billions of bits and bytes keep the steel wheels turning

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					Billions of Bits and Bytes
          Keep the Steel Wheels Turning
Canada’s railways move 4.1 million carloads and containers     productive locomotive fleets. That dramatically improves
of freight traffic and almost 63 million rail commuters and    their asset utilization. Canadian railways, for example, haul
inter-city travelers annually. Today’s trains run on steel     25.2 per cent more freight than they did a decade ago with
wheels, on steel rails and ... on information.
                                                               10,000 fewer freight cars and exactly the same number of
Tons of it. Delivered with speed, precision and consistency.   more powerful, more efficient locomotives as in 1996.

Because that’s what railways must have to manage the flow      What makes the difference is advanced systems and
of tens of thousands of carloads and containers of freight     programs that allow workers to manage the railroad and
a day across the nation, across borders and across oceans.     business transactions – electronically – better than ever
Between almost 60 railways and more than 25,000 freight        before.
customers in Canada alone.
                                                               Internet applications allow customers to request prices,
Railways were one of the first, and most computerized,         order and trace cars, request plant switches, check bills, and
network industries. Automation helped them reduce              perform various other functions in real-time.
expenses in track and equipment maintenance, in crew
calling and train dispatching.                                 Railways are increasingly doing business with their suppliers
                                                               electronically. They seek requests for proposals and requests
Electronic data interchange made possible computer-to-         for quotes from vendors, place orders, arrange ship-
computer information transfers between individual railways     ments direct to user locations, and get electronic invoices
and major customers. More than four million messages a         throughout the supply chain at the speed of light.
day, for example, are switched over a dedicated network or
Internet between members of the North American railway         Costs down, productivity up
industry’s RAILINC.
                                                               Because international trade is both fiercely competitive and
The business, a stand-alone, for-profit subsidiary of the      vitally important to the Canadian economy, Canada is one
Association of American Railroads, operates one of the         of the world’s most active trading nations. Exports represent
world’s largest EDI networks and maintains the most            more than a quarter of its gross domestic product. More
extensive database of rail transportation information in the   than 40 per cent of Canada’s exports are carried for all or part
world. The information technology data network is as vital     of their journey to market by rail.
to the railroad industry and its customers as train control
systems. Without both, railways grind to a halt.               Modern Customs clearance systems and procedures for
                                                               freight traffic moving cross-border by rail, more than 60
All the tools, all the time                                    trains a day between Canada and the United States, are
                                                               based on electronic commerce among Canadian and
A modern railway uses all the tools available to the enter-    American rail carriers and Customs agencies.
prise, including advanced technology systems, data
networks and telecommunications. More and more the             Detailed information on a train’s content is relayed by
imperative for major railways in North America is electronic   computer to Customs as the train approaches the border,
business.                                                      and a release or inspect notice is issued within minutes,
                                                               as soon as the train crosses the border. Shipments to be
With such technology, customers can forecast car orders        inspected in transit are scanned by x-ray.
and shipments based on when their products come off
the production line. Increasingly, customers will be able      Besides trimming an average 48 hours from freight delivery
to schedule plant production runs based on predictable         times, the electronic system freed up a half-million car days,
delivery times that railroads will meet.                       increased international car fleet utilization, saved shippers
                                                               the cost of maintaining bonded rail sidings, lowered their
Railways win too with that kind of precision scheduling.       brokerage costs and eliminated unnecessary demurrage
It means they need fewer freight cars and smaller, more        fees.
The new IT                                                       Pressure building

As global markets grow and competition increases, railways       Modern railways must have advanced communications
have deployed new computer-based tools to manage                 technology, and systems that are coherent and unified.
operations from crew assignments and asset utilization, to       There is growing pressure for high network availability
planning the movements of cars. This includes switching          for all services including radio, centralized train control,
instructions, automated customer orders and the ability for      telephone, data services and the underlying transport
customers to confirm the status of their shipments, on-line.     networks to deliver reliable, predictable service for rail
Some railroads are already able to develop trip plans for        freight customers.
each car or container and give their customers predicted
arrival times to the hour. Service plans are predicated on       Telecommunications systems to meet our railway operations
scheduled departure times for trains.                            and our electronic business needs are expensive and
                                                                 constantly changing. Industry Canada streamlined its radio
That means crews and locomotives must be in position. It         licensing process for Canada’s railways on April 1, 2000 and
means that switching has to be completed and minimized to        issued one license to the RAC for the radio spectrum used
the extent possible. It means that marketing and interface       to manage and operate the nation’s freight and passenger
with customers becomes a precision activity.                     railways.

These new technologies impact every part of the organ-           The new approach recognized the importance of radio in all
ization. Today, there are new electronic interlocking            aspects of modern, safe railway operations and management
switches for moving rail traffic between rail lines and          through mobile units and fixed site installations throughout
carriers, and microprocessor-based signal systems installed.     North America.
Voice and data radio systems and fibre optic systems are
common.                                                          Today, radio is used for train control, yard operations,
                                                                 maintenance of way, police, automatic equipment
Some of the changes have been welcomed evolutions of             identification, end of train units, hot wheel bearing detec-
older systems. But there is also convergence occurring           tors and mid-train locomotives used on unit coal trains.
in industry. Vendors that were once traditional tele-
communications suppliers offering PBX systems, fibre             Demand for mobile radio services has increased dramatically
optics and other data equipment, are now merging with            because of new services, such as digital communications
companies from the computer universe who deliver local           that is replacing trackside pole line circuits, and new appli-
area network hardware and software, for example.                 cations for existing functions.

Each of these suppliers is vying to develop integrated           As new systems continue to leapfrog each other, the modern
product lines for voice and data services that will be managed   railroader will have to continuously learn and adapt. Because
together with computer systems and data for end-to-end           change is the only constant!

Photo: GE Evolution Series Locomotive

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Description: billions of bits and bytes keep the steel wheels turning