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.

Employees Learn, Grow in Critical Support Role

Railinc Customer Support Representative Kelli Buchanan in the Customer Support Center.

Not all customer support jobs are the same. Starting in the Customer Support Center (CSC) at Railinc gives employees a solid foundation to build on as they work to reach their career goals. In this guest post, Railinc Customer Support Representative Kelli Buchanan talks about the phone calls, the schedule, and the opportunities to learn, grow and make an impact across the company. Click here to find out more about the Railinc Customer Support team.

Before I started working in CSC at Railinc, I saw customer support like most people probably do: a large group of anonymous employees in a room answering phone call after phone call, occasionally helping a customer solve a problem.

Well, I do answer a lot of calls—as many as 40 a day.

But I do much more than that.

Improving the Customer Experience

We're the first point of contact most of our customers have with Railinc. When I'm not answering the phone or responding to customer emails, I'm working with people across the company to make sure I know our products and services inside and out; to support important programs and processes; and to help make the customer experience better.

I don't have a typical day. If I'm in the group of CSC employees that comes in early, I get in at 7 a.m. and begin responding to customer emails from the night before. Phone calls start soon after and include everything from requests to unlock online accounts to questions about an error message a customer might receive when working in one of our applications.

Application Testing, Data Management, Disaster Recovery

Railinc Customer Support Representative Kelli Buchanan working with a colleague.Beyond responding to phone calls and emails, CSC is in charge of reviewing permissions requests from customers who want to access our applications. We put each request through a verification process to make sure that customers get the right permissions and that our data are secure. We test applications, keep important industry databases are up to date and accurate, and play important roles in company-wide disaster recovery exercises.

We also work closely with Railinc's product support teams, which provide second-level support, and attend meetings and trainings for individual product groups. This helps us understand Railinc products, keep up with product releases and let product groups know about any persistent issues customers have had. It feels good to know that the customer feedback we collect and share is used to improve our products.

Importance of Customer Support at Railinc

Because we provide 24/7 customer support, we are on an on-call rotation. For one week every two months, I'm responsible for responding to emergency requests that come in after business hours. I have been woken up at 3 a.m. to facilitate a conference call when one of our applications went down. It can be challenging, but it's a reflection of how important a responsive CSC team is to Railinc's work.

It might seem overwhelming to answer and log every phone call and email and to always be ready to remember what each field in the Umler® system user interface means and how entering one wrong code into the system can keep a railcar out of service.

It can be.

Thankfully, we aren't expected to be subject matter experts from the start.

Training, Learning, Professional Growth

In fact, every Railinc CSC representative goes through a 90-day training period to learn all our products and get comfortable interacting with customers. When we start, we do things like unlock online accounts, respond to email requests, and send a "morning report" to the entire company that recaps critical cases from the last 24 hours as well as internal or external notifications that we sent. The learning doesn't stop after our first 90 days: there are plenty of opportunities to to learn through lunch and learns, product training sessions and shadowing of groups throughout the company.

Railinc Customer Support Representative Kelli Buchanan takes a break with a colleague.It's tough learning all the products and services and the freight rail industry as an entry-level employee. But it positions us well to advance in the company quickly. A lot of our product support employees, managers, business analysts and others started on Railinc's CSC team. This opportunity to grow is just one of many things I like about working in CSC at Railinc.

Another one that's important to me is flexibility.

It might seem like I have to be tethered to my phone and computer during work hours, but I can take advantage of Railinc's flexible work environment, too. I have had to run home for an emergency a few times. I was able to log on from home and work the rest of my day there. If you're on call, you have even more flexibility during daytime hours so you can do your job and live your life.

Customer support isn't for everyone. You have to multi-task. You have to be proactive. You have to be patient as you work to learn from the customer what their challenge is and figure out what you can do to help. And you have to be thoughtful and follow up to make sure they get what they need.

At Railinc, customer support is more than just answering phones. We've helped to build a strong foundation with our customers and support the work everyone throughout the company does.

—Kelli Buchanan

A graduate of UNC-Greensboro, Kelli Buchanan joined the Railinc Customer Support team in 2014.

Update: Since we published this post, Kelli has earned a promotion to product support specialist with Railinc's Commercial group. She is an essential part of a team that provides support for internal-facing services that are critical to our products, and we look forward to her continued growth and progress with the company. 

Railway Age Features Railinc Locomotive Review

Railway Age this month featured freight equipment data and analysis provided by Railinc. But this time it's locomotives. In the July 2015 issue of Railway Age magazine, Railinc data scientist Dr. David Humphrey gives a summary of the size and composition of the North American freight locomotive fleet. The article is based on key findings from Railinc's 2015 Locomotive Review. The review features data related to the characteristics of the locomotive fleet, including information about the age and size of the fleet, new locomotives joining the fleet, types of power in the fleet, horsepower ratings trends in the fleet and more. This is the first year that Railinc has published the report. 

Humphrey compiled all the data in the report from Railinc's Umler® system. The Umler equipment registry contains the physical characteristics, transportation management and pool assignments of nearly two million pieces of rail equipment in North America. It is the base file for other industry reference files and industry equipment accounting files and is updated more than 600,000 times each month.

You can read more about the state of the locomotive fleet in Railinc's North American Locomotive Review 2015, which is available to download for free. Railinc's complete list of reports, including the 2015 North American Freight Railcar Review, are available to download for free here.

—Railinc Corporate Communications


Railinc Kicks Off Summer with Company Outing

Every year, Railinc employees all get together to celebrate summer with a fun, companywide outing. It's a great chance to unwind out of the office and spend time with coworkers in a relaxed, casual environment. Last week, we spent part of Friday afternoon at Kings North Hills, an upscale bowling alley and restaurant in Midtown Raleigh. We enjoyed bowling, foosball, pool, ping pong and a buffet lunch that included chicken enchiladas, rice and black beans, and some tasty desserts.

This was the second year we've been bowling. In 2012 and 2014, we caught a lunchtime baseball game at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

Check out pictures from this year's event below and here. More photos from Railinc events are available on our Flickr page.

Railinc Employees Get Rail Training at CSX REDI

We're immersed in freight rail data and technology at Railinc. The work we do every day supports critical industry operations and helps to ensure railroads, car owners and others have access to the data they need, when they need it.

But while we have expertise in many areas of rail operations and technologies, most of us never actually see a train while working at our PCs or meeting with our teams.

That's why we send a group of 10 employees to Atlanta, Ga., every quarter for two days of training at CSX Corp.'s Railroad Education and Development Institute (REDI).

Adjacent to Tilford Yard, REDI is CSX's primary education center. The railroad trains the majority of its new employees there, including conductors, locomotive engineers, yardmasters and management trainees.

"Freight rail is a complex business, and we only see part of industry through our work at Railinc," said Chief Financial Officer Yates Parker, who attended training in February. "These trips to CSX REDI give us a chance to see firsthand what railroad employees do and help our people see that their work has a real impact on the movement of freight in North America."

Railinc CFO Yates Parker in front of a CSX locomotive.
Railinc CFO Yates Parker in front of a CSX locomotive.

Training Connects Employees with Industry
CSX instructors lead Railinc employees through classroom sessions on topics such as safety and railroad signage. The training includes practice time in CSX's locomotive simulator, close-up looks at damaged wheelets and tours of the repair shop, where employees can catch a glimpse of the equipment ID tags that are part of the Component Tracking initiative that is supported by Railinc.

There are also some hands-on activities in the rail yard. Railinc employees get to drive a railroad spike, give the hang test a try and flip a manual switch.

Railinc employees view worn wheelsets in a shop at CSX REDI.
Railinc employees get a firsthand look at worn wheelsets.

Railinc employees participating in a "hang test" at CSX REDI.
To understand the physical requirements of railroad work, Railinc employees
participate in a hang test, 
which simulates hanging from a ladder
on the side of a railcar for more than four minutes.

A Railinc employee tries out a locomotive simulator at CSX REDI.
At CSX REDI, Railinc employees get to try out the locomotive
simulators used to train future engineers. 


A Railinc employee drives a rail spike in the yard at CSX REDI.
A Railinc employee drives a railroad spike at CSX REDI.

"It's so easy for us, working in the office, to think of our projects simply as data in/data out," said Alicia Goldberg, a business analyst who attended training in May. "Going through the training, driving that railroad spike, really made me feel like part of the industry. It's something every Railinc employee should take advantage of."

The trip helped Reggie Ealey, a senior software developer who went to CSX REDI in 2014, connect the development work he does with what happens in a rail yard.

"Experiencing how a railroad works and bringing that back to the office was fulfilling," he said. "I know now that the projects I work on here are used by the industry. How cool is that?"

Visit the Railinc Flickr page to see more pictures from Railinc trips to CSX REDI.

—Railinc Corporate Communications

N.C. State Students Get Big Data, Rail Experience

Knowing with accuracy the arrival time of a railcar can help to ensure the efficiency of a supply chain. It can cost money and cause logistics headaches if a truck arrives at a railroad’s intermodal facility long before or long after the train carrying the intermodal container gets there.

Railinc’s role is to support freight railroads and their customers by providing data that helps logistics planners avoid such costly scenarios. Recently we found that outside assistance from budding data experts can offer a fresh perspective on old problems.

From October to April, a team of five graduate students from North Carolina State University's Institute for Advanced Analytics worked with Railinc to develop a predicted estimated time of arrival (PETA) model that would enhance the reliability of PETAs Railinc provides its customers. They presented their results at Railinc on April 29 (right).

The project was part of the institute's practicum program

"In my experience, working on a practicum project was one of the best parts of the program," said Lauren Passarella, a Railinc data scientist who graduated from the analytics program in 2011. "It really helps to you prepare for the challenges of working in the real world, including gaining experience working with real data, which is never as perfect as the examples in class."

Drawing Out Insights from Big Data

Railinc provided three months of historical event and waybill data tables with more than 500 million records, as well as a standard point location code reference table. (Project teams are required to maintain confidentiality of the data and their results.) The students met with Railinc employees in Cary and at N.C. State over the course of the project to discuss their progress and the data. 

"I enjoyed learning about the details of the rail industry that I never knew about," said team member Krista Loaiza. "This was my first real project where I got to learn about how to deal with big data and use my knowledge to help solve a real-world problem."

The students developed a prototype predictive model to generate PETAs. They used the accelerated time failure (AFT) model to predict railcar travel times from origin to destination. They also developed a tool for calculating possible railcar routes. While there was some variance in outcomes (their average case was 3 hours and 26 minutes earlier than the actual arrival time), their hard work yielded valuable insights for Railinc data scientists.

"We gave the students a huge amount of data from an industry that was new to them," said Andy Adams, a Railinc product manager who worked with the NC State team. "We were impressed by what they came back with and the potential their work could have in helping us calculate more accurate PETAs and in creating positive results for the freight rail industry."

Practicum Helps N.C. State Students Hone Their Analytics Skills

In addition to Loaiza, the N.C. State student team included Henry Huang, Ashok Janakiraman, Natali Ojeda Meneses and Patrick Williams. This was their final school project before moving on to data analytics positions in banking, pharmaceuticals and other industries.

Front (L-R): Krista Loaiza and Ashok Janakiraman. Back (L-R):
Natali Ojeda Meneses, Patrick Williams and Henry Huang.

The practicum is the cornerstone of the Master of Science in Analytics experience and allows students to hone their skills on the kinds of analytics problems organizations grapple with every day, said Dr. Michael Rappa, director of the Institute for Advanced Analytics.

"We're grateful to sponsors like Railinc, who generously set aside their time to define exciting and challenging projects, share data and then engage with the student team over the project's eight-month duration," Rappa said. "Railinc is at the nexus of an industry where the careful application of data analytics can play a crucial role in the future."

—Railinc Corporate Communications