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 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

 

From Freight Rail Rookie to Rising Star

Just because you don’t have freight rail experience, doesn’t mean you can’t find success in the freight rail industry.

“When I started at Railinc, I couldn’t tell the difference between the ‘A’ end and the ‘B’ end of a railcar,” said Jerry Vaughn, the company’s director of interline services. “Everyone welcomed me and shared their knowledge.”

Railinc's Jerry Vaughn, left, with Kirk Bastyr,
publisher of
Progressive Railroading magazine.


Since 2009, when he joined the company as a business analyst, Vaughn has learned and grown as a rail industry professional. Rising through the ranks of product management, he has been in charge of nearly all of Railinc’s AAR-related industry products. These essential applications and systems are embedded in critical industry processes and operations that have an impact on everything from car repair to maintenance to financial exchanges. He also has led high-impact industry and internal initiatives that have delivered value to the industry and helped to change the way his colleagues work.

Progressive Railroading magazine recently recognized Vaughn’s work at Railinc, naming him among the  winners of the 2016 Rising Star Award and profiling him in the September issue of the publication. The award recognizes 20 people under the age of 40 who are making a positive difference in the North American railroad industry. Vaughn was recognized along with the other winners at a July 24 dinner in Pittsburgh. Also honored was Rapik Saat, director of operations analysis at the Association of American Railroads, Railinc’s parent organization.

“Jerry’s vision and leadership have enabled Railinc to deliver on critical industry initiatives and to provide innovative technology solutions,” said E. Allen West, president and CEO of Railinc. “Through his approach to his work and his passion for the freight rail industry, he has earned the respect of Railinc customers, his colleagues and industry peers.”
 

Vaughn Leads Innovative Tech Development, High-Impact Programs

Vaughn leads a team that develops innovative technology solutions that are critical to the efficient movement and interchanging of railcars across the North American rail network. He also serves as product manager for the Umler® business unit, which includes the Umler system. This mission-critical resource for rail equipment data contains the physical characteristics and other data on more than 2 million pieces of rail equipment.

But Vaughn’s work goes beyond the day-to-day management of Railinc products and services and the people who develop them. He has been a leader in multiple long-term initiatives that will have a lasting positive impact on the freight rail industry and on Railinc, including the Component Tracking program, the Asset Health Strategic Initiative (AHSI) and the Railinc Rules and Process Modernization (RPM) program.

Launched in 2011, Component Tracking is an ongoing industry initiative to build and maintain a database of railcar equipment component information. This multi-year program enables electronic tracking and identification of specific railcar components to enable decision making that improves rail safety, reduces costs associated with equipment maintenance, and supports more efficient and effective rail operations.

The first phase of the program focused on wheelsets. One example of the program's real impact is a 2014 recall that targeted only the affected wheelsets and railcars, enabling a strategic approach to assessing risk and executing a mitigation strategy. The success of the wheelset phase implementation has led the industry to approve expansion of the program to sideframes, bolsters, couplers, the service and emergency portions of brake valves, and slack adjusters.
 

Initiatives Addressing Rail Yard Challenges, Changing Way Railinc Employees Work

Vaughn has also been instrumental in providing product leadership around AHSI, a multi-year, multi-phase program that will apply IT solutions and processes to address challenges associated with railcars. The program seeks to reduce mechanical service interruptions, improve the quality of railcar inspections, and increase rail yard and repair shop efficiency. As head of Railinc's asset services products, which include the Umler and Early Warning systems, Vaughn provides product and project management focus that has helped the company execute on AHSI concepts and incorporate them into product releases and align them with internal and industry processes.

Jerry Vaughn speaks at the Progressive Railroading
Rising Stars dinner on July 24 at Pittsburgh.


“Jerry is an inspiration and is deserving of widespread recognition,” said Jeff Usher, assistant vice president at the AAR. “I have observed over several years now Jerry’s maturation at Railinc. He always handles the challenges presented him with a cool confidence that calms the situation at hand while doggedly advancing to achieving solutions that satisfies stakeholders and constituents alike.”

Vaughn also serves as the steering committee chair for the company’s RPM program. This internal corporate initiative is designed to improve the management of the industry rules and processes that underlie Railinc’s software applications and data systems. The program is unique because it affects many existing software applications, extends across multiple business lines and customer segments, and will play a role in how future applications are developed and managed. It also impacts the work of about 100 software engineers and 30 business analysts.

“You could never learn everything about railroading, but my experience at Railinc has helped me understand the complexities and challenges our customers face every day,” said Vaughn, who now serves as director of interline services. “Thanks to the guidance of the industry and the work of our people, Railinc has been able to help them deal with these complexities and solve these challenges. And it takes the entire industry—manufacturers, committees, repair shops, our own development teams—to execute on these important programs with the success we do.”

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Railinc Locomotive Report Featured in Railway Age

This month Railway Age again features freight equipment data and analysis from Railinc. But this time, we take a look at locomotives. Beginning on page 35 of the magazine’s July 2016 issue, Railinc data scientist Dr. David Humphrey gives a summary of the North American freight locomotive fleet’s size and composition.

The article is based on key findings from Railinc’s 2016 Locomotive Review. The review features data related to the characteristics of the locomotive fleet, including information about the age and size of the fleet, new locomotives joining the fleet, types of power in the fleet, horsepower ratings trends in the fleet and more.

Humphrey compiled all the data in the report from Railinc’s Umler® system. The Umler equipment registry contains the physical characteristics, transportation management and pool assignments of more than 2 million pieces of rail equipment in North America. It is the base file for other industry reference files and industry equipment accounting files and is updated more than 600,000 times each month.

The 2016 Locomotive Review provides more detail about the state of the fleet and is available to download for free. You can also read a Q&A with Humphrey on the locomotive and railcar fleets. All of Railinc’s reports—including the 2016 North American Freight Railcar Review—are available to download for free on Railinc’s Research Reports page.

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Railinc Named Great Supply Chain Partner

Railinc Corp. is being honored as one of the “100 Great Supply Chain Partners" for 2016 by SupplyChainBrain magazine. Each year, the magazine features a select group of companies whose customers have nominated them for providing outstanding solutions and services that made a significant impact on their supply chain performance. This is the first time that Railinc has been honored with this logistics industry award.

Railinc RailSight improves supply chain visibility."Railinc is grateful to its customers for acknowledging the good work of our employees, and also to our employees for helping demonstrate the value of freight rail as a critical component in the supply chain network," said Allen West, Railinc CEO and president.

Now in its 14th year, SupplyChainBrain solicits nominations from logistics industry companies to evaluate service providers that made a significant impact on their company’s efficiency, customer service and overall supply chain performance.

"This year we received literally hundreds of nominations for solutions providers in every aspect of supply chain management," said Brad Berger, publisher of the magazine. "Railinc should be proud to be amongst the 100 Great!"
 

RailSight Delivers Rail Shipment Visibility and Rail Equipment Management Data

Railinc’s RailSight suite of applications delivers rail shipment visibility and equipment management data directly to the desktop or via TMS solution to support rail equipment owners, shippers and third-party logistics providers along every link of the rail logistics supply chain. The company’s data products and technology systems are deeply embedded in the North American freight rail network, providing safety and operational support. Railinc also maintains widely-used industry databases, builds critical software applications and provides essential business intelligence services supporting the freight rail industry. 

Railinc Corp. will appear in the 2016 July/August issue of SupplyChainBrain magazine as a celebrated member of this year’s 100 Great Supply Chain Partners.
 

Railinc Wins SupplyChainBrain 100 Great Award and Improves Supply Chain VisibilityAbout SupplyChainBrain (www.supplychainbrain.com

SupplyChainBrain, the world’s most comprehensive supply chain management information resource, is accessed year round through a wide range of ever evolving multi-media format by hundreds of thousands of senior level industry executives. In addition to addressing the fundamental principles of supply-chain management, SupplyChainBrain identifies emerging trends, technologies and best practices, forward thinking ideas and cutting-edge solutions, and continues to write and report about these as they evolve and mature. 

—Railinc Corporate Communications