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Enabling Technical Evolution of Freight Rail

By: / Thu Oct 14 19:59:32 GMT 2021

2021 is the European Year of Rail. Navis participated in its first Rail Freight Summit in Lodz, Poland this September where the industry leaders discussed the importance of rail freight and its impact on operators in the CEE region. And Navis delivered a session on “Enabling Technical Evolution of Freight Rail.” Why is this significant? 

Freight transport by rail has been intensively developing for over a dozen years and this is favored not only by the beneficial geographical location or global development trends but also by the implementation of investments in transport infrastructure. 

More containers and general cargo is now being transported by trains than ever before. Due to this rapid development, there is also an impact on the environment and the ecology. This generates a demand for a more sustainable mode of transport.

And it will continue to grow at a steady pace. Based on various studies, more and more cargo transported by road will be transported by other means of transport. So, what does it mean for rail operators, on-dock, and intermodal terminals? The number of trains will go up and this will lead to more and more complexity. But it’s not as simple as that….

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There are also other key trends like digitalization, cybersecurity, cloud computing, rail consolidation and last-mile visibility which are affecting the supply chain industry.

But, how does all of this impact operators and terminals?

It’s quite obvious that the more train visits you have the more busy and congested the tracks at your terminal will be. There is an increased pressure to depart trains on time to ensure the high standards of service and productivity is maintained. 

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Road trucks are still transporting the majority of the cargo and then there are also barges which add to the competition for Freight Rail. Then there is volatility in volumes and it’s not just due to the Covid pandemic. The European terminals continue to experience heavy congestion after the Ever Given blocked the Suez Canal.

As logistics professionals find ways to optimize operations and implement new technology, it is also important to understand the impact on the workforce. How will they adapt to change? Do they have the right level of skills for a particular technology? 

So what do the railroad operators and terminals need to do in order to manage this impact and enable the technical evolution of freight rail?

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  1. Supply chain transparency & data visibility is rapidly becoming a priority as many enterprises realize the advantages of having and sharing certain information with trading partners and consumers. They need high data visibility which will allow them to make data-driven decisions to reduce cost, as well as increase revenue and productivity.
  2. Important data such as yard location, railcar track position, equipment status, container routing and train arrival and departure times are critical to making optimal decisions. Therefore, an intelligent planning and equipment scheduling tool is critical to achieving higher rates of productivity and increase service reliability of terminals and operators.
  3. As seen in the key trends, the future is the cloud. Any investment in technology should be future proof and the vendor should be investing significantly in the R&D going forward. Making changes every few years can be costly.
  4. There are many usability challenges for terminals and operators as often there is heavy thinking and communication to monitor and control operations. Users would only realize inefficiencies that are impacting their operations after the fact and often a lack of visualization and data support for decision making. It should be easy to use and provide an enjoyable experience for your workforce.
  5. When we talk about digitalization, we are also talking about reducing waste. By digitizing operations like cargo inspections, reefer monitoring, pin setting on railcars etc, the amount of paper used can be significantly reduced. Inefficient crane moves lead to excessive gantry which wastes more time, money, and electricity/fuel. There needs to be a shift towards sustainability.
And as we make this shift we need to also think about the future and what role artificial intelligence and machine learning will play in the industry. We cannot ignore all of this data being produced by terminals and railroad operators. This new technology should be used to learn from data, find correlations, and predict meaningful KPIs to create future situational awareness, thereby enabling actionable intelligence for your customers. 

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