Real-Time Container Visibility: From the Ship to The Rail Intermodal Yard

International container traffic has recently reached record volumes as traffic ramped up through much of the pandemic and container movements continue to grow. In North American ports, there are huge delays in working the ships arriving from Asia and the inbound/outbound container imbalance is creating container shortages for export shipments.

Throughout this rapid business expansion, there continues to be a  focus on supply chain visibility among ship and port operators, railroads and truckers. Shippers and beneficial cargo owners want better tools to see and track shipments from release to delivery, in the same way consumers track Amazon or FedEx shipments. As consumers become more accustomed to better tracking and service standards, these capabilities are needed at every stage of the transportation and handling process.

From the Ship to the Intermodal Yard

The greatest need for supporting advanced supply chain visibility will take us beyond the domestic tracking of shipments. This would be the full integration of planning and operational systems, and data across multiple transport modes. For example, if a single planning application (and set of data) extended from the ship, to the container terminal, to the on-dock rail, to the rail intermodal yard, the carriers would have more opportunities to optimize and track this extended process.

One critical area of system and data interfaces is in intermodal movements, and the related data. This deserves more examination from logistics specialists.

To download the full whitepaper, go to the Navis website.


Navis Rail Sponsors Annual RailTrends Event

Navis Rail was pleased to be a silver sponsor, for the third consecutive year, of the annual RailTrends Conference on November 19th and 20th of 2020. RailTrends is considered by many to be the most important freight rail industry event in North America, where all of the Class Is are represented by one or more members of their executive management team. Due to the pandemic, this year’s event was held via Zoom.

Key speakers included Jean-Jacques Ruest, CEO of Canadian National, Keith Creel, CEO of Canadian Pacific, Michael Miller President, North America, Genesee & Wyoming Inc. and Michael Walczak, Vice President Network Planning and Treasurer for the Kansas City Southern. RailTrends also honored James Foote, CEO of CSX, with the RailTrends 2020 Rail Innovator award.

The RailTrends team did a great job of running the event, given the potential limitations of a Zoom format. The impacts of the global pandemic, recession and recovery were the primary issues discussed by the speakers and panels. However, there were more than a few good presentations about the direction and future of the rail freight business in North America. Comments on service levels, visibility and consistency were repeated frequently.

This was the first RailTrends in which I heard more than several speakers discuss Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) issues. Beth Whited, Executive Vice President & Chief Human Resource Officer of Union Pacific, highlighted this with a very good presentation on “More Than Just Trendy; ESG is a must.” During the talk, she noted that the rail industry is a natural environment for leadership in ESG, since rail moves 40% of long-haul freight in the U.S., but is responsible for only 2% of transportation-related emissions.

Other conference highlights included:

  • Mike McClellan, Vice President of Strategy at Norfolk Southern, chaired a talk on the RailPulse initiative. The objective of RailPulse is to upgrade all rail cars to GPS and other new tracking, to give rail the type of visibility seen in trucking and package delivery. The intent is to be open sourced on the technology and have multiple vendors on a common standard. This project currently includes Norfolk Southern, G&W, GATX, Watco, Trinity rail and others. They intend to eventually include all Class Is and railcar fleet owners.
  • Mike Walczak of Kansas City Southern focused on the cross-border growth at KCS. He stated that PSR is working for them with a 15% reduction in train starts and a 15% growth in train length. He also noted that over 50% of northbound Mexican traffic is intermodal.
  • Oliver Wyman gave a well-researched talk on the modal competition. Adrian Bailey, a Partner for OW, gave the presentation in which she spoke about the 50% of route ton-miles (RTM) that are up for grabs by either truck or rail (not naturally locked into either mode). She also noted that PSR has not done much for service, transit times or reliability.
  • Larry Gross, one of the nation’s top experts in intermodal, said that the recent boom in intermodal traffic is unprecedented. Most of the increase came over Southern California ports, which is the quickest way to replenish inventories in the east. He feels the boom will continue through Chinese New Year, and maybe longer. He also said that PSR has not really produced secular rail volume growth overall.
  • Alan Shaw, Chief Marketing Officer at Norfolk Southern, gave an excellent talk. He projects that due to Covid19, companies will now keep larger inventories to prevent stockouts. NS clients want consistency and more visibility. In the US, online sales growth for retail will exceed 18% this year and warehouses are replacing factories all over the east. Consumer-oriented, rather than industrial, is the future of IM rail.
  • J. J. Reust, CEO of CN, spoke about the shift from PSR to Digitized Scheduled Railroading (DSR), focused on growth and customer service. The DSR label might be unique to CN, but all carriers spoke about PSR 2.0 – a turn towards growth.

Based on the presentations and discussions, I feel that the Rail community in North America is up to the challenges of the pandemic and the volatility in freight volume. We will all be looking forward to the RailTrends event in 2021, where we hope to once again gather in New York City as in past years

Navis Releases Updates to its Navis Rail Planning Platform

Navis has released a major update to the Navis Rail Planning Platform, which is available to current users of the system. Navis Rail’s integrated rail planning and scheduling system is a cloud-based set of integrated tools that supports the full range of service design and operations planning. It allows a freight railway to optimize and manage the plan for trains, locomotives, traffic, railcars, blocks, and crews shifts & rosters.

Upgraded Interface for Navis Rail Planning

Navis Rail is committed to a steady release of interface and engine improvements based on feedback from our clients and research being done by our Development Team. The new release (v.11646), is focused on user experience (UX) and productivity improvements, as well as a major upgrade to crew management. The update includes the following:

  • The new interface layout, which shows properties of the selected train/cargo/car in a panel on the right-hand side, has made more of the central part of the screen available for diagnostic graphics such as Gantt charts and train diagrams
  • The number of locomotives and wagons of each class attached or detached to/from a train at a location is specified numerically
  • Quickly generates lists of trains, freight demands, locomotive classes, wagon classes, crew pools and miscellaneous tasks
  • Added buttons to quickly unassign all shifts or remove all scheduled days off from a crew roster
  • Added a button to quickly adjust a shift’s sign-on time and duration to match the tasks within it
  • Added the ability to quickly add multiple tasks to a crew shift
  • Made all location pickers display locations in a consistent and alphabetically sorted manner

Crew Rostering tools were added to support the existing crew scheduling module. The new functionality is designed to:

  • Roster crew shifts while ensuring all shifts are up to date with the train schedule
  • Cover occupational health & safety issues including automatically analyzing crew fatigue.
  • Manage complex enterprise bargaining agreements and other rules in assigning crew

The value created by the Crew Rostering tools includes:

  • Efficiency gains in both the management process and the usage of crew
  • Ensuring the best OH&S standards are followed
  • Easier negotiation between management and crew unions

If you would like to know more about the upgrades to Navis Rail’s Planning system, please contact Tom Forbes.

October 7th Webinar – Leveraging Advanced Planning Tools For Optimal Asset Acquisition

Photo by Gerardo Martin Fernandez Vallejo

Most freight railways are aware that advanced rail planning tools can provide real benefits in producing efficient operating plans for trains, wagons, locomotives and crews. However many planners do not know that these same tools can be crucial in informing rolling stock acquisitions and ensuring expensive acquisitions are for the right number and type of wagons and locomotives.

Many existing approaches to acquisition strategies use an Excel spreadsheet for evaluation. The Excel sheet is usually custom-made internally, and takes significant time to set up and check each scenario. Additionally, updating Excel sheets is prone to errors and it is difficult to troubleshoot old spreadsheets, first developed years earlier.

New rail wagons and locomotives are expensive, and acquiring a suboptimal set could mean significant additional spending on maintenance and storage. Integrated planning tools are needed to support rail planners and executive management by applying optimization and quantitative analysis for decision support.

Please join us for our October 7th webinar on “Leveraging Advanced Planning Tools to Determine Optimal Asset Acquisition Strategies” to learn how your organization can leverage planning tools to decrease your operational rolling stock requirements and reduce future capital acquisitions.

Webinar attendees will learn how Freightliner, UK and Kansas City Southern determined optimal wagon and loco acquisition plans. We will also review how rapid iteration of scenarios is used to analyze fleet outcomes. Our presenters will also demonstrate portions of the Navis Rail cloud-based software to show how domain-specific user interfaces drive understanding of opportunities to reduce rolling-stock. There will be a live Q&A session at the end of the webinar presentations.

About our presenters:

Tom Forbes, VP, Navis Rail

Tom Forbes, formerly the CEO of Biarri Rail and currently VP of Navis’s Rail Group, has worked with railways across Australia, Europe and North America delivering advanced planning, scheduling and optimization software solutions for the past two decades. Tom has an extensive background in leading companies that deliver planning and operational software solutions leveraging mathematics to deliver efficiencies across transportation, aviation and rail. He has first-hand experience in delivering innovation into railways such as Kansas City Southern, SNCF, Aurizon and Pacific National and is passionate about the benefits that new technologies and approaches provide.

Matt Herbert, Manager Field Operations, Navis Rail

Matt Herbert is Navis Rail’s Senior Manager for Field Operations. He is a business analyst, mathematician and project manager with extensive rail experience. Matt has led the delivery of many system implementations and consultancy projects to railways that have delivered significant savings, including; optimizing rolling stock allocations and reducing fleet sizes, multiple analytics consulting projects to identify opportunities to reduce fuel usage, predictive analytics utilizing machine vision data and other data sources to identify root causes of asynchronous wheel wear, and the delivery of a system to schedule and manage border crossings at an international railway bridge.

Navis Wagon Fleet Analysis Delivers a Healthy Return

Freightliner UK intermodal yard and train

The rail industry has responded to current economic uncertainties by reducing operating costs and improving asset utilization, including carrier-owned wagons. Rolling stock is a major portion of railway’s capital assets and they should optimise their fleet to improve the movement and application of all rail wagons by the appropriate wagon type. Instead of using Excel spreadsheets for asset analysis, some carriers have turned to freight-rail specific software applications and rigorous quantitative analysis.

In an article in September’s Railway Gazette, Navis Rail’s Tom Forbes describes how Navis and the Freightliner subsidiary of Genesee & Wyoming Inc, used specialized tools and analysis to examine intermodal wagon requirements for future operations. Freightliner is the leading UK intermodal rail freight operator and this project was particularly important to Freightliner, as they were planning to acquire new wagons to support their expected demand for the next few years.

The project was successful, (see the details in the Railway Gazette article) allowing Freightliner’s wagon, train and yard options to be quickly examined and the suggested fleet sizes confirmed using the Navis Rail tools. The software tools gave Freightliner and Navis the ability to quantitatively measure the outcomes by costing various scenarios to understand trade-offs. They also had the flexibility to quickly test the outcome when inputs were changed.

The results showed that the wagon types could be modified to increase capacity, without affecting the overall fleet. The analysis also supported the project team in evaluating variations in terminal turnaround times. These scenarios confirmed that if the suggested turnaround times were operationally feasible, then wagon fleet size could be reduced. The project results also identified errors in the baseline assumptions that, in real terms, reduced the new wagon order by 10 wagons, improving Freightliner’s ROI for the wagon acquisition.

For more information on Navis Rail, please contact Tom Forbes.

Scott Peoples Discusses Navis Acquisition of Biarri Rail

The Navis acquisition of Biarri Rail was completed in March of this year and the Chief Acquisitions Officer (CAO) of Navis, Scott Peoples, discussed the strategic benefits of the acquisition in an article in WordCargo News

In the interview, Mr. Peoples said Navis sees a number of long-term benefits from the acquisition. In the first case, it increases Navis’s presence in the rail market, including intermodal rail and on-dock rail sectors. Biarri Rail is also a software-as-a-service (SaaS) business, which aligns with Navis’s strategic direction, and is a best-in-class application.

Biarri’s profile with freight railroads opens up new opportunities for Navis as those railroads look to adopt more sophisticated yard management systems for intermodal terminals. Navis sees an opportunity to increase its presence in yard management at these facilities.

As a part of the transition, Biarri Rail has been rebranded as Navis Rail. For more information on Navis Rail and how it can help your organization, please contact Kevin Foy.