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.

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

Railinc Helps Industry Track Railcar Components

Since its launch three years ago, Railinc's component tracking program has increased the visibility of rail equipment components such as wheelsets, side frames, bolsters and couplers on railcars across North America.

Today, when a newly manufactured wheelset goes into inventory, the wheel shop places a bar code (pictured below) on the axle and registers the wheelset with Railinc’s Umler® component registry. The process enables the car owner to monitor the wheelset and evaluate its performance. If a problem arises, the car owner can target the individual wheelset for research, analysis and even replacement.

“As safety is a top priority, there is a need to know where components such as wheelsets, side frames, bolsters and couplers are located when in service, along with important manufacturing characteristics such as the design code, who manufactured them and where they were manufactured,” said Jerry Vaughn, director of asset services and Umler product manager.

This detailed view of rail equipment health and performance data provides personnel across the rail network with information that may improve rail safety, reduce maintenance costs, and support more efficient and effective rail operations.

And the view is only going to get better. The latest phase of the program is under way and will add key brake valve components to the registry.

How Component Tracking Happens

Railinc works with the freight rail industry through industry committees sponsored by the Association of American Railroads (AAR). The AAR’s Equipment Health Monitoring Committee and other committees help to define data requirements for component registration and develop schedules for mandatory registration and association throughout the industry. The typical timeline for phasing in new components allows for six months of development and a year to implement rule changes.

The component tracking program involves millions of components and big data, so it requires sophisticated and reliable technology.

That’s where Railinc comes in.

Click image for larger view.

The Umler component registry is a dynamic database designed to process updates quickly and efficiently. To accommodate new component specifications, Railinc adds a new value in a metadata description and creates the business rules required to ensure high levels of data quality.

“Separating the business rules gives us visibility to decisions that normally occur in the technical code and creates efficiencies that lower our total costs,” Vaughn said.

Wheelsets Lead the Way

The freight rail industry continues to move forward with the adoption of component tagging. According to Vaughn, 55 percent of all wheelsets in the North American railcar fleet now have an associated component ID (CID). Nearly 5 million wheelsets are registered in the Umler component registry, and about 3.3 million wheelsets are associated with individual railcars. Even more wheelsets will get CIDs soon because normal wear requires the replacement or refurbishing of wheelsets about every five years.

The success of the wheelsets phase enabled the addition of side frames, bolsters and couplers to the component tracking program in 2013. And the industry added another component to the program last year.

“The big news in component tracking today is our initiation and support of the service and emergency portions of brakes valve into the program," Vaughn said. “This started as one of Railinc’s 2014 industry projects, which involved Class I railroads, railcar owners, brake valve reconditioners and major brake valve manufacturers.”

Brake valve registration and association are voluntary now. That changes in July, when industry rules will require registration. Mandatory association of brake valves on newly built cars and existing cars begins in January 2016.

Building a component tracking program is like creating a high-tech treasure map. There are more than 1 million places to look for specific components in service across North America. Using that map to find the component you're looking for when you need to is like discovering riches measured in safety and efficiency.

Thanks to the efforts of AAR industry committees, suppliers and Vaughn’s team at Railinc, tracking components is getting much easier. And everyone gets to share in the wealth.

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Railinc Hosts Future Railroad Tech Workers

The next generation of high-tech railroad workers got their first look at how technology contributes to the freight rail industry. Railinc hosted 20 children of employees for Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day on Thursday, April 23. Kids from 7 to 12 years old learned about what Railinc and their parents do with technology to help trains get where they need to go.

Among their activities, the children got an inside look at Railinc's workspace from server and conference rooms to agile meeting spaces. Employees led an exercise in which the children, pretending to be railroads, used strands of tape to connect to each other and see how Railinc serves as the industry hub for electronic messaging. Others took the kids through a line-of-road-failure exercise and showed the children photos of different types of rail cars. Kids also listened in on customer support center calls to see how people and technology work together.

Thanks to all the Railinc employees who helped make the day special for kids and parents alike.

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Railinc Named a Top 100 Logistics IT Provider

http://www.inboundlogistics.com/cms/index.phpInbound Logistics magazine has named Railinc among the Top 100 Logistics IT Providers for 2015. This is the fourth time the publication has recognized the company for this annual award.

"We're honored to be recognized by Inbound Logistics again," said Allen West, president and CEO. "It's a testament the excellent work of our employees, our ability to consistently deliver high-quality technology solutions for the industry and our positive, productive relationships with our customers."

Railinc's recent technology initiatives have focused on improving the life and health of rail equipment by collecting and giving visibility into detailed railcar information. Our other work has focused on improving the operations at the Chicago Terminal and the efficiency of processes related to car hire.

Many of Railinc's products support critical operations throughout the freight rail industry. Our commercial products include the RailSight suite of applications, which delivers valuable tracking and tracing data. And Railinc's Umler® system is the industry's official resource for data on equipment used in rail service in North America.

"Railinc helps to solve key supply chain challenges such as increased visibility for shippers and logistics service and transportation management system providers," said Chuck Hieronymi, director of business solutions. "Our deep rail and intermodal expertise, combined with our unique data, software and analytics solutions, enable us to deliver high-impact enhancements for our customers' rail logistics operations."

"Railinc continues to provide the technology solutions Inbound Logistics readers need to achieve the visibility and control that drives successful supply chains," said Felicia Stratton, editor of Inbound Logistics. "As shippers, carriers, and 3PLs increase their use of logistics IT, Railinc continues to be flexible and responsive, anticipating customers’ evolving needs. Railinc deserves recognition for providing the innovative solutions empowering logistics and supply chain excellence in 2015."

Each 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 in 2015.

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Railway Age Features Railinc's Railcar Report

The May 2015 issue of Railway Age magazine features a review of the North American revenue-earning fleet by Dr. David Humphrey, a data scientist at Railinc. This summary of our annual North American Freight Railcar Review features key findings from Humphrey's report, including information about the age and size of the fleet, year-over-year changes in the counts of the six railcar types that make up the revenue-earning fleet and the characteristics of new railcars joining the fleet.
You can read more about the state of the revenue-earning fleet in Railinc's North American Freight Railcar Review 2015, which is available to download for free. Humphrey talks about the 2015 railcar review in a Railinc Tracks Blog Q&A, and past years' reports are available to download for free.
—Railinc Corporate Communications