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.

Entries with tag aar .

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

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

Freight Rail's Ripple Effect Benefits U.S. Economy

An auto carrier railcar moves vehicles across the country.

Freight rail is one of the basic building blocks of the U.S. economy, and its impact creates an immense ripple effect that touches all regions, including the Research Triangle, and most industries.

How big is that ripple effect?

Spending by Class I railroads created nearly $274 billion in economic activity, generated almost $33 billion in total tax revenues and supported about 1.5 million jobs across the country in 2014. That’s according to findings in the most recent State of the Industry Report from the Association of American Railroads (AAR), Railinc’s parent organization.

Railroads Contribute Billions in Tax Revenue, Pay Billions in Wages

Commissioned by the AAR and released June 13, the report is the first to quantify the freight-railroad sector’s economic and fiscal impact on the U.S. The industry, the report shows, is a jobs generator, creating a wide range of opportunities in areas including business operations, mechanical services, engineering and technology. Combined, workers in these jobs earn $88 billion in wages each year.

The jobs have a broad impact on the entire economy. For example, the report found that one job in the freight rail industry supports nine others touched by the industry, including retail, manufacturing, and transportation and warehousing.

Other highlights from the report include:

  • The industry had nearly $28 billion in capital and maintenance expenditures in 2014, an amount equal to more than half of all federal government spending on transit formula grants, federal highway construction programs and airport improvement programs.

  • The industry generated $20.9 billion in federal tax revenues and $11.9 billion in state and local taxes in 2014.

  • Railroad activity supported 234,000 retail trade sector jobs, about 125,000 manufacturing jobs, and 113,000 transportation and warehousing jobs in 2014.

Railinc, Employees Help to Grow Local Economy

Railinc employees discussing rail data.

Though the report focuses on railroads’ broad economic impact, Railinc also delivers real economic benefits to the engine that helps grow the industry and the communities where our employees live right here in North Carolina, from Greensboro to Greenville. Railinc’s technology work is woven into customers’ daily operations, but the tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue the company produces also helps to generate revenue for other businesses and grow the local economy.

These contributions come in the form of partnerships with local IT and technology vendors such as Red Hat, SASCitrix and Rally, resourcing from staffing agency vendors such as The Select Group and Alphanumeric Systems, the lease on Railinc’s building, which Raleigh-based Highwood Properties owns, and even our coffee, which comes from Larry's Beans, a downtown Raleigh roaster. We contribute to the business community through the N.C. Technology Association, the Council for Entreprenurial Development and the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce. We are also strong backers of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, which helps feed those in need in our community. 

Railinc supports the economy, too, through its 285 employees, contractors and consultants, who use their paychecks to dine out, join PTAs, make car, house and rent payments, go to Carolina Hurricanes hockey games, shop in local stores and pay for services that enable businesses to provide jobs and pay wages that help to grow the economy. Many employees also receive a Railinc-paid education at Meredith College, N.C. State University or UNC-Chapel Hill; or they receive training through the N.C. Project Management Institute.

Railinc is proud of its technology that helps keep the North American freight rail industry moving. We're also proud that our work helps keep our employees and the Triangle moving too.

Read the entire State of the Industry Report at https://www.aar.org/Report-2 and see AAR President Ed Hamberger deliver a short overview at https://youtu.be/QWrPCbButvw.

—Railinc Corporate Communications

Railinc Helps Industry Track Railcar Components

Since its launch three years ago, Railinc's component tracking program has increased the visibility of rail equipment components such as wheelsets, side frames, bolsters and couplers on railcars across North America.

Today, when a newly manufactured wheelset goes into inventory, the wheel shop places a bar code (pictured below) on the axle and registers the wheelset with Railinc’s Umler® component registry. The process enables the car owner to monitor the wheelset and evaluate its performance. If a problem arises, the car owner can target the individual wheelset for research, analysis and even replacement.

“As safety is a top priority, there is a need to know where components such as wheelsets, side frames, bolsters and couplers are located when in service, along with important manufacturing characteristics such as the design code, who manufactured them and where they were manufactured,” said Jerry Vaughn, director of asset services and Umler product manager.

This detailed view of rail equipment health and performance data provides personnel across the rail network with information that may improve rail safety, reduce maintenance costs, and support more efficient and effective rail operations.

And the view is only going to get better. The latest phase of the program is under way and will add key brake valve components to the registry.

How Component Tracking Happens

Railinc works with the freight rail industry through industry committees sponsored by the Association of American Railroads (AAR). The AAR’s Equipment Health Monitoring Committee and other committees help to define data requirements for component registration and develop schedules for mandatory registration and association throughout the industry. The typical timeline for phasing in new components allows for six months of development and a year to implement rule changes.

The component tracking program involves millions of components and big data, so it requires sophisticated and reliable technology.

That’s where Railinc comes in.

Click image for larger view.

The Umler component registry is a dynamic database designed to process updates quickly and efficiently. To accommodate new component specifications, Railinc adds a new value in a metadata description and creates the business rules required to ensure high levels of data quality.

“Separating the business rules gives us visibility to decisions that normally occur in the technical code and creates efficiencies that lower our total costs,” Vaughn said.

Wheelsets Lead the Way

The freight rail industry continues to move forward with the adoption of component tagging. According to Vaughn, 55 percent of all wheelsets in the North American railcar fleet now have an associated component ID (CID). Nearly 5 million wheelsets are registered in the Umler component registry, and about 3.3 million wheelsets are associated with individual railcars. Even more wheelsets will get CIDs soon because normal wear requires the replacement or refurbishing of wheelsets about every five years.

The success of the wheelsets phase enabled the addition of side frames, bolsters and couplers to the component tracking program in 2013. And the industry added another component to the program last year.

“The big news in component tracking today is our initiation and support of the service and emergency portions of brakes valve into the program," Vaughn said. “This started as one of Railinc’s 2014 industry projects, which involved Class I railroads, railcar owners, brake valve reconditioners and major brake valve manufacturers.”

Brake valve registration and association are voluntary now. That changes in July, when industry rules will require registration. Mandatory association of brake valves on newly built cars and existing cars begins in January 2016.

Building a component tracking program is like creating a high-tech treasure map. There are more than 1 million places to look for specific components in service across North America. Using that map to find the component you're looking for when you need to is like discovering riches measured in safety and efficiency.

Thanks to the efforts of AAR industry committees, suppliers and Vaughn’s team at Railinc, tracking components is getting much easier. And everyone gets to share in the wealth.

—Railinc Corporate Communications

"Mr. Umler" Retires After 57 Years of Service

When Jim Moran started his railroad career in 1958 as a clerk in the machine room of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the industry had not yet embraced data processing. A discipline like car hire—the calculating and disbursing of the compensation paid for the use of a railcar—wasn't done through sophisticated technology systems like the ones Railinc manages today.

"If you could have seen what we did with car hire," Moran said. "It was unbelievable how anyone got paid."

Today, the car hire process is much smoother thanks to innovative ideas, powerful technologies and dedicated people like Moran.

On Oct. 31, Moran retired from Railinc after 57 years of service to the freight rail industry.

A Leader in Railroad Technology

Moran has been a leader at the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and Railinc in the development and advancement of essential technology tools that have contributed greatly to the ongoing safety, efficiency and ultimate success of the freight rail system. Moran, who retired as director of AAR support services, was central to the development of the Umler® system and its adoption as the keystone industry repository for critical rail data.

Today, the entire freight rail industry uses the system "Mr. Umler" helped to develop. The data contained within it are essential to a wide range of railroad operations and form the foundation for many Railinc applications.

"Jim has always been stalwart in his work ethic and unwavering in his support for our company and our industry," said Allen West, Railinc president and CEO. "His knowledge of railroad operations and his drive to improve the underlying processes and technologies have helped to make the industry safer and more efficient. His work has made lasting changes to how the industry operates."

Impact Visible Across the Industry

Moran joined the AAR in 1967 and came to Railinc in 1998, when the AAR spun out the company as a subsidiary. The impact of his work is visible in operations across the industry, from car hire to asset health to the circulars that support rules all railroads must follow. He helped to create the Early Warning system, which enables the rail industry to identify mechanical problems on railcars that could affect the safe movement of freight.

It's the Umler system, though, that has returned inestimable value to the freight rail industry—no measure simply captures its success. His work in the development and growth of the original Universal Machine Language Equipment Register (U.M.L.E.R.) and through its evolution into the current Umler system transformed railroad technology and communications.

From the early punch card mainframe to the table-driven database with millions of data points, Moran guided the industry in the most critical of paths, providing information for building and routing trains across North America and shepherding the rail industry into the information age.

"If a car isn't correctly registered in Umler, it doesn't move off your property," Moran said. "It is work registering cars, but the ultimate gain is having the information in there correctly. In this world, you can't live with mediocrity. If you don't report the right length on car in Umler, you can destroy a train."

Teaching, Learning, Making the Industry Better

Beyond the technology, Moran's greatest impact remains upon the people he worked with over the years. The strong relationships he developed with industry representatives and Railinc customers and coworkers reflect the respect they have for him and for the care he brought to his work.

"Jim was dedicated to his job and the industry, and his name would always pop up when I'd go to industry committee meetings," said John Kozlowski, a Railinc business analyst. "From car owners to roads, everybody has worked with Jim. And they always have good things to say, that he has been a benefit to the industry."

He always had an ear to listen and a good word to offer to anyone seeking his advice, wisdom and counsel into understanding how and why the rail system works and how to get the most out of the technology.

"Jim’s understanding of the rail industry and the foundational elements of its technology is without equal," said Anthony Will, a senior technical writer. "He always made time to answer any questions I had, and his solutions combined the best of common sense with keen business acumen."

For Moran, learning was always central to his work and was one reason he stayed in it so long. The industry is always changing, he said, and if you don't learn something every day, you aren't doing your job.

"It's the challenge," Moran said, "not only to learn new things, but of picking up a process and asking, 'Is that the best we can do this? How can we make this better?'"

By doing just that, Moran helped make the industry better.

—Railinc Corporate Communications

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