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 Wins NCTA Business Value Award

Railinc has been recognized as winner of the 2017 Business Value Award at the NC Tech Awards, the largest and most prestigious statewide technology awards program. Presented annually by the North Carolina Technology Association (NCTA), the awards honor the companies and individuals who represent the best and brightest in technology and business in North Carolina.

This is the first time Railinc has won the Business Value award. Railinc was named Industry-Driven Company of the Year in 2016.

“It’s an honor to be recognized among such an impressive group of technology companies and leaders,” said Allen West, Railinc president and CEO. “This award underscores the important work our people do to support the freight rail industry and the value they deliver to customers every day through our products and services.”

Railinc’s nomination highlighted the company’s asset health work, the AskRail mobile application and its efforts to support freight rail operations in the Chicago Terminal, the busiest rail terminal in North America.

“Since 1995, the NC Tech Awards has honored excellence and innovation throughout North Carolina, representing the best and brightest,” said Brooks Raiford, NCTA president and CEO. “As a winner, Railinc has distinguished itself as a peer-leader, and we are proud to recognize them as a 2017 NC Tech Awards winner.”

Railinc’s CIO, Jerry Traynham, was also recognized as 2017 Private Sector CIO of the Year at the event. Click here to read a Q&A with Traynham.

You can see the complete list of award recipients here. Winners were recognized at NCTA’s annual awards gala on November 9 at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel and Convention Center in Durham.

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Railinc Named Triangle's 12th Healthiest Employer

Railinc’s twice-weekly, onsite boot camp is more fun than Richie Stewart, the company’s IT manager, expected. He had been an avid cyclist and had done plenty of group rides in the past, but he was used to the solitude of long rides or individual workouts at the gym.

“I’ve been amazed at how much I enjoy going to boot camp with my coworkers,” Stewart said “They support you and encourage you. And they hold you accountable.”

Since one of his colleagues convinced him to attend a boot camp session, Richie has lost 40 pounds.

The free boot camp, led by a trainer from O2 Fitness, is part of Railinc’s Wellness Program, started in 2012. The voluntary program gives employees and their families resources to get active, make healthy lifestyle choices and save money.

It also earns the company recognition.

For the fifth consecutive year, Railinc has been named one the Triangle Business Journal’s Healthiest Employers. The company was No. 12 on the list for 2017 and has been among the top 15 healthiest employers in the region four times in five years.

Railinc was recognized with the other winners at a luncheon at The Rickhouse in Durham on Oct. 19.


Employee Input Encourages Participation

Employees drive nearly all Railinc wellness initiatives. The company’s 11-person wellness team includes employees from across the company who meet regularly to plan activities and share feedback. Employee involvement in setting the program agenda helps boost participation: Railinc has had 100 percent employee participation each of the last two years.

The team adds new activities every year. Last year, Railinc started an in-house Weight Watchers program. Twenty-three people participated in the first 19-week series; 21 participated in the second series that began in early 2017, losing a combined 252 pounds. Railinc defrays part of the program’s cost for employees who sign up within the first two weeks of the series. This year, the wellness team created a dedicated meditation space.

Railinc's Wellness Team and other Railinc employees at the 2017 Healthiest Employers luncheon.

Other activities and resources that are part of Railinc’s Wellness Program include:

  • Free onsite boot camps led by a trainer from O2 Fitness
  • Free onsite yoga
  • Year-round deliveries of free fresh fruit
  • An annual 5K run and walk
  • Free Fitbits for full-time employees and fitness contests with prizes
  • An onsite fitness center
  • Subsidized gym memberships
  • Weight Watchers at Work
  • Chair massages
  • Nutrition counseling
  • Sports teams, including softball and cricket

“The company culture at Railinc embraces wellness and staying active,” said Nicole Jesserer, a business analyst who has participated as a player and coach in softball. “Whatever you like to do, chances are good that you’ll find some of your co-workers are already participating in that activity.”

That’s the point. The wellness program’s breadth of offerings supports participation by all and helps to make wellness a cornerstone of Railinc’s culture. Not everyone runs marathons or cycles at lunch or does pushups in the parking lot at boot camp. The program offers employees an array of choices for how they can get involved. This approach gives employees access to resources that fit their needs and has improved program engagement.

Sometimes activities emerge without the program’s involvement. When Brian Childs organized lunchtime ultimate Frisbee last year, he was just hoping to get a regular game going. Interest was high, and he eventually got support from Railinc to buy supplies. About 20 employees turn out each week.

“I thought if we could run the games in a low-key fashion and get everyone playing, that would be fun,” said Childs, a business analyst. “It’s been over a year now, and I think we’ve played every week. Most of the time, it’s twice a week. I’ve gotten to know my coworkers better, and it’s opened me up to a lot more people.”

Healthy Employees Help Keep Costs Low

Healthy employees also have a positive impact on a company’s bottom line. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, employees who reported having a strong culture of health at work were more likely to report being happy, less likely to report that stress has a negative impact on their work, and less likely to cite the work environment as an obstacle to health.

The program has enabled Railinc to better manage its health care costs in recent years and to continue to keep health insurance premiums low. For example, a Railinc employee will spend an average of $2,260 less per year on health care than their peers at similar companies; employees who insure their families through Railinc will spend $8,650 less. Railinc also provides employees and their families with free dental and vision coverage, as well as free confidential counseling.

“It’s exciting to be recognized again for our wellness program,” said Kristen Sandstrom, Railinc’s director of human resources. “We’ve always placed a high priority on health insurance. Our Wellness Program has helped us build on that, making an impact on our employees’ health and their wallets and supporting a positive workplace culture. We’re proud of that.”

—Railinc Corporate Communications


Railinc's Traynham Named CIO of the Year

Railinc’s Jerry Traynham has been named Private Sector CIO of the Year for 2017 by the North Carolina Technology Association (NCTA). Jerry manages Railinc’s complex technology environment, providing vision and leadership for the company’s data, product development and information systems platforms. He joined Railinc in 2005 and has led a number of significant technology projects, including the technical reengineering of the Umler® system, a foundational application for the North American freight rail industry.

A graduate of Clemson University, Jerry has worked nearly 40 years in technology. He has held leadership and management positions with Lucent Technologies, AT&T, Bell Labs and Blue Shoe Technologies, where he led development efforts on applications for the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency and others.

Jerry talks about his career, technology and Railinc below.

Railinc CIO Jerry Traynham with Joan Smemoe, director of application engineering
Railinc CIO Jerry Traynham, right, with Joan Smemoe, director of application engineering


How did you get into technology and software?
I had a strong affinity for mathematics and engineering in high school. My dad was an engineering supervisor, and we had a machine shop on our property. As a kid, I was doing a lot of mechanical design, building go-karts. When I went to college, there wasn’t a computer science curriculum, so I pursued an electrical engineering degree, which encompassed computer science. After graduation, I went to work at Bell Labs as a systems engineer of radars for the Department of Defense.

The systems engineers designed and integrated the hardware, but we also worked with the software teams. I was drawn to the software side and transferred to a business unit where they were developing the UNIX system and software apps for the telephone industry. I worked shoulder to shoulder with some of the first UNIX developers and rose to project manager for the Trunks Integrated Record Keeping System (TIRKS), a telecom operations support system that’s still in use today. Creating this highly complex, critical industry system was when I really became focused on software engineering.

What do you like about working in technology and at Railinc?
I’ve always liked creating products that provide value and solve important problems. That was my attraction to Railinc. Our products touch the entire lifecycle of a train, and we use a lot of leading-edge technologies here, which is exciting for me and our engineers. We have tremendous breadth and depth for a company of about 300 people, particularly from an architecture, technology stack and design perspective.

Being a centralized hub for the North American freight rail industry, we maintain a wide range of apps that includes everything from financial exchanges to apps that help in the design of a railcar. Before I joined the company, I was doing work for the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense on some interesting, high-tech applications. I’m drawn to building things that add value. If I’m not able to do that, I’m not going to be particularly interested in the work.

What are the biggest technology challenges Railinc faces today?
One of Railinc’s greatest challenges is managing technology refresh. The rate of technology change continues to accelerate, supporting new use cases, and we work hard to stay ahead. One area we’re presently looking at is mobility, where we don’t have much of a presence today. Because of safety, there has been a concern around using mobile devices in railyards. But today, it’s possible to have in the palm of your hand devices that can enable you to perform business processes and analytics wherever you are, and our customers are adapting operational processes to take advantage of these capabilities.

Another area of challenge and opportunity is big data. There’s opportunity for us in both analysis and management of data. We’re a data hub for the industry, and we have enormous feeds of data coming in. The railroads are fielding sensor systems around North America that are capable of sending data to Railinc. I don’t believe many people fully realize the power or the growth of that data yet. The challenge is to continue to provide the technology, tools and expertise to enable that data to better serve the freight rail industry.

How do you approach strategic planning for the IT group?
It’s important for us to understand what the strategic plan is from the business team. We work to make sure that our IT strategy aligns with Railinc’s business strategy. Some strategic areas are more IT-centric and focus on IT workflows and processes. One example is security. It’s a top priority for our Board of Directors, and we have made significant investments in our security program the last two years. It’s the kind of investment that isn’t apparent to our end users, but our strategy is to have a security program in place that keeps all our business processes running and all our data secure and protected. I have quite a bit of experience in cybersecurity during my career and have seen the benefit of having a strong security program and what happens when you don’t.

Another important part of our strategy is staying current in our technology stack while at the same time reducing operational costs. It’s a continual challenge to maintain that balance. We look for open source options where possible. With the rapid advent of new technologies, we’re able to transition from good, expensive, proprietary solutions to good, open source solutions that may be easier to operate and maintain and that help us reduce costs.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in IT today?
I don’t think the size of the company you start at is that important as long as you have the opportunity to develop or enhance software systems. For most IT people today there are going to be the operations, support and maintenance aspects of the assignments. Finding the opportunity to work in product development or in the integration and support of underlying technologies is key because these enable you to grow professionally.

Also, it’s important to work on teams where you can realize mentoring, both in development techniques and quality processes. At Railinc, we are very supportive of our IT staff’s continued learning and professional advancement. We also emphasize mentoring here, especially from technical and software engineering process perspectives. All software engineers, from development to infrastructure, must stay current with technology changes by connecting with your peers and reading and experimenting as much as you can.

North Carolina's only statewide technology awards program, NCTA’s annual NC Tech Awards recognizes companies and individuals who have characterized excellence, innovation and leadership. Railinc was also named a finalist in the Mid-Size Company of the Year and the Business Value categories. Jerry will be recognized and the winners in the company categories will be announced at the NC Tech Awards Gala on Thursday, November 9.

—Railinc Corporate Communications


Railinc Interns Get Hands-On Experience

Railinc internships offer valuable, hands-on experience in areas ranging from IT to business operations to human resources. This summer, the company welcomed about a dozen high school and college students, including Jesse Morgan, a senior North Carolina State University computer science major who worked as a software engineering intern. Jesse was kind enough to share with us his thoughts on his Railinc internship experience:

What I Did
I worked on a product called the Car Repair Management System (CRMS), which keeps track of repairs between different repair companies. I helped test the product and web application. I spent most of my day writing code to automate the testing using a framework for the Java programming language Selenium, which makes it easier to automate. I ended up doing about 50 to 60 percent of the CRMS web application user interface testing. My typical day would start the night before. I would run tests through Jenkins, an automation server, before I left each night. When I’d arrive in the morning, I could see what passed and failed. I kept track of cases I was working on through a wiki page and added the new cases to the page so I would know what I needed to pass. I actually ended up getting them all passed by the end of summer.

Jesse Morgan, center, with his fellow interns at the Railinc summer event.

What I Learned
I learned a lot of practical skills. I already had some experience working with Java, but I was able to learn more and develop my skills. As I gained experience during my internship, I learned better software design techniques such as writing more general code that can be applied to multiple test cases.

What I Liked
I really liked the people. Everyone was always willing to help me if I needed it. My supervisors were knowledgeable and helpful, and they kept me on track. I never felt like I was on my own in figuring out a problem or attacking a project. I also built some great connections and relationships with people I worked with and with other interns. My internship offered me a taste of what a real-world job and working in an office setting would be like. I had never had that opportunity before, and it was just a really great experience.

Railinc hires interns throughout the year and posts internship openings on the Railinc Careers page. 

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Global Conference Panel Features Railinc Analyst

The North American railcar fleet grew by about 21,000 cars through July, adding about 5,500 grain or fertilizer covered hoppers, 4,500 tank cars and 3,500 plastic pellet covered hoppers. Those were among the takeaways from a recent Railcar Outlook and Overview panel featuring Railinc Senior Analyst Dr. David Humphrey and others at Cowen and Company’s 10th annual Global Transportation Conference.

The entire panel session is available below. Railway Age also published a recap of the discussion

Each year, Humphrey uses Umler 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. Companion reports on the railcar and locomotive fleets are available to download for free on the Railinc Research Reports page.

—Railinc Corporate Communications