comprehensive view of a dozen different subfleets, presented in a consistent view year over year, to attendees. 

CC: What were some other general topics touched on by speakers at this year’s conference?
DH: There was a good bit of conversation surrounding precision scheduled railroading. There’s a concern that since precision scheduled railroading will allow the railroads to do more with less equipment, it’ll lead to an increase in the velocity in the network, which will bring about a reduction in both locomotives and railcars needed out. There were also a few comments about the coal business — specifically predictions that it will continue to steadily decline and that more coal cars will leave the fleet for the scrapyards.

CC: What was one of the most interesting takeaways from the conference?
DH: CNGmotive shared that it’s currently in the processing of building a locomotive tender — the tender delivers fuel to the locomotive — that’s going to have compressed natural gas on board. The company claims that this will change the industry’s preferred fuel source from diesel to compressed natural gas over the next decades or two. It’s scheduled for operation this summer. If successful, it would make the price of fuel around 40 cents per diesel gallon equivalent; so, whether you’re paying four dollars, three dollars, even two dollars for your diesel today, dropping that to forty cents is still a good deal. It’s also a better alternative to liquified petroleum from a safety standpoint. They’ve got a whole list of reasons why compressed natural gas would be a better choice and they claim it’s just an eventuality that we’re waiting for.

Click here to read the full railcar report.

Click here to read the full locomotive report.