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.

Reference Files Help Keep Industry Moving

Imagine that you run a lumber company, and you need to ship plywood from Oregon to Maine. Your shipment would move on multiple railroads to travel the approximately 2,600 miles from origin to destination.

What if those railroads each used different information to identify where exactly the railcar carrying your shipment was to be interchanged along the way?

Your plywood shipment would probably take a lot longer to get to Maine.

If it got there at all.

Industry Reference Files (IRFs) serve as the North American freight rail industry’s official code tables. IRFs enable data consistency that helps the rail industry manage the movement of 1.7 trillion ton-miles of products every year in the most efficient way possible. They are the sources the railroads involved in your shipment would use for critical information like station locations and the commodities they’re supposed to be moving. As the hub for industry data, Railinc maintains 12 IRFs and uses them to support essential rail systems and operations.

“IRFs are vital to the rail industry because they play a role throughout the entire lifecycle of a rail shipment,” said Rob Drew, Railinc’s IRF product manager. “You can think of IRFs as data as a service (DaaS) that Railinc maintains on behalf of the rail industry and its customers. The real value of IRFs is that everybody in the industry is working off the same set of reference data.”

IRFs Provide a Single Source for Essential Information

The first railroad moving your plywood knows exactly where it will hand off your shipment to the second railroad because they’ve both gotten the location address from the same source. In this case, they’re using data from the Centralized Station Master, a geographic location file that contains information about rail and motor carrier point stations.

Industry Reference Files serve as spell checkers, data dictionaries and thesauruses supporting communications within railroads and across the industry. 

The dozen IRFs that Railinc maintains are full of other details such as railroad personnel contact information; route origin, interchange and destination points; customer names and locations; commodity types; information on hazardous materials; and shipment types. They serve as spell checkers, data dictionaries and thesauruses supporting communications within railroads and across the industry.

These files help railroads plan freight movement, transport hazardous materials safely, identify revenue routes, apply switch charges accurately, communicate delivery instructions and ensure billing accuracy. Without IRFs, railroads and their partners and customers would have a difficult time communicating about these activities, and railroad traffic would slow.

IRFs Play Role Through Rail Shipment Lifecycle

IRFs contain essential information that gets used even before your plywood shipment is loaded on a railcar. When you’re ready to move your plywood by rail, you create a bill of lading and send it to the first railroad. That railroad uses the information you’ve provided to create a waybill with details and instructions for your shipment. Waybills include information from several IRFs, including the Customer Identification File (CIF) to identify the customer, the Mark to identify the rail carriers involved and the Standard Transportation Commodity Code (STCC) to identify the commodity being shipped.

CIF contains about 300,000 records. Carriers use CIF data to identify customer locations where price and other contract terms apply so they can provide accurate delivery instructions and improve shipment reservation, booking and equipment-ordering processes.

CIF includes the name, physical and mailing address, corporate parent identifier and a unique identification code for each location managed by the corporate parent. Carriers don't have to worry about inconsistent data because the information is managed using the same standards by a single entity—Railinc. Our employees receive new entity, name change and other requests and update CIF information daily.

Because more than one railroad will carry your plywood, information from IRFs is required to help determine the rate each carrier will charge the shipper. IRFs enable railroads to automatically split up and settle payments among carriers and help to ensure that shipments are routed properly and switch charges are applied correctly.

IRFs Feed Critical Industry Systems

But IRFs aren’t just standalone reference resources. Critical industry systems like the Interline Settlement System®, the Umler® system and the Damaged and Defective Car Tracking (DDCT) system rely on the information they contain to function.

For example, the Mark register contains a record of all reporting marks, the alphabetical characters stenciled on every railcar to identify the railroads, shippers and equipment companies that own or lease them. Marks support electronic interactions among railroads, their customers and Railinc systems and files and are used for revenue accounting purposes like car hire and car repair billing.

If your shipment travels on more than one carrier, industry rules require that the car that carries your plywood to Maine must be registered in the Umler system, a cornerstone industry database that contains information on more than 2 million pieces of rail equipment in North America. The Umler system uses the Mark register to identify equipment owners and lessors. This ownership information, combined with the data in the Umler system, helps to ensure car hire billing and demurrage and other fees are assigned to the right entity.

Mark information and other IRFs also play critical roles in DDCT, which provides a centralized system for freight car owners, railroads, repair shops, and scrap and storage facilities to track damaged and defective railcars. DDCT uses Mark, STCC and other data so handling carriers can search and enter crucial information for cars that are being tracked.

Freight rail industry rules also require DDCT users to register in FindUs.Rail, an IRF that contains contact information for industry participants. DDCT uses FindUs.Rail data to send notifications throughout the DDCT workflow, keeping industry participants informed about incidents and repairs.

So by the time you close the books on your shipment, it’s possible that as many as 11 of the 12 IRFs will have played some role in getting your plywood to Maine. (Had you been shipping hazardous materials, all 12 IRFs would have had a role.)

“IRFs are sort of like the little engine that could,” Drew said. “On the face of it, they might just seem like lists of addresses and commodity codes and company names. But they’re dependable and indispensable, and they’re essential to helping the North American rail industry keep trains moving and efficiently serve customers.”

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Big Data Means Better Rail Shipment Visibility

Each time a wayside detector logs a passing railcar, Railinc receives information about the car. The rail industry uses these event messages to track railcar movements.

As the hub for rail industry data, Railinc receives more than 11 million of these messages every day from all seven Class I railroads and more than 500 short line railroads. That’s more than 4 billion annually, each carrying vital information that supports rail operations. The sheer volume enables Railinc to offer the most comprehensive data feed available to the industry.

Railinc uses these data to create car location messages (CLMs). And despite the name, CLMs aren’t just about location.

They can contain information about waybills, embargoes, bad orders, interchanges, arrivals, departures, estimated time of arrival, loaded and unloaded status, and the start or end of a railcar’s trip, among other data points.

These CLMs feed Railinc’s RailSight Track and Trace solution. The industry’s only comprehensive, single-source shipment-tracking service, RailSight Track and Trace sends out real-time rail data around the clock, enabling the most complete view available of a rail shipment’s lifecycle. RailSight helps users track railcars and intermodal equipment on more than 530 carriers across North America. Railinc supports various integration and connectivity options, including EDI, API and others.

Shippers, railroads, car owners and third-party logistics providers can use RailSight Track and Trace to access actionable information about equipment and shipments, enable process improvements, and reduce and avoid costs related to railcar storage, bad orders, IT support and infrastructure, billing disputes and other areas. Here are just a few ways RailSight can support logistics needs:

  • Shippers can tell whether a railcar is ready to be loaded or unloaded and have resources at the ready to minimize or avoid demurrage.

  • Railroads can gain complete visibility through a single source into a railcar’s status, even on foreign lines, so they can keep their customers informed about a shipment all the way through to delivery.

  • Car owners can monitor the health and usage of their leased equipment, keeping track of information like trip length and mileage, and who has possession of the railcar.

  • Third-party logistics providers can eliminate information gaps to deliver improved productivity and customer service.

From custom reporting to systems integration, RailSight Track and Trace can deliver the data you need, when you need it, providing information that improves visibility and helps you manage your business more efficiently and effectively.

Ready to learn more about RailSight Track and Trace? Visit the RailSight Track and Trace resource page or contact the Railinc customer support team at 877-724-5462 or csc@railinc.com.

Railinc Named a Top Logistics IT Provider

For the sixth time in the last seven years, Inbound Logistics magazine has named Railinc Corp. among its Top 100 Logistics IT Providers.

"When choosing the 2017 Top 100 Logistics IT Providers, we looked at excellence in optimizing transportation and logistics operations, and how a company’s solutions impact business activities across internal and external business processes," said Felecia Stratton, editor of Inbound Logistics. “Railinc was selected because its solutions solve specific rail industry challenges, improve processes and create a ripple effect of efficiencies across the entire value chain. Inbound Logistics is proud to honor Railinc for its innovative solutions empowering logistics and supply chain excellence in 2017."

Many of Railinc's products support critical operations throughout the freight rail industry. The company’s RailSight™ suite of applications delivers valuable tracking and tracing data to improve network, equipment and shipment visibility, manage exceptions, optimize rail fleets and manage loaded and empty rail equipment. Railinc's Umler® system is the industry's official resource for data on rail equipment used in interline service across North America. The company utilizes its software and technology systems to deliver operational data, provide business intelligence and produce custom reports to that enhance freight rail shipping.

“Enhanced supply chain visibility that provides companies and their transportation partners the ability to identify shipment opportunities and issues, take appropriate actions sooner and maximize logistics performance is more important than ever,” said Chuck Hieronymi, director of business solutions. “With our comprehensive, near real-time rail and intermodal data, tools and analytics, Railinc provides key intelligence for today’s advanced transportation management, planning and visibility platforms. Our customers know that better data leads to better business performance and higher returns on their technology investments.”

Every 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. Click here to see the complete list of the Top 100 Logistics IT Providers.

"It’s an honor to be recognized again for this award and for our service to the freight rail industry," said Allen West, president and CEO. "Our people are committed to providing value to the industry every day. I’m proud of the positive impact they have on our customers and the industry and the high-quality products and services they deliver."

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Railinc Reports Detail Growth of Fleets

Railinc’s Umler system is a rich industry resource that contains data on more than 2 million pieces of rail equipment and includes details such as railcar dimensions, capacities and weight, and locomotive horsepower and fuel capacity. Analysis of these data can provide powerful insights into the size and makeup of the North American railcar and locomotive fleets.

Since 2010, Railinc Senior Analyst Dr. David Humphrey, right, has used Umler data to create demographic profiles of the railcar and locomotive fleets for an annual presentation at the Rail Equipment Finance Conference in La Quinta, Calif. Railinc representatives have appeared at the conference since 1999.

“This year, as always, attendees of the Rail Equipment Finance Conference appreciated David Humphrey’s presentations on the state of the railcar and locomotive fleets,” said David Nahass, president of Railroad Financial Corporation, which holds the conference. “At REF, senior executives from companies throughout the rail finance industry are joined by numerous financial and rail industry analysts to hear David speak. They know that Railinc is a trusted data source. David’s presentations help set the tone for thoughtful discussions and a great conference.”

About 400 people attended the conference in March, including representatives from railcar lessors and lessees, banks, shippers, Class I railroads, short line railroads and finance companies.

In the Q&A below, Humphrey discusses the railcar and locomotive fleets, what’s new in this year’s railcar review, and overall trends for railcars and locomotives. Detailed information about the fleets, including full-color charts, is included in the 2017 North American Freight Railcar Review and the 2017 North American Locomotive Review, both available via free download here.

What types of railcars are in the revenue-earning fleet?
The revenue-earning fleet, a subset of the North American rail fleet, is made up of six subfleets: hoppers, covered hoppers, gondolas, flat cars, tank cars and box cars. These cars can be used in interchange service and can be associated with an interline waybill. The revenue-earning fleet doesn’t include locomotives, intermodal trailers and containers, maintenance-of-way equipment and end-of-train devices.

What’s new in this year’s railcar review?
In past years, the railcar review presented data on car types grouped by their gross rail load (GRL) capacity. This year’s report presents car types by the kinds of commodities they carry, which provides a more nuanced view. This lets us focus on the most commonly shipped commodities for the most popular car types. For example, while covered hoppers—which grew the most of all the car types in 2016—carry grain, sand, plastic pellets, and other commodities, the types of covered hoppers that transport those commodities have different characteristics. The covered hopper that typically carries sand is going to be smaller than the covered hopper that carries corn or soybeans.

How do people use the data you present?
My presentation is one of the first on the Rail Equipment Finance Conference agenda, and the information serves as an overview for all of the freight car-related topics covered in the first two days. Railinc and its Umler Equipment Index are known as a definitive source of quality data on the status of the North American railcar fleet. The conference has a focus on the financial aspects of buying, selling, leasing and building freight cars and locomotives, which means the data we present are particularly relevant to the attendees and the companies they represent.

What were the major trends for the revenue-earning fleet?
The revenue-earning fleet grew by 1.4 percent in 2016, driven by increases in the covered hopper and tank car populations. The hopper car type contracted for the seventh year in a row, and the gondola population decreased for the fourth straight year. For the first time in years, the number of box cars held steady from the previous year. The fleet continues to grow younger, with the average age of the fleet declining again in 2016. The trend of GRL 286 cars leading among additions to the revenue-earning fleet continued in 2016.

What were the trends for locomotives?
Locomotives continue to join the fleet at a steady rate: 2016 was the seventh consecutive year of growth for the fleet. The average and median ages for locomotives both increased in 2016. Also, high-horsepower, AC locomotives with six axles and high fuel capacity continue to make up the majority of new additions to the fleet.

The 2017 North American Freight Railcar Review and the 2017 North American Locomotive Review are available to download for free, as are past reports. Railinc also provides quarterly updates on the revenue-earning fleet in its Umler Equipment Index.

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Railinc Wins Tech Award for Rail Industry Service

Railinc has been recognized as the 2016 Industry-Driven Company of the Year at the NC Tech Awards, the largest and most prestigious statewide technology awards program. Given 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 second time Railinc has been named Industry-Driven Company of the Year. The award recognizes companies that have provided a product or service to a specific industry and that have made a notable impact to the betterment of that industry.

“North Carolina is known for its world-class technology community, and it’s an honor for Railinc to earn this recognition,” said Allen West, Railinc president and CEO. “The award is a real tribute to our great employees and their commitment to serving the freight rail industry through our innovative technology solutions.”

Railinc’s nomination highlighted the company’s work on the AskRail mobile application and its work 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, president and CEO of NCTA. “As a winner, Railinc has distinguished itself as a peer-leader, and we are proud to recognize them as a 2016 NC Tech Awards winner.”

You can see the complete list of award winners here. Winners were recognized at NCTA’s annual awards gala on November 10 at the Raleigh Convention Center.

—Railinc Corporate Communications