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 umler .

Global Conference Panel Features Railinc Analyst

The North American railcar fleet grew by about 27,000 cars through July 2018, adding about 11,000 covered hoppers and 5,000 tank cars. Those were among the takeaways from a recent Railcar and Locomotive Outlook and Overview panel featuring Railinc Sr. Data Scientist Dr. David Humphrey and others at Cowen and Company’s 11th Global Transportation Conference.

The entire panel session is available below and here.

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.

 

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

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

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 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

 
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