Shippers using multiple transportation modes have often encountered the problem of knowing the location of their rail shipments. It’s not enough to see where the freight is on the truck only to face a void once it reaches the railyard, and partial information from supply chains is only marginally better than a total lack of it.
In today’s volatile freight market, transportation professionals seek efficiency, reliability, savings, and safety, prompting tremendous creativity. The result of this creativity is massive reinvestment in intermodal freight transportation to take advantage of the benefits of rail as part of their strategy.
To truly benefit in this renewed age of intermodal, rail tracking is an essential component every shipper needs to implement. So what is rail tracking, how does it work, and why should it be used? Let’s take a comprehensive look at rail tracking.
What Is Railcar Tracking?
A railcar tracker is the key to true end-to-end visibility when utilizing intermodal freight transportation. It entails total visibility as to the location and ETA of shipments as well as notifications for events and data to use for analysis and KPIs.
Rail container tracking improves supply chain visibility, efficiency, and resiliency. All of the trucking and ocean visibility in the world is a fabulous start, but it has to be complemented by such a substantial leg of the freight journey that is rail to be meaningful.
Once a shipper has complete visibility throughout the intermodal freight transportation process, proper adaptation, KPIs, and carrier scorecards are capable. This data makes predicting the future and offsetting current exceptions tremendously easier.
How Does Railcar Tracking Work?
Railcar tracking reflects the culmination of multiple technologies and methods, resulting in high effectiveness. Few people know what the acronyms CLM, AEI, and GPS mean, but they form the backbone of real-time data and ongoing efficiency.
Car Location Messages (CLM)
It’s not enough to know where freight is; the shipper must know when events or exceptions happen. Knowing when a railcar arrives or departs from the yard makes a substantial informational difference. Knowing that the container is checked into the customer facility is a tremendous advantage, whereas calling to ask, “Did it make it?” certainly doesn’t reflect a confident organization.
CLM provides messages that may be accessed directly from the rail carrier through a provider that utilizes the technology. Such a provider is known as a Track and Trace provider, and that provider can organize and enhance the data to be used for informed decision-making as large amounts of data are broken down.
There are limitations to CLM when a shipper wants to track a rail car, as messages are only produced when events happen, and gaps between messages might be days. Determining whether a railcar is still in motion or stopped could be challenging.
Also, the system’s predictions for a railcar’s schedule aren’t always accurate, leaving a shipper uncertain.
Automated Equipment Identification (AEI)
AEI provides railcar scan information that exposes the railcar's location and has been around since the 1990s. Unfortunately, its true potential hasn’t been realized despite each railcar in North America having an AEI tag on its side.
The railcar number, length, axle count, and bearing type are part of the information programmed into the AEI tag. The readers sit wayside and scan the tags as they pass, then it is sent in various ways and integrated into supporting software systems.
The technology has been helpful when disputing demurrage charges as the readers scan whenever a railcar arrives at or departs a railyard as they are placed at the entrance and exit of the facility. Because of this placement, the railcar carrier cannot dispute whether or not the railcar was or was not at the location.
Global Positioning System (GPS)
GPS has tremendous benefits, continuously providing the railcar’s information throughout its journey. Because railcars tend not to be powered, these units are commonly solar-powered.
GPS has surpassed previous methods due to the frequency of location updates, which have provided shippers with greater efficiency in their tracking. The shipper receives a far more complete picture and is not left waiting for the limited information that only comes when a scanner has been passed.
Why Use Railcar Tracking?
Railcar tracking makes intermodal freight shipping efficient as it fills in what could be a blackout of visibility. For supply chain visibility to be truly impactful, it must exist across the entire route.
Enhancing Operational Efficiency
Intermodal transit often leaves shipments impossible to track, leaving shippers unable to make the correct decisions to maximize efficiency. In today’s exceptions-prone supply chain, this is especially concerning.
It is essential to have “eyes on” for the entire journey.
Optimizing Collaborative Supply Chain Management
Visibility in high-stakes intermodal transit is crucial for shippers to coordinate with their transportation partners. The goal is to keep the goods moving and not risk racking up expensive railyard fees (which often cost more than the ports).
Building Better Operations
Data is everything when dealing with modern supply chains, and complete visibility provides the data from rail tracking operations necessary to create actionable analytics within a shipper’s API. With complete and correct data, the shipper gains a bird’s eye view of their intermodal operations, empowering future decision-making and fostering greater supply chain resilience.
Rail Tracking: A Vital Component of End-to-End Visibility
End-to-end visibility is impossible should a gap exist in the intermodal transit process. Those using intermodal freight transportation to realize its efficiency, sustainability, and cost benefits need a visibility solution that extends from start to finish to gain the most from this shipping option.
Absent full visibility, a shipper has incomplete information to inform future decision-making, confront exceptions as they happen, communicate with stakeholders, and know their ETAs.
Rail tracking is crucial to full end-to-end visibility when an intermodal strategy is used. Freight is often on the longest leg of its land journey when on the rails, which must not be a blind spot.
Set Your Intermodal Operations Back On Track with Rail Tracking From VIZION API
An intermodal strategy must incorporate rail tracking for full end-to-end visibility. The shipper needs to see where their cargo is at any point of the journey, know when exceptions occur, and utilize the data for future decision-making. This isn't possible without full visibility throughout the entire supply chain.
An API that tracks rail freight is essential to a shipper’s ongoing improvement, sustainability efforts, cost savings, and communications.
VIZION API provides visibility to shippers across the entire intermodal journey, incorporating complete rail visibility. Shippers develop informed supply chains and have access to the data that continues to improve their freight efficiency and supply chain resilience.
There is no need for in-house software development and data mining as VIZION API easily integrates with the existing tech stack, allowing shippers to focus on their operations instead.
See how your organization may realize total intermodal visibility today with a free demo of VIZION API.