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.

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.

Not all the sticky notes around our office have to do with the Agile software development method. Sometimes you just need a reminder to pick up snacks for your child's class.

Our employees love that Railinc supports work/life balance. Need to step out of the office to pick up those pretzels or run a few other errands? Is it your day to hit the gym for an afternoon workout? Or are you helping out in your child's classroom and need to be out of the office one morning? It isn't a problem. Our benefits include flexible scheduling and telecommuting options that give employees the freedom they need to get their Railinc work done without sacrificing their personal lives.

For example, an employee with a long commute could work from home a few days a week to cut down on the time they spend on the road. And we provide the technology and flexibility to work from home at a moment's notice if a child's illness, a personal matter or a snow day prevents an employee from coming to the office.

"The flexibility is one reason I've been here for 17 years," said Megan Rowe, a buyer for the company and the owner of the pretzel sticky note. The flexible scheduling—she works through lunch so she can leave a little early each day—helps her better manage her two daughters' schedules.

Telecommuting Offers Concentrated Work Time
For a long-term arrangement like an alternative work schedule or regular telecommuting, our full-time employees just need to work with their immediate manager to agree on terms. Because of the nature of specific jobs, some positions aren't eligible for telecommuting.

Leigh Baudreau, senior manager for financial planning and analysis, works from home one day a week. "It gives me concentrated work time," she said. "I'm always available on email and IM chat, but I can get quiet working time at home."

Everyone on Leigh's team can work from home twice a week, but the entire team is in the office together one day a week. It takes flexibility on the manager's part, Leigh said, and there are hectic times of the year. But the telecommuting option is a great benefit that her team appreciates, she said.

"I can work from home if I need to, take a break during the day for a pediatrician visit with my son or even just run a personal errand," said Chris Richter, communications manager. "I have two small children, and knowing that I have that flexibility gives me peace of mind when it comes to managing our schedules."

Railinc Supports Family Time in the Office
At Railinc, work/life balance isn't just about about figuring where and when to work. We also support family time in the office.

When school's out, it isn't unusual see children in the office, reading books or playing with toy trains while mom or dad works. On Halloween, you're likely to run into Batman or a princess or a cowboy walking around with buckets full of candy. Each year the children of employees visit the office for trick or treating, and employees decorate their work spaces and provide treats for the kids. And later this month, employees will bring their children to visit Railinc for Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day.

What better way for a kid to start their day than talking trains with mom or dad?

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Rail Equipment Reports Detail State of Fleets

We know all about rail data at Railinc. In fact, we have detailed information on nearly every railcar and locomotive you'll find rolling down the tracks in North America. These records include information like railcar type and capacity, locomotive horsepower and manufacture date.

Each year, at the Rail Equipment Finance Conference in La Quinta, Calif., Railinc Senior Analyst David Humphrey, right, presents detailed analyses of these demographic data, providing insights into the state of the railcar and locomotive fleets and where they're heading. The conference is one of many events that Railinc attends annually.

"Railinc has been a consistent presence at the Rail Equipment Finance Conference for more than 15 years," said David Nahass, senior vice president at the Railroad Financial Corporation, which holds the conference. "David's presentations are always among the most anticipated parts of the event. The attendees know the quality of Railinc’s data and see a lot of value in the information that David presents."

More than 400 people attended this year's Rail Equipment Finance Conference, including representatives from railcar lessors and lessees, banks, shippers, Class I railroads, short line railroads and finance companies.

At the conference, David presented on the revenue-earning railcar and locomotive fleets. The data in his presentations come from Railinc's Umler® system, an electronic resource that contains critical data for North American rail transportation equipment. Railroads, equipment owners, shippers and others use the Umler system for the safe and efficient placement, movement and interchange of cars for railroad carriers and customers.

In the Q&A below, he discusses the fleets, how people use his research and select highlights from both presentations. More detailed information about the fleets is available in the 2015 North American Freight Railcar Review and the 2015 North American Locomotive Review, both of which are free to download.

What is the revenue-earning fleet?
The revenue-earning fleet is a subset of the North American rail fleet that is largely composed of freight cars that can be used in interchange service and against which an interline waybill can be placed. It is made up of six sub-fleets: hoppers, covered hoppers, gondolas, flat cars, tank cars and box cars. This revenue-earning fleet of freight cars excludes locomotives, intermodal trailers and containers, maintenance-of-way equipment and end-of-train devices.

Why do you focus on this group of railcars in your presentation?
Most conference attendees are not interested in everything in the Umler system. Their professional focus is on traditional freight cars in revenue service moving lading from origin to destination. This is the primary means by which most car owners produce revenue from these assets. The revenue-earning fleet provides an excellent approximation of active freight cars in service. While locomotives and maintenance-of-way equipment are vitally important to the railroads, they do not produce revenue the same way equipment in the revenue-earning fleet does.

How do people use the data you present?
The Rail Equipment Finance Conference has a focus on the financial aspects of buying, selling, leasing and building freight cars and locomotives. Conference attendees use the data we present there to help make decisions for the next year and for the next decade. The age demographic data we present on the various sub-fleets highlight equipment being added in North America as well as what is likely to be retired in the next decade or so.

What were the major trends for the revenue-earning fleet in 2014?
The trends we saw in 2014 were a continuation of what we saw the previous year. The size of the revenue-earning fleet was up 2.6 percent and surpassed its 2009 population level, which is further indication of improvement in the overall economy. The two largest sub-fleets, tank cars and covered hoppers, drove the growth, while the two smallest sub-fleets, box cars and hoppers, continued to decline. The average age of the fleet continues to decline as new cars join the fleet. And larger cars, which enable operational efficiencies, are predominating among additions to the fleet.

And for locomotives?
Like with railcars, the locomotive fleet increased in size in 2014. Last year the fleet grew by about 900 locomotives and was up about 2.5 from the previous year. Locomotives tend to have long service lives, so we didn't see much change in the average or median ages of either, though both measures did increase slightly. And bigger railcars and longer trains require larger, more powerful locomotives. As a result, high-horsepower, six-axle, AC diesel locomotives have driven the fleet's recent growth.

The 2015 North American Freight Railcar Review and the 2015 North American Locomotive Review are both available to download for free, as are past years' reports. Railinc provides quarterly updates on the revenue-earning fleet in its Umler Equipment Index.

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Meet Railinc's People in Our 2014 Annual Report

The cover of Railinc's 2014 Annual Report.

Railinc people are smart, talented and dedicated to serving and supporting the North American freight rail system. They work behind the scenes to make sure railroads, car owners and others have the accurate, reliable data they need to to get shipments where they need to go, to keep railcars rolling safely and efficiently, and to streamline operations.

Our 2014 Annual Report highlights just a few of our many outstanding employees. These are the people who help customers resolve technology problems so they can get back to business; who work with railroad representatives on industry committees; who manage significant industry projects that deliver great value back to the industry; and who each year deliver products that we hope make working in freight rail easier.

An image of Railinc employee Robert Redd sitting at his desk.

These are people like Robert Redd (left), a Desert Storm veteran and former U.S. Army tank commander who manages systems that ensure our applications are working for our customers. And Patrice Thompson, who helps customers get the most out of Railinc products and services. And Jim Moran, whose railroad career started nearly 60 years ago and who has been a central figure in developing and advancing foundational industry systems.

We spend a lot of our time immersed in data at Railinc, developing solutions to help the industry solve its most pressing technology challenges. But at the end of the day, we know that people—railroaders—are on the other end of all the zeroes and ones, and we’re proud that our employees are helping them do great things every day.

Learn more about our people in our 2014 Annual Report, and find out about the work we've done the past nine years in our Annual Report archive.

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Tax Season Already? Railinc Reports Can Help

When it comes to taxes, some people like to keep their records in a shoebox, an envelope or two, and likely on their laptops. Imagine what it would be like to track down assets that roam across the vast continent. And you must be in compliance with tax codes from multiple jurisdictions.

There are unique tax rules for every state and even counties within those states that can require information to specific zip codes! Those are the facts of life in the freight rail industry.

A pull quote that reads: "In the freight rail industry there are unique rules for every state (and even some counties within those states) that can require information to specific zip codes!

Big Data, Big Money

Railcar owners and their agents must keep records straight as they prepare to file and pay taxes each year. Many often turn to Railinc for help. We work with freight railroads, railcar owners and their customers to provide track and trace services for railcars and rail shipments. That location data—the data that identifies when and where a railcar is located—can help validate when a railcar was in a specific tax jurisdiction.

That’s important because railcar owners, their tax accountants and third-party partners must accurately report the location of equipment to file and pay taxes. If taxing authorities have questions about a prior year's filings, this data may help railcar owners save big money.

“I have been involved with reports where the tax implications were into the seven figures,” said Chuck Hieronymi, director of business solutions. “Now that we have years of experience in providing this information to attorneys and other tax professionals, we can provide valuable insights.”

Equipment location for tax accounting is just one example of the kinds of special reports we can produce for qualified customers. Other kinds of reports may include equipment health histories, commodities handled in specific cars, fleet utilization and ownership history.

Strict Data, Confidentiality Policies Protect Your Information

It's very important to note that Railinc data is not open and readily available to anyone. While we provide and facilitate the movement of sensitive data, we take very seriously our role as an industry steward and protector of data. The availability of any data is subject to our strict data and confidentiality policies.

“We provide rail equipment information only to parties who have a direct relationship to the equipment or to others they have specifically authorized,” said Charles Paye, director of commercial products. Equipment owners can grant that right to their tax accountants or other third parties through Letters of Authorization.

Advances in Technology, Analysis Improve Reporting

The evolution of our analytics services goes back several years, when Umler® system users started requesting information that went beyond standard reporting.

“Car owners, shippers and other users helped us see that we could add value by going deeper into our available data,” Hieronymi said.

With advances in technology, our ability to analyze railcar activity has improved since we produced the first Umler special reports a few years ago, permitting tailored reports for each customer.

"In some cases, a customer might need a full year of historical data," Hieronymi said. "But in other cases a sample is sufficient. For example, out of a 5,000-car fleet, data for 500 cars might provide sufficient information.”

So when you go to your shoebox, your envelope or your laptop to pull all of this year’s tax records together, at least you won’t have to track down data spread across multiple states and counties and zip codes. But just like Railinc’s customers, you’ll still need to report your tax information accurately and on time.

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Committees Guide Railinc Projects Start to Finish

An aerial photograph of a railroad switching yard in Chicago.The Chicago Terminal is the busiest and most complex rail terminal in North America. About one-third of all freight rail traffic in the U.S. goes through Chicago. Each day more than 37,500 railcars are processed there and nearly 1,300 trains go through the terminal.

Now imagine trying to develop a multi-layered, digital map of the entire terminal, which is composed of a network of rail carriers that traverse over each others' lines but that operate separately.

One of Railinc's technology projects for 2015 will do just that. The map will include detailed data such as tracks, yards, corridors, trackage rights and capacities and will serve as a foundational resource for future work designed to improve the fluidity of rail traffic through the terminal.

Railinc Customers Shape the Work We Do

Railinc didn't decide on our own to tackle this projects or the related work that will follow. Most of our project work, like this mapping effort, originates each year in industry committees sponsored by the Association of American Railroads.

Industry committees work to ensure the smooth and efficient interline movement of freight, identifying common business problems that can be addressed through centralized data and technology resources, like the ones Railinc develops and manages.

"The committees give railroads and others a chance to help shape and provide input on rules, processes and technologies that have an impact on the movement of freight and on their business operations," said Barbara Bostian, director of our project management office. "Our work with the committees gives us really valuable insights into our customers' needs so we can better serve the industry."

In 2015 alone, we will focus on a dozen critical industry projects that will provide valuable, consequential technology solutions for the freight rail industry. In addition our development of a map of the Chicago Terminal, our work this year will focus on projects that will:

  • Enable mileage to be assigned to railcars in real time

  • Implement new data indicators and summaries to support railcar inspections and data sharing

  • Develop an industry capability to more quickly identify component and equipment failure patterns

Multi-Year Process Leads to Consequential Technologies

Planning for an upcoming calendar year’s projects starts a year in advance, when committees begin to develop detailed proposals that define railroad operational requirements. In some cases, the project will address an industry rule or process change. In most cases, though, projects are part of larger, multi-year programs that focus on solving rail network challenges in areas such as asset health, car hire or traffic fluidity.

The committees give input to the AAR Railinc Project Support Working Committee (RPSWC), which provides business representation and sponsorship from Class I railroads for key initiatives that can facilitate common industry solutions for challenges related to IT and business processes. The goal is to gain consensus from railroads on reasonable, centralized solutions to those challenges.

The RPSWC evaluates and prioritizes project proposals from the AAR committees. Only a dozen or so of the many proposed projects are selected for recommendation to the Railinc Board, which provides final approval.

Once a project begins, we work closely with the sponsoring committee throughout the year to ensure that we meet milestones, make adjustments when necessary and stay focused on the needs of our customers. The committee's guidance and the hard work of our people enable Railinc to deliver products year after year that provide measurable benefits to the freight rail industry.

—Railinc Corporate Communications

(Photograph of the Belt Railway of Chicago's Clearing Yard courtesy of Railinc employee Matt Beaver)