New Directions for Freight Railroads in 2021? Yes.

Let’s be honest. The freight railroad industry is seldom on the leading bleeding edge of innovation. There are good and practical reasons for that, too. Being “first” is a very expensive proposition in money, risk, and effort.

What are Railroads headed into in 2021?But one thing railroads are very good at is adapting quickly and intelligently once they make up their minds to do so. There are 3 notable directions freight railroad headed as an industry in 2021. 2020 simply accelerated the inevitable focus.

  1. Fulfilling customer expectations to equal Amazon
  2. Smarter operations through automation
  3. Mobile Device Self-serve for employees

Fulfilling Customer Expectations to Equal Amazon’s

Prediction: There will be dramatic cooperation between logistics, railroads, and car manufactures initiated this year to start filling the visibility void.

Amazon as a business has totally rewritten what the “satisfied customer promise” means for logistics.

Crazy, but true. Our office ordered some bulk supplies that were palletized, but not through Amazon. It shipped within two days of ordering. However, it arrived 6 weeks after the projected delivery date because it was stranded in a switchyard.  We tracked it. Joe Average can’t even do that.

The person responsible for our order quipped that they would have had it sent by truck had they known what the delay would be. This is not an isolated incident. Read any logistics publication to find more examples – and if you’re a railroad, the other frightening things the trucking industry is doing to make themselves the easy choice – the first choice, instead of rail.

Customers expect visibility via technology to be in-place. But the issue is bigger than any single railroad can handle.

PTB Validator can take different consist builds from a railroads TMS and the ‘run’ the trains across real routes to compare outcomes. The customizable reports let users quickly change or compare a wide variety of operational parameters.

PTB Validator can take different consist builds from a railroads TMS and the ‘run’ the trains across real routes to compare outcomes. The customizable reports let users quickly change or compare a wide variety of operational parameters.

Smarter Operations Through Automation

Prediction: Railroad expectations will become more sophisticated with the desire to have key systems both interconnected and intelligent.

It’s not that this isn’t already a priority, but there will be a double-down emphasis on railroad automation.

The business of rail is extremely complex. The PST solutions for Crew Management, Qualification, Training, and Yard have always had a high level of intelligent automation built into them. But our customers tell us they want even more.

More automated decision making. Better PSR manifest train design. Smarter HR decision making. Prevention of sub-optimal train building. Plus, and this really isn’t a surprise anymore, it should probably be mobile friendly.

I won’t play any buzz-word-bingo, but distilling the deep wells of data that railroads have, into actionable intelligence is paramount. It’s the new must-have.

Mobile Device Self-serve for Employees

Prediction: Both on-the-job and HR needs will vastly expand to mobile devices.

Love them or hate them, the self-checkout stations at the supermarkets are growing. There are huge economic reasons why the food industry is doing this – even McDonalds with other quick-serve restaurants following suit.

Databases rule. The HR and Personnel data is already there. All the tests already exist. Employee job records are already there and so are the FRA requirements. Plugging into that info and letting employees use their devices to guide training, accept routes, mark-ups, and more will exponentially expand. PST solutions do a lot of this already, but the new customer asks? Wow. Significant growth ahead.

How Do We Know This?

Other businesses and industries, especially the ones on the expensive leading, bleeding edge have already done it. They’ve paved the way. Railroads don’t need to repeat the mistakes of the bleeding edge players.

Railroads will do what they do best: Intelligently and quickly adapting to the new realities, by looking at what has already been done.

It’s not rocket science. It never was.

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