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.

Rail Equipment Reports Detail Growth of Fleets

Railinc's Umler® system contains data on more than 2 million pieces of rail equipment used in interline service, from railcar type to manufacture date to locomotive fuel capacity and horsepower. With a simple query of the system, you can learn a lot about an individual railcar or locomotive. But considered together, these data can provide powerful insights into the size and makeup of the railcar and locomotive fleets in North America.

Each year, Railinc Senior Analyst Dr. David Humphrey, right, uses the data to create demographic profiles of the railcar and locomotive fleets and presents the information at the Rail Equipment Finance Conference in La Quinta, Calif. Railinc representatives have appeared at the conference since 1999, and Humphrey has presented on the data since 2010. This year, he delivered his presentations via videoconference from Railinc’s Cary headquarters because he was recovering from surgery to repair a broken leg suffered while running.

"Conference attendees look forward to David’s presentations, which have become an integral part of our event each year,” said David Nahass, president of Railroad Financial Corporation, which holds the conference. "They know the quality of Railinc’s data, and they get a great deal of value out of the information he provides. In a break with tradition and in evidence of the importance of David's and Railinc's contributions to the program, we had David on live feed to make his presentation this year. His presentation is an asset that we hold in the highest regard."

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, David Humphrey discusses the railcar and locomotive fleets, how people use the research, and overall trends for railcars and locomotives. More detailed information about the fleets is available in the 2016 North American Freight Railcar Review and the 2016 North American Locomotive Review, both of which are free to download. You can also download the slides from David's conference presentations on the railcar and locomotive fleets.
 

The railcar report looks at the revenue-earning fleet in detail. What is the revenue-earning fleet?
The revenue-earning fleet, a subset of the North American rail fleet, consists of six sub-fleets: hoppers, covered hoppers, gondolas, flat cars, tank cars and box cars. These cars can be used in interchange service and can be associated with a waybill. The revenue-earning fleet of freight cars excludes locomotives, intermodal trailers and containers, maintenance-of-way equipment and end-of-train devices.

How do people use the data you present?
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 information presented is a great introduction to all of the freight car-related topics that are covered in the first two days of the conference. The conference has a focus on the financial aspects of buying, selling, leasing and building freight cars and locomotives. The age demographic data we present on the sub-fleets are of great interest to companies as a snapshot of where they stand. The information helps them as they make decisions that affect their businesses in the short and long term.

What were the major trends for the revenue-earning fleet?
Driven by increases in the tank car and covered hopper populations, the revenue-earning fleet grew by 3.3 percent in 2015. The flat car sub-fleet grew slightly, while the box car, gondola and hopper sub-fleets contracted. The fleet is getting younger. Both the average and median age of the fleet were down. And the fleet continues its shift to large cars. Cars with a gross rail load of 286,000 pounds make up 83 percent of new additions to the fleet in the last six years.

And for locomotives?
The locomotive fleet grew by about 1,100 units—or about 3 percent—from the previous year. The age of the fleet increased, though locomotives have long service lives. Also, high-horsepower, AC locomotives with six axles and high fuel capacity make up the majority of new additions to the fleet.


The 2016 North American Freight Railcar Review and the 2016 North American Locomotive Review are available to download for free, as are slides from Humphrey's presentations on the railcar and locomotive fleets and past years' reports. Railinc provides quarterly updates on the revenue-earning fleet in its Umler Equipment Index.

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Security Critical to Customers, Continuity

Did you know that thing you ordered isn't going to get here on time? At least that's what the email said. Recently, Railinc employees, contractors and consultants got a strange looking email with the subject line "Your package shipping has been delayed." They were right to be suspicious.

Cybersecurity threats exist in many forms today - from the lone hacker looking to wreak havoc, to hacker groups looking to avenge social or political grudges, to nation states looking for new avenues of warfare. Organizations like Railinc are adapting to this changing landscape with more advanced security tools, practices, and policies. Railinc is focused on protecting employees, customer data and IT infrastructure.

The email described above was part of a phishing exercise Railinc conducted as part of its ongoing cybersecurity program. Railinc takes security seriously and works hard to protect its data and systems by implementing the most up-to-date security controls, constantly monitoring and testing company systems, and mandating regular training for its workforce.

Simple emails like the one Railinc employees received might seem like they're not a big deal, but they can expose a company to cyberattacks that can compromise data or cripple technology infrastructure. This social engineering tactic is used to trick people into divulging information or taking an action, like clicking on a malicious l ink or opening an infected attachment.

No anti-malware or anti-virus product is 100 percent effective. Exercising good judgment and acting as a "human firewall" is the best way to ward off social engineering attacks. Employees also help Railinc stay on top of these attacks by reporting them to the company's security team.

"It's important for us to know when phishing attacks target our employees," said Tom Morris, Railinc's senior security analyst. "Knowing how we're being targeted and what we're being targeted with helps us understand what we need to do to continue to keep our data, hardware and systems secure."

Railinc Continues to Strengthen Security Program

In the last year, Railinc has beefed up its security program to guard against the increasing number, broadening scope and technical sophistication of attacks on its systems. From hardware encryption to employee education, these projects have focused on enhancing the company's security controls. Fortunately, Railinc experienced no security incidents in 2015 that affected service-level agreements or the integrity of customer data.

"Strong security controls are essential to Railinc's operations and are always at the front of mind for the company," said Jerry Traynham, Railinc's chief information officer. "Railinc's security team is constantly exploring systems, looking for threats to the company's infrastructure, applications and data."

Railinc tracked network vulnerabilities in 2015 such as Poodle, WinShock, GHOST and BASH that could have presented a threat to customer and corporate data. The security team regularly examined potentially vulnerable infrastructure and implemented the appropriate testing and fixes. Railinc also continued its intensive measurement program based on Center for Internet Security standards, tracking everything from system vulnerabilities to malware and suspicious email blocked. There were two minor security incidents in the first quarter of 2015—an email virus and an incident that was flagged as a potential denial-of-service attack. Railinc resolved both quickly.

The company's 2015 security program included the following activities:

  • Penetration testing to assess Railinc's risks and vulnerabilities, as well as security policies and practices.

  • Encryption initiatives to protect data, hardware and mobile devices.

  • Application security efforts that included analysis and upgrade of security around a number of critical products and systems.
     

Last year, 100 percent of Railinc employees, contractors and consultants completed four rounds of online security awareness training.

 

Railinc's workforce has embraced the culture of security. Last year, 100 percent of employees, contractors and consultants completed four rounds of online security awareness training. This training helped them recognize and report several potential security threats and vulnerabilities during the year, enabling Railinc's IT personnel to take immediate action. In a notable case, a Railinc team member identified and reported spoofed messages that targeted wire fraud, which the company reported to the FBI.

"Railinc will continue to educate employees on the latest security challenges and implement additional security framework components and processes to make sure applications, systems, network and data are secure," Traynham said. "These security measures are only as strong as the people who work behind them."

7 Signs of a Phishing Email

Be skeptical of any unexpected email messages you receive. While there is no single marker of a phishing attack, typical characteristics of phishing emails include:

1 - An unusual email address: Does the email come from a free service, like Yahoo or Hotmail? Is the user name a jumble of random letters? Are the "from" and "reply-to" addresses different? Is there a mismatch between the address and the signature in the email? If so, the message might be an attack.

2 - A generic greeting: Is the message addressed to you or does it have a generic salutation? Phishing emails usually do not have personalized greetings.

3 - A sense of urgency: Phishing emails often implore you to act immediately or risk missing out on the opportunity.

4 - Mistake-filled messages: Phishing emails often contain significant spelling and grammar errors and/or formatting problems.

5 - Suspicious links: Hover your cursor over a link to display its destination. If a link and the destination are different, don't click the link. Only click on links you are expecting.

6 - Unexpected attachments: Were you expecting an attachment? If not, don't open it. And if you do open an attachment, and it says you must "enable macros," don't.

7 - An offer that's too good to be true: You didn't win the lottery and you aren't going to get an iPad for $20. Delete the email.

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Railinc Names Top Employee for 2015

Railinc is pleased to announce that Business Solutions Manager Ward Proctor has won the Railinc President's Award as the company's employee of the year for 2015. Ward was recognized at the February all-employee meeting.

"Ward's ability to connect with customers and understand their operations has been a real asset to Railinc and has helped to grow our Commercial business," said Railinc President and CEO Allen West. "He is a strong advocate for our customers and helps to ensure our products align with their business needs. The insights he gains from his relationships with our customers helps us develop and deliver innovative products that benefit the industry and that help Railinc grow."

Ward started at Railinc in 2009 as a customer support representative. He moved up quickly to Product Support, working with Railinc's EDI network and messaging applications, and he has served as a business analyst for RailSight. As business solutions manager, Ward focuses on securing contracts with new and existing customers. In 2015, he was responsible for new contracts that have been important to Railinc's continued growth. In addition to managing many large customer accounts, Ward continually works to identify new partnership opportunities and grow his knowledge of the freight rail industry. His work has helped to strengthen and grow the RailSight brand and enabled Railinc to better serve its customers.

"Throughout 2015, Ward has provided valuable customer and market feedback to Product Management and the Product Development teams," said Product Manager Paul Gaglione, who nominated Ward. "His contributions in this area have aided in the development of new product enhancements, roadmap planning and successful implementations."
 


Ward Proctor, the Railinc 2015 President's Award Winner, center, with the RailSight team


The other nominees for the 2015 Railinc President's Award were:

  • Nate Wall

  • Robert Redd

  • Ron Tsolis

  • Satish Alapati

  • Brian Hill

  • Chris Hight

  • Chuck Hieronymi

  • Danielle Crowley

  • David Sakell

  • Mark Aldenderfer

The Railinc President’s Award is part of the company’s Rewards and Recognition Program, which recognizes and supports the good work that happens at Railinc during the year on an individual, departmental and company-wide basis.

—Railinc Corporate Communications

How Network Visibility Optimizes Rail Shipping

Freight rail network, equipment and shipment visibility makes sure cereal is there in time for breakfast each day.

Eating breakfast cereal seems simple. You pour it in bowl, add milk, grab a spoon and dig in. But when you think about what it took for that cereal to reach your table, breakfast can get complicated.

First, a farmer bought supplies to grow and harvest the grain, which was then shipped for milling. Paper pulp and plastic were needed to produce the box and inner wrapper. Those components went to a cereal-production plant. The finished cereal boxes shipped via multiple modes and vehicles to one or more warehouses before arriving to the store. The manufacturer had to maintain product quality and prevent losses from theft and accidents all along the way.

So it turns out, the most important ingredient in your cereal might just be the transportation network that got it to you.

Railcars are an essential part of this network. Freight rail is integral in the production of breakfast cereal and most every other consumer or industrial product. If a railcar is delayed, there could be an impact on the price, the variety or even the availability of a product. Complete equipment and shipment visibility into the network can help.

Complete Equipment and Shipment Visibility Available with Shipping by Freight Rail

For industrial and consumer goods to move safely, efficiently and reliably, a shipper must have optimum visibility into the location and status of transportation equipment and shipment visibility across its entire network.

That's why accurate, up-to-date railcar tracking is critical. Railcar fleets can include thousands of freight cars, many of which are nearly identical. But each car belongs somewhere, whether in a customer's yard, at an interchange point or in a shop for scheduled maintenance or emergency repair.

 

 


The stakes are only getting higher for railcar owners and users because with new opportunities come new customers.

The Association of American Railroads reports that in the last 15 years, North American railroad market share (by ton-miles) has topped 40 percent. Railroads carry more ton-miles today than any other mode, including truck. But as freight rail has become a more important link in many supply chains, expectations are higher for railcar owners.

This environment drives the need for complete equipment and shipment visibility across the North American rail network and has given rise to new tracking and tracing technologies. Shippers, third-party logistics service providers (3PLs), and railcar owners and lessors who make effective use of these technologies have greater opportunities for success.
 



RailSight Data Support Fleet Planning, Railcar Tracking and Greater Rail Shipment Visibility

Consider Railinc's RailSight suite of applications and how it supports railcar tracking and tracing.

Class I railroads have built data gathering and management networks to provide information that supply chain managers need. These networks collect data from the 1.5 million railcars tagged for identification as they pass one of the thousands of scanners strategically placed across North America. RailSight users can access that data to support real-time decision-making and can review historical data for analysis and optimization.

With more accurate data and complete visibility, railcar owners can better plan their fleet deployments, track cars and meet their customers' expectations.

With more accurate data and complete network visibility, railcar owners can better plan their fleet deployments, track cars and meet their customers' expectations.


A railroad is always the best source of information about a railcar or shipment on its network and this flow of data often occurs between a railroad and its customers. When shipments move among railroads, RailSight processes interline data, providing a seamless integration of all data coming in from the approximately 570 railroads in North America.

Railinc's team, with input from railroads, car owners and lessors, shippers and 3PLs, designed RailSight to deliver comprehensive shipment and equipment management data via a flexible framework that supports its users' changing needs.

RailSight helps railcar owners, shippers and 3PLs locate equipment, improve planning and meet customer expectations through greater network and shipment visibility.

 




Evolving Freight Rail Environment Demands Dynamic Technology Systems

The RailSight team serves freight rail customers with high quality data and solutions that improve equipment and shipment visibility and support informed decision making and efficient operations.

The freight rail environment is constantly evolving. The good news is that technology resources like RailSight and new approaches to supply chains can help shippers serve customers with high-quality data and solutions that support informed decision-making and efficient operations. Some examples include:

New technology solutions—Technology providers of all sizes and segments, including Oracle, MercuryGate and others are developing solutions for rail. These tools integrate applications and data and are accessible via the cloud.

Greater access to information—Data as a Solution (DaaS) or Software as a Solution (SaaS) services provide deeper visiblity into the supply network and reduce or eliminate costs associated with systems integration. Even companies with small IT footprints can access powerful technology tools that can help optimize operations, and large organizations can leverage systems and data across their enterprise.

Sharpened management focus—Linear supply-chain thinking has evolved into supply-network thinking. These supply networks are composed of relationships among many parties at many levels. The supporting data, apps and infrastructure can shorten the shipment cycle, improve efficiency and reduce errors.

Improved data and visibility—Better data leads to benefits such as more predictable ETAs; reduced dwell time; faster equipment turns; and the potential to reduce costly equipment purchases.

Because supply networks constantly change, businesses should develop processes that continuously optimize their transportation alternatives. Railcar shippers have told us that their biggest operations challenge can be accessing vital information on their large and geographically dispersed fleets. Companies that leverage high quality, complete data can realize greater productivity.

A flexible, evolving technical infrastructure also enables improved utilization of people, processes and technologies across more complex organizations and supply networks.
 



4 Things You Can Do Now to Improve Network, Equipment and Shipment Visibility

Are you wondering where to start? Here are four things you can do today:

  1. Revisit and validate your data sources to ensure you are receiving the most timely and complete data.

  2. Optimize your supply network across modes, and include rail in your mix. If you don't consider rail, you might leave money on the table.

  3. Incorporate cloud-based solutions that enable you to use the most up-to-date data and applications in support of big data and predictive analytics initiatives.

  4. Take the long view, with a strategy for continuous improvement of your infrastructure, from data to applications. To remain competitive every company needs an evolving plan that leverages a range of tools, from SaaS solutions to ERP systems.

As freight rail has grown in volume, market share and importance, the industry has kept pace with cloud-based information management technology offerings and applications. And that breakfast cereal? It's the high quality data and complete equipment and shipment visibility these solutions provide that help get it to your table.

—Chuck Hieronymi

Railinc's Chuck Hieronymi, who connects customers with RailSight tracking and tracing solutions to help them get the most out of their supply networks.             As Railinc's director of business solutions, Chuck Hieronymi connects customers with RailSight tracking and tracing solutions to help them get the most out of their supply networks. Chuck has held leadership roles with financial, consulting and media companies, and he earned an MBA from the University of Virginia.

 

Found on a Sticky Note

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 regular 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.

The North American freight rail industry depends on rules and processes to ensure the proper movement, interchanging, monitoring and repair of more than 1.5 million railcars across the 144,000-mile North American rail network.

Why are these rules so important?

"They externalize business logic, enable business agility and enforce data quality around activities that are critical to safe and efficient rail operations," said Jerry Vaughn, Railinc's director of interline product management.

Freight rail operations are complex. Rail carriers haul and interchange cars that do not belong to them. A railcar owned by a company on the East Coast might get pulled from service for repairs on the West Coast. Railcars and individual components need regular testing and inspection, no matter where they are. Data on activities such as repairs and recalls have to be reported and shared across the industry to verify the health of railcars in service.

Industry rules help to ensure the entire industry applies the same standards to these types of tasks. Contained within the Association of American Railroads' official rules manuals, industry rules cover everything from component characteristics to data reporting procedures to processes around car hire. Many of Railinc's systems and applications are designed to support these rules-based activities and are embedded in critical operations and financial systems throughout the industry.

Two Sentences Help Reduce Customer Confusion Around a Rule

The sticky note above summarizes a user story connected with the freight rail industry's Rule 107 and was part of work completed in late 2015 on Railinc's Damaged and Defective Car Tracking (DDCT) system. The note reads:

US32251

Notification — Rule 107

Update verbiage

A centralized system for tracking damaged and defective railcars, DDCT standardizes the process for reporting and storing data on these cars. For decades, this information was documented on a 3 1/2-inch by 8-inch paper defect card affixed to the side of a railcar. Companies maintained their own tracking systems, which often led to conflicting or unavailable data and required car owners to contact carriers to find out a car's condition.


A defect card holder on the side of a railcar.

Implemented in January 2011, DDCT standardized these processes, improving data accuracy and timeliness, reducing administrative costs for railroads and car owners, and improving the enforcement of industry car hire rules. Industry rules require that rail carriers, car owners and repair shops use DDCT for all cars that participate in interchange.

Railinc team members at the whiteboard.

Rule 107, referenced in the sticky note, establishes the sequence of events that must occur to compensate a railcar owner whose equipment is damaged or destroyed. For example, if a railcar is damaged during interchange, the responsible rail carrier must follow steps detailed in Rule 107 to reimburse the car owner for the damage or to pay for the repair.

DDCT sends auto-generated email notifications to car owners throughout this process, helping them stay informed about the status of their cars.

"Based on what we were hearing from our customers, one of our emails needed more information," said Sophie Hamida, a business analyst on the DDCT team. "Car owners were taking time to call Railinc to find out why the system was displaying the data it was."

In this case, the repairs on a railcar might be complete, but the incident did not show in the system as being closed and the car itself was not removed from the related maintenance advisory. The DDCT team added verbiage to the email that detailed the timeline for closing the Rule 107 incident.

"The aim was to reduce customer confusion about why a car that might have returned to service still showed up in the DDCT system as an open incident," Hamida said. "We only added two sentences to the email, but it will help make what can be a challenging process a little easier for customers."

Railinc Program to Modernize Rules Management

The business logic, rules and processes embedded in Railinc products help to enable the enforcement of industry requirements, like Rule 107. Last year, the company launched a multi-year Rules and Process Modernization (RPM) program, which will modernize the management of the industry rules and processes that underlie our applications and systems.

The RPM program leverages technology to enable the company to take a more consultative approach with customers and helps to improve the efficiency, consistency and reliability of these rules and processes within Railinc applications. DDCT was among the program's proof of technology projects.

"Nearly half of our project development activities involve the implementation of business rules and processes," said Jeanine Bradley, senior manager for business rules and process management.

These rules and processes have traditionally been buried in code in Railinc applications. Because they were not visible and documented with a common language, it has been challenging to respond quickly to customer questions or requests for changes to applications.

"The RPM program is an effort to advance how we manage rules and processes within our applications," Bradley said. "We want to be able to eliminate the complexity so we can support our customers better and deliver innovative solutions that meet the ever-changing needs of the industry."

—Railinc Corporate Communications