Better operational control and consistency, improved data quality and business intelligence, and increased yard throughput and car velocity rank among the top benefits of deploying rail planning and optimization tools, according to an industry survey conducted by Navis LP, a provider of operational technologies and services to the global shipping industry.
According to the poll of rail industry executives from both mid-size and large railroad companies globally, 60% of respondents plan to invest in automation, 58% in enterprise-wide planning and operational systems and 43% in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) over the next three years. Sixty-two percent of respondents said that railways need to automate trains and yards, with 90% saying that AI and ML will be needed to improve rail operations to stay competitive with alternative transportation modes—all of this by 2027. “Automation and systems integration are top priorities within the rail industry, which is seeking new productivity gains,” Navis said.
In terms of automation priorities, 69% of survey respondents said railcar planning and management are tops, followed by network and route planning, at 59%; then crew planning and management, at 54%. The majority of respondents—88%—said optimization software is “very or extremely important” for network and asset analysis; 62% believe that integrated planning systems could increase productivity at major yards by 6-25%, while 25% expect improvements greater than 50%. Only 4% reported having a fully integrated planning system in place, while 41% said they rely on various non-integrated systems for network, traffic, locomotive, car and crew planning.
“Among the most important benefits for deploying rail planning and optimization tools, better operational control and consistency won out, with improved data quality and business intelligence and increased yard throughput car velocity not far behind,” Navis said. “A key indication of the important role integration will play moving forward, 54% of respondents are in the process of planning for new enterprise-level planning and operational systems, and 31% have a full plan in place for updating systems and acquiring new software.”
“As the rail freight industry evolves, automation is a clear path to increasing productivity and effectiveness,” said Tom Forbes, Head of Navis Rail. “This survey shows us just how motivated companies are to find technological solutions that optimize and streamline their operations.”