RailPulse Teams With Railinc (Updated, Blaze)

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
image description

Railinc will develop, maintain and operate RailPulse’s technology platform for monitoring railcar location, condition and health under a 10-year agreement, RailPulse reported on May 31.

Established in late 2020, RailPulse is working not only to give “shippers visibility into the status, location and condition of rail equipment and the commodities being transported,” but also to use “key data to provide real-time performance information, including safety data, on railcars to shippers, railcar owners and railroads.” This will ultimately “advance rail safety, increase telematics adoption [and] drive growth in freight rail utilization,” according to RailPulse, a coalition comprising Norfolk Southern (NS); GATX Corporation; Genesee & Wyoming Inc.; Watco; The Greenbrier Companies; and TrinityRail, which on May 26 acquired Quasar Platform Inc. from Cando Rail & Terminals Ltd.

Mike McClellan, Executive Vice President of Strategic Planning at NS

Railinc’s expertise in managing vast volumes of data across the North American freight rail industry, coupled with its experience providing superior 24-hour customer support, will be key value for RailPulse and its users,” RailPulse said. “Railinc will also help to implement data management protocols, including data security, as well as integrate railcar telematics device data into RailPulse’s backend systems. Lastly, future data-sharing arrangements with Railinc for RailPulse access to car location message (CLM), waybill, and Umler data will allow RailPulse to enhance its telematics data, including the ability to map telematics data to all parties in a given waybill route.” The first step for Railinc: development of a “‘pilot’ iteration of RailPulse’s platform for demonstration to interested industry parties targeted toward the end of 2022.”

“Railinc and RailPulse have joined forces to deliver telematics and sensor technology to the North American freight rail industry,” NS Executive Vice President of Strategic Planning Mike McClellan said. “Railinc has more than 20 years of experience managing software and data applications for the industry, with best-in-class security and tools that enable robust data sharing and access policies.”

“Railinc is pleased to partner with RailPulse, leveraging our capabilities to quickly scale its platform,” Railinc President and CEO Allen West said.

Meanwhile, Trinity on May 31 said that its acquisition of Quasar, “an end-to-end rail logistics software platform providing a real-time data universe to freight rail shippers and operators,” will enhance its digital product portfolio, including Trinsight™, by adding “capabilities like yard management, activity-based costing and new data visualization tools.” Launched in early 2021, Trinsight provides shippers with real-time railcar and cargo location, condition and status information. 

Trinity is retaining all Quasar employees. PricewaterhouseCoopers Corporate Finance Inc. was Quasar’s financial advisor.

“Shippers are looking for solutions that increase efficiency and visibility of their supply chain, and the Quasar team puts tremendous value on solving customer challenges and being responsive to rail shippers’ needs,” Trinity Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer Gregg Mitchell said. “This acquisition is an important enhancement to the Trinsight platform, as Trinity is committed to growing its services offering with new innovations to create deeper relationships with, and a better experience for, rail shippers.”

“We are extremely proud of what we have achieved with Quasar,” which was formed in 2017, Cando Rail & Terminals President and CEO Brian Cornick said. “With its experience and knowledge of digital products for rail, Trinity is a fantastic home for Quasar and we are very excited for its future.”

In related developments, earlier this month David Shannon was selected as the first General Manager of RailPulse. Additionally, Railinc’s TransmetriQ reported on April 19 that it is providing shippers a “one-stop shop to manage and analyze their rail operations.” And Knorr-Bremse is a now customer of and strategic investor in Swiss firm Nexxiot.

Commentary by Jim Blaze

Jim Blaze

The RailPulse-Railinc and Trinity-Quasar deals reported above contain subtle but important differences, as competitors continue to vie for the geo-positioning management of railway mobile assets (like freight cars)—and the accuracy of the planned delivery of the cargo inside those cars.

Let’s take a closer look. RailPulse said that it has entered a 10-year agreement with Railinc, a wholly-owned, for-profit subsidiary of the Association of American Railroads, whereby Railinc will help to develop, maintain and operate RailPulse’s technology platform for monitoring railcar location, condition and health characteristics across North America. This partnership will enable the RailPulse coalition to deploy its remote monitoring platform. The schedule is for late 2022.

Strategically, this partnership is important to RailPulse “members” because for years, so many rail freight customers have continued to rely on the Railinc CLM systems and other useful waybills and Umler (freight car registered information file data).

It is a natural integration function for almost every car tracking service to encompass such Railinc data. However, buried in the announcement is the message that the first objective seems to be a pilot demonstration “to interested industry parties targeted toward the end of 2022.”

Also announced was the corporate marriage between TrinityRail, a RailPulse “founder,” and Quasar, a leading-edge logistics-like telematics vendor that is not a RailPulse participant.

Interestingly, both TrinityRail and its Trinsight group and Quasar are well past pilot testing of their remote monitoring “IT platforms.” (Read my first telematics report: “A Journey Into the Telematics Universe.”) Both companies have been open for business helping their respective customers test and instrument and use in real time their two slightly different telematics platforms. Now, no longer competitors, the merged entity can offer rail customers both warehouse-like supply chain platform functions as well as car health (the RailPulse part) services that have been under deployment for one or more years.

Why is Quasar different? Quasar was created with platform software and functionality that captures and uses end-to-end rail logistics cargo movement data in real time that goes beyond the health of the moving railcar asset. Trinity’s IT-modernized platform followed a more classical “car-focused” approach. Their M&A union “enhances Trinity’s digital product portfolio, including Trinsight™, by adding additional capabilities like yard management, activity-based costing and new data visualization tools.”

They both appear to be the first breakout, next-platform organization. That’s how this independent railway economist and Railway Age Contributing Editor sees the contrasting announcements.

One thing to keep in mind: No matter which vendor you—shipper or railroad—consider, the vendor will need to help integrate your internal data with both selected Railinc data files and with two other functions. You will require both sound communications messaging and multi-geographic area user-capable sensor hardware.

Both announcements should be welcome news to everyone in the North American rail freight industry. Why? Because when combined with continuous, Positive Train Control head-end locomotive GPS location feeds, these car-specific GPS functions should get everyone closer to the schedule that PSR (Precision Scheduled Railroading) was expected to deliver.

This old railroader has one question: Who’s next to pick up the rollout pace?

Independent railway economist and Railway Age Contributing Editor Jim Blaze has been in the railroad industry for more than 40 years. Trained in logistics, he served seven years with the Illinois DOT as a Chicago long-range freight planner and almost two years with the USRA technical staff in Washington, D.C. Jim then spent 21 years with Conrail in cross-functional strategic roles from branch line economics to mergers, IT, logistics, and corporate change. He followed this with 20 years of international consulting at rail engineering firm Zeta-Tech Associated. Jim is a Magna Cum Laude Graduate of St Anselm’s College with a master’s degree from the University of Chicago. Married with six children, he lives outside of Philadelphia. “This column reflects my continued passion for the future of railroading as a competitive industry,” says Jim. “Only by occasionally challenging our institutions can we probe for better quality and performance. My opinions are my own, independent of Railway Age. As always, contrary business opinions are welcome.”

For more on RailPulse and telematics, read:

• “A Journey Into the Telematics Universe,” by Railway Age Contributing Editor Jim Blaze.

• “Moving Closer to Rail Maintenance Truth,” by Nexxiot AG Co-founder Daniel MacGregor.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,