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.

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

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