Post-pandemic supply chain disruptions, tight truckload capacity nationwide and the affordability of rail shipping have led many businesses to increase their usage of rail to ship products. While carload volume growth was essentially flat during 2021 and 2022, the Association of American Railroads reports that carload volume is up YTD, but intermodal is down by 8.4%. For the first three weeks of 2023, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 687,678 carloads, up three percent from the same point last year.

The current increase in rail freight volume presents a window of opportunity to serve more shippers and retain them as supply chains stabilize. Delivering a positive shipper experience during this rise in rail usage is vital to gaining customer confidence and loyalty for the long-term. As demand for rail shipping increases and initiatives such as Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) evolve, end-to-end visibility is essential in helping shippers better manage their operations and transportation sourcing, and ensuring timely deliveries.

Increasing Railcar Visibility

RailPulse, a coalition of leading railcar owners, has joined together to improve service and reliability by helping railroads and shippers monitor and track railcar status in real time. The RailPulse end-to-end rail industry telematics platform enhances the shipper experience through robust GPS and railcar telematics data delivered via an easy-to-use, cloud-based dashboard and APIs. This data can be used to monitor railcar health, conduct proactive maintenance to reduce traffic disruption, improve security with door/hatch alerts and more. It also provides the advanced railcar visibility expected by shippers.

Taking Rail Shipping to the Next Level for Shippers

Today’s shippers face many common challenges in rail freight transportation that can be addressed with the real-time visibility provided by the RailPulse platform currently under development. Enhanced railcar visibility across the North American rail fleet delivers many benefits to shippers, resulting in faster, more reliable cycle times and better service. 

Accurate estimated time of arrival (ETA) is always a top concern for shippers. They must manage their shipments to arrive on time to their customers and need accurate ETA information to communicate arrival times. In the past, this required long email chains and multiple phone calls to confirm the most current and accurate ETA. The RailPulse telematics platform provides real-time visibility into railcar location and status (loaded, empty, etc.) to eliminate this manual process and free up resources that were previously used for contacting the railroad for updates.  

When unexpected disruptions occur, such as shipment delays, long dwell times at rail terminals, order issues and other commonplace disruptions, the RailPulse platform enables shippers to quickly identify affected shipments and proactively address any issues. Robust telematics and GPS data enables shippers to get a clear view of their supply chain and any disruptions that require attention.  

Shippers can also reduce the number of railcars waiting to be loaded and unloaded while at origin or destination locations by receiving alerts from RailPulse and addressing delays. This intelligence reduces demurrage fees, helps railroads improve fleet utilization and results in faster cycle times for everyone. Shippers can also use historical data to minimize and more efficiently audit demurrage charges. 

When freight rail demand is high, fleet utilization is critical. Another area addressed by RailPulse is the tracking of empty railcars, which is essential for efficiently utilizing railcar fleet capacity. Shippers have a limited number of railcars, so efficient fleet utilization can help increase mode capacity and performance across the supply chain. 

Finally, RailPulse helps standardize railcar tracking data on an end-to-end, industry-wide platform that makes it easier for shippers to better understand key metrics. Shippers will no longer need to compare spreadsheets and conduct time-consuming manual analyses to assess key metrics, enabling them to be proactive rather than reactive. This standardized data and real-time shipment intelligence also opens the opportunity for shippers to explore adding performance metrics in contracts with their railroad partners. 

A Bright Future for Better Railcar Visibility

The rail industry is on the cusp of delivering real-time railcar visibility across the North American fleet to give shippers secure, cloud-based access to real-time data they need to manage their shipments. RailPulse is making it easier for shippers to access and leverage standardized railcar GPS and telematics data with actionable analytics to better understand current conditions. 

Shippers can access RailPulse data using a convenient, easy-to-use user interface or via APIs into their systems. This platform is designed to help shippers better manage their logistics, ensure timely delivery of shipments and increase customer satisfaction. An improved understanding on cost-inducing items, such as demurrage, will also allow shippers to act or begin more informed conversations with their railroad partners.   

When released in the latter half of 2023, the RailPulse platform will help shippers identify risks sooner, investigate and mitigate delays, and find new opportunities to improve rail shipment logistics. Shippers and railroads will be able to work together to optimize rail freight performance and deliver the service shippers require – and deserve.

About RailPulse

RailPulse, formed in 2020 by a diverse group of industry leading stakeholders, includes Norfolk Southern Corporation, Union Pacific Railroad, GATXGenesee & Wyoming Inc.Watco Companies LLCThe Greenbrier Companies, RDC, 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.