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.

Rail Fleet Bright Spot: Boxcars Shine in Q2

A train with boxcars rumbles down the tracks.

Followers of the rail industry have likely come across discussions recently about the make-up of the boxcar fleet in North America and how it serves a broad customer base. The total count of boxcars in the North American fleet was approximately 109,000 at the end of 2015. Those boxcars, however, can be divided into two distinct categories that are relevant for equipment owners and for shippers. There is the older, smaller fleet of boxcars and there is the newer, larger fleet of boxcars.

There are about 74,000 older, smaller boxcars, which share important characteristics. Most of these boxcars—50,000 of them—are older (ages 35 years and above), smaller (about 50 feet in length) and limited to carrying lighter weights (gross rail load of 220,000 or 263,000 pounds).

Then there’s the other portion of the boxcar fleet.

There are about 35,000 newer, larger boxcars, which also share important characteristics. Most of these boxcars— 25,000 of them—are newer (less than 25 years of age), larger (typically about 60 feet in length), and capable of carrying heavier weights (gross rail load of 286,000 pounds).
 

"Missing Decade" Will Shape Boxcar Retirement Trends

Railinc Sr. Analyst David Humphrey, center,
reviews rail fleet data with his colleagues.

In between these two portions of the boxcar fleet is something of a missing decade. If we examine just boxcars that have ages from 24 years to 32 years, that spans a nine-year window—roughly a decade.

Within that period, there are fewer than 2,000 boxcars in the North American fleet, and all of those are the older, smaller boxcars. That is, the very few boxcars in that nine-year age group represent the last and youngest of previous generation of boxcars that were added to the fleet two or three decades ago. The outcome: There will be small boxcars retiring from the fleet in the next 15 years, followed by about 10 years with very few boxcars retiring, before the retirement of large boxcars begins in large quantities in about 25 years.

These differences in physical characteristics between the older, smaller boxcars and the newer, larger boxcars can be very important. Some shippers are limited by weight in how much lading can be placed in a boxcar. (Think about shipping gold bars.) They reach the weight limit on the boxcar before reaching the limit on cubic capacity.

Other shippers are limited by cubic capacity in how much lading can be placed in a boxcar. (Think about shipping chicken feathers.) They reach the interior space limit on the boxcar before reaching the weight limit.

But whether the shipper reaches the weight or the cubic-capacity limit first, those older, smaller boxcars consistently carry less lading than the newer, larger boxcars. And while older, smaller boxcars are retiring from the fleet, the rate of addition of newer, larger boxcars has been such that the overall capacity of the boxcars fleet has decreased significantly in recent years.
 

Second Quarter Boxcar Additions Outpaced 2014, 2015 Combined

There is, however, some indication that a change is potentially upon us.

A few hundred new boxcars have been added to the fleet this year. In fact, more new boxcars were added during the second quarter of 2016 than were added in all of 2014 and 2015 combined. And the new boxcars that are being added are typically 60 feet in length with a gross rail load of 286,000 pounds.

While it is too soon to call this a trend, it is something of a bright spot in an otherwise challenging year. It certainly warrants monitoring in the upcoming months, even if you’re not shipping gold bars or chicken feathers.

—David Humphrey Ph.D.


David Humphrey Ph.D. is a data scientist and senior analyst at Railinc. Each year, at the Rail Equipment Finance Conference, he presents detailed analyses of demographic data on the North American railcar and locomotive fleets. Read a Q&A with Humphrey and download his 2016 railcar and locomotive fleet reports for free. 

 

Railinc a Top Developer for Seventh Straight Year

Railinc employees discussing a software development challenge.

It’s always nice to earn recognition for the quality of your work, the value you deliver to your customers and the excellence your employees bring to their jobs every day.

Railinc has done all of that already in 2016. We were named one of 100 Great Supply Chain Partners by SupplyChainBrain magazine, and Inbound Logistics magazine listed us among its 100 Top Logistics IT Providers for 2016, the fifth time in six years we were chosen for the award.

And if you work at Railinc and your name is “Jerry,” you’ve done exceptionally well. Railinc Chief Information Officer Jerry Traynham won a Triangle Business Journal 2016 CIO Award, and Jerry Vaughn, director of interline services, was named one of Progressive Railroading magazine’s 2016 Rising Stars.

But it’s also great to be recognized for having a large presence in a thriving, competitive technology community like the Triangle.

Railinc recently was ranked as one of the largest software developers in the area by the Triangle Business Journal. This annual survey ranks Triangle software developers by the number of local employees. It’s the seventh straight year Railinc has landed on the list, which was published Aug. 12.

Railinc ranked No. 11 for 2016, appearing among Triangle-area technology powerhouses like IBM, SAS and Red Hat. With 283 employees, we were also one of 11 companies listed with more than 250 employees.

“As the Triangle’s reputation as a leading tech community continues to grow, we’re excited to again rank among the 25 largest software developers,” said Allen West, Railinc president and CEO. “We have a lot of great people here doing important work for the freight rail industry and contributing to our local tech community.”

Check out the complete list of the Triangle's largest software developers (subscription required).

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Railinc Interns Get Real Tech, Business Experience

Working as a product support intern at Railinc seemed like a perfect fit for Nicole Kyne. The Wake Technical Community College student is enrolled in the school’s Transportation Distribution and Logistics program and spent the summer as part of the company’s Central Services team, which manages mission-critical internal applications.

Railinc interns Nicole Kyne and Jennifer Collins

Product Support Intern Nicole Kyne, standing, and Human Resources Intern Jennifer Collins

"I've learned a lot about messaging, EDI, queries,” Kyne said. “These are things I never thought I’d be learning about first-hand.”

Kyne is one of nearly a dozen high school, college and graduate students who worked as interns at Railinc this summer. Railinc offers paid internships in departments across the company, from IT to Product and Customer Support to Business Operations. Summer internships typically begin after the school year ends and run until shortly before the fall semester starts. Internships are often available during other times of the year.

“Interns are usually here for eight to 12 weeks but sometimes longer,” said Melissa Scott, senior corporate recruiter and coordinator of the program. “They get valuable experience interacting with our employees, and they contribute in important ways.”
 

Railinc Internships Offer Opportunities to Learn, Grow, Contribute

Railinc interns are involved in a range of activities. For example, two high school interns who were part of the company’s Infrastructure Support and Services team this summer completed a company-wide physical inventory of all Railinc hardware.

“Having our interns focused on a single task was a great benefit because they were able to complete an important project in a short time period,” said Richie Stewart, IT manager. “I was impressed by their ability to take direction and work independently. They got a lot out of it, and we were able to complete our inventory.”

Jennifer Collins had heard good things about Railinc and reached out when she saw an ad for a human resources internship. The Liberty University MBA student, who has concentrations in HR and project management, had experience in sales and management. She worked with the Railinc HR team on the company’s wellness program, was involved in processes around candidate interviews and hiring, and produced reports in areas like affirmative action and employee leave.

“There was nothing on my resume that said, ‘HR,’” said Collins, who is scheduled to stay on until March 2017. “I think having specific exposure to HR will make a huge difference in my job search.”

Dileep Badvali, a sophomore electrical engineering student at N.C. State University, worked as part of the company’s Asset Health group. He didn’t know much about the company before he started, just that it worked with railroads. Among his projects during the summer was quality assurance testing of Railinc’s Early Warning and Tank Car applications.

“I have learned technologies like Selenium, and improved my Java knowledge,” Badvali said. “And seeing how an industry operates from this perspective will help me in the future.”

Prabhu Kompella, a Railinc project development manager, supervised two summer interns and one long-term intern, including Badvali. He was impressed, he said, by the interns’ attitude and the work they accomplished.

“Our interns were eager to learn new technologies and keen to demonstrate their usefulness to the team,” he said. “They seemed to love a challenge and, when confronted with an interesting problem, showed dedication and motivation to complete it on time.”
 

Railinc Internships Available Year-Round

Railinc hires interns year-round and plans to grow its summer program in 2017. Openings are posted on the Railinc Open Positions page, Glassdoor and other job search websites.

As for Kyne, she’ll continue at Railinc this fall as a customer support intern while she attends Wake Tech. One of her upcoming courses will focus on analytics. “I know there are a lot of people in the building I’ll be able to go to for help if I have any questions,” she said.

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Railinc CIO Among Top Tech Leaders in Triangle

The Triangle Business Journal has named Railinc CIO Jerry Traynham one of the winners of its 2016 CIO Awards. Traynham 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, Traynham has worked nearly 40 years in technology. He has held leadership and management positions with Lucent Technologies, AT&TBell Labs and Blue Shoe Technologies, where he led development efforts on applications for the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency and others. He 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.
 

Presented in partnership with the North Carolina Technology Association, the Triangle Business Journal’s annual CIO Awards recognize individuals who are changing the Triangle business community through information technology. Click here to see the 2016 class of CIO Awards winners.

—Railinc Corporate Communications

 

Railinc's Ergo Office Bolsters Productivity

If you work in an office, you probably spend a lot of time typing on a keyboard, staring at a computer monitor and sitting in a chair. And if you’re having pain—constant or just occasional—you might be doing it all wrong.

Railinc employees with their Herman Miller
Aeron chairs at a chair training session.

Office work isn’t nearly as physically taxing as driving a railroad spike or hanging off the ladder on the back of a railcar. But repetitive motions, poor posture, eyestrain and other factors can cause momentary pain or long-term injury. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) account for about one-third of all work-related injuries and illnesses. Research has shown as much as 90 percent of computer users have vision-related problems, and about 80 percent of adults will experience low back pain.

That’s why Railinc emphasizes ergonomics in its office and provides office furniture and education resources to help employees stay healthy and productive. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, ergonomics helps lessen muscle fatigue, increases productivity and reduces the number and severity of work-related MSDs. The most common MSDs office workers experience affect the upper limbs, neck and back and include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, muscle strains and low-back injuries.

“With ergonomic work spaces, it helps alleviate costs around health care and supports the work we do because our employees are healthier and more productive,” said Cathelene Thomas, Railinc’s facilities manager and chief of staff, who provides ergonomic assessments for employees. “And the investment we are making shows our people that the company cares about their health and well-being.”
 

Railinc Offers Ergonomics Training, Tools to Support Healthy Work Environment

At Railinc, any employee can request an ergonomic assessment, which considers factors such as a person’s posture when they sit, the settings on their chair, how far they are from their computer monitor and how they place their hands on their keyboard. Employees can request keyboard trays, foot rests and task lighting, as well as sit-to-stand desks. All employees and contractors are provided a Herman Miller Aeron chair, which has won numerous awards for ergonomics and design, and Railinc provides training to teach proper chair positioning.

“We want employees to be educated and more aware and have the training and tools they need,” Thomas said.

Going through training on how to adjust his chair helped business analyst Chad Hanna alleviate his back pain and improve his comfort level when he works. “My back pain has gone down tremendously,” he said. “I learned how to use it, and I adjust it four or five times a day.”

Peter Boccardo of Herman Miller, second from right, teaches
Railinc 
employees how to adjust their chairs for maximum comfort.


Industry experts applaud Railinc’s approach to ergonomics.

“Railinc has a human-centered design approach for the spaces their employees work in with a focus on people being happy, healthy and productive in their work space,” said Peter Boccardo, a workplace solutions and technology support consultant at Herman Miller who works with Railinc on its office environment and has presented to employees on ergonomics.
 

Six Ways to Make Your Workday Healthier

Here are six tips that can help you stay healthy in an office environment:

  1. Observe the 20-20-20 rule: To help relieve eye strain due to extensive computer monitor use, every 20 minutes look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This enables your eyes to re-hydrate and refocus.

  2. Stand up: Standing for a few minutes throughout the day can help with circulation and reduce stress on your back.

  3. Position your monitor correctly: The top of the monitor should be about eye level and at an arm’s length. If you wear progressive lenses, position the monitor lower and tilt it back a bit to prevent craning the neck.

  4. Position your chair correctly: Keep your feet flat on the floor with your knees at about a 90-degree angle and your arms positioned just under your forearms. Sit all the way back in the seat and make sure your back touches the chair back.

  5. Position your keyboard correctly: Arms and wrists should be in a neutral position, which may mean the keyboard is higher in the front than the back. Bring the keyboard toward you so your arms are at a comfortable resting position, elbows at slightly greater than 90 degrees.

  6. Move: Walk to a nearby co-worker to talk instead of sending an e-mail. Moving is good for circulation and keeps your joints hydrated.

—Railinc Corporate Communications