Why a Coalition Is the Best Way to Drive Rail Growth
The old saying, “two heads are better than one” is an understatement. Think about a time when you had many minds with different perspectives and experiences come together to solve a problem. That’s exactly what RailPulse™ is doing to make the rail industry a more competitive transportation option by addressing some of the most pressing safety, efficiency, and technology challenges.
RailPulse is a coalition of forward-thinking railcar owners who have joined together to create a neutral, open-architecture, industry-wide railcar telematics platform to advance the competitiveness of rail transportation vis-à-vis other modes by helping to improve safety and efficiency of the rail car fleet for the benefit of customers and the public. Its members include GATX, Genesee & Wyoming, Norfolk Southern, The Greenbrier Companies, TrinityRail, Union Pacific, and WATCO.
These companies have joined forces for the good of the entire freight rail industry and its customers. RailPulse’s mission is to increase rail’s modal share in North America by improving efficiency, safety, and the shipper experience. Sharing common goals that will benefit the entire rail ecosystem is the foundation of the RailPulse coalition.
“We’re regularly having conversations with rail shippers about the cost, complexity, and consistency issues they face when trying to use more rail transportation in their supply chains,” according to Gregg Mitchell, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at TrinityRail. “Shippers are looking for solutions that increase efficiency and visibility of their supply chain.”
SOLVING COMPLEX TECHNOLOGY CHALLENGES
Many railcar companies recognize the need for telematics and rail logistics data to improve safety and efficiency of the railcar fleet, but finding the best solutions and implementing a cohesive technology platform is complicated. Implementing a telematics platform requires evaluating countless vendors and options. For example, the chart below shows a cross-section of the variety of options in each technology category:
Until now, railcar owners have worked independently to implement telematics technology, but the process has been slow and data has been disjointed. Currently, more than 30,000 railcars have installed telematics devices, but there are no common industry technology standards and a myriad of interoperability issues that prevent efficient movement of railcars across railroads. Data islands are created by these disparate systems, which stifle the analysis and sharing of rail logistics data.
As a result of the fragmented approach to implementing rail telematics, shippers lack visibility into their supply chains as railcars move across the rail network. Railcar owners are facing supply chain inefficiency, sub-optimal asset allocation, and customer frustration. Solving these complex challenges requires a “village” of rail industry constituents who can utilize resources and expertise to develop the optimal industry-wide railcar telematics platform.
WHY A COALITION?
The RailPulse coalition was formed in 2020 to help accelerate the adoption of railcar telematics and establish an industry-wide technology platform to improve safety and efficiency in the railcar fleet and to improve railcar visibility. These improvements will help the rail industry provide better service to compete against trucking and other modes of transportation that are already ahead of the curve. RailPulse will help accelerate adoption of the latest GPS and telematics technologies for the benefit of customers and the public to prevent the rail industry from falling behind developments in the trucking industry.
Rob Zmudka, Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at GATX commented, “Shippers spend too much time questioning their data, and the industry will never maximize the true potential of today’s technology without complete collaboration. We need to come together as an industry to decide what technological solutions we want, and create a set of rules that are transparent, predictable, and fairly applied. By aligning open and neutrally applied standards, we can not only speed adoption, but also foster greater innovation.”
Working together as a coalition brings more expertise and resources to solve rail’s complex issues and expands the technical/personnel resources far beyond those of any single organization. Rather than duplicating efforts, railcar owners are now collaborating to deliver a more cohesive and comprehensive technology infrastructure for all. The RailPulse coalition will deliver many benefits to drive modal share growth in the future, including:
Accelerated Telematics Adoption
RailPulse will help simplify the adoption of telematics technology across the rail industry. Constituents will be able to leverage RailPulse’s standard Service-Level Agreements (SLA) with certified vendors, access device performance data, and reference installation recommendations for various car types to accelerate implementation. In effect, RailPulse will provide a standardized blueprint that railcar companies can quickly implement to monitor their cars and maximize technology investments.
Consistent Rail Industry Technology Standards
Rather than railcar companies working independently with stand-alone telematics systems and limited access to rail logistics data, a standardized RailPulse technology infrastructure will better capture and analyze critical data to improve value and performance across the supply chain.
To get everyone aligned, RailPulse will define industry standards and publish open communication protocols. It will also define the physical requirements for installation, safety, and environmental concerns. RailPulse will identify hardware partners and plan to use “off-the- shelf” units with minimal modifications to accelerate adoption.
The RailPulse coalition will help increase asset productivity and fleet utilization, which is currently hindered by a lack of real-time data on the location and condition of assets. Specifically, real-time visibility into railcar transportation times, delay patterns, customer behavior, and irregular en-route incidents will improve shippers’ ability to actively allocate fleet resources on a lane-by-lane basis compared with today. The following diagrams show this benefit to asset efficiency.
Fleet Utilization Today (Example)
Fleet Utilization with RailPulse Real-Time Visibility
Increased Rail Safety and Environmental Benefits
RailPulse could increase safety by monitoring railcar health and detecting potentially dangerous track conditions. A safer industry means an even more environmentally friendly one with fewer derailments, reduced hazmat spills, earlier detection of leakage from a railcar, etc. In addition, shippers will garner visibility into more efficient railcar routings, which will drive reductions in fuel consumption.
Better Shipper Experiences – Visibility
As a core part of its mission, RailPulse will improve visibility into the status, location, and condition of railcars for shippers. It will transform the shipper experience by combining real- time, highly accurate, and comprehensive railcar and logistics data with leading-edge analytics.
This critical data will help deliver more accurate ETAs for empty and laden rail cars, allowing more robust planning and optimization of supply chains. In addition, it will facilitate shippers’ and railroads’ ability to monitor and control customers’ railcar pipelines in transit. This will stabilize customers’ on-site inventories and reduce supply chain risks. The following diagram depicts this concept:
POWER IN NUMBERS
Working together to solve rail’s complex challenges makes telematics adoption move faster for everyone – which is needed to catch up with modes such as trucking. The RailPulse end-to-end, industry-standard technology infrastructure will benefit all constituents and looks at the broader picture of driving modal growth.
“RailPulse demands a coalition because, between each participating member, we access nearly the entire rail supply chain. If it were left to one entity, the advancement of telematics would be limited to one perspective. Instead, RailPulse works together to test and challenge each other. This will result in the development of the best technology for widespread use,” commented Lorie Tekorius, President and CEO of The Greenbrier Companies.
There is power in numbers when an industry with a shared vision works together as a coalition. RailPulse will demonstrate this as a new level of connectivity, rail logistics intelligence, and supply chain visibility emerges to improve rail’s competitive position.
Mike McCllelan, Senior Vice President & Chief Strategy Officer at Norfolk Southern Corporation commented, “Telematics has the ability to transform the rail industry in terms of customer experience, productivity and safety. We believe that a coalition approach is the best way to rapidly bring these benefits to all parties in the North American rail ecosystem: Shippers, railcar owners and railroads.”
RailPulse, formed in 2020 by a diverse group of industry leading stakeholders, includes Norfolk Southern Corporation, Union Pacific Railroad, GATX, Genesee & Wyoming Inc., Watco Companies LLC, The Greenbrier Companies, and TrinityRail. The group aims to facilitate and accelerate the adoption of GPS and other telematics technology across the North American railcar network to significantly increase visibility, efficiency, and safety.