Single Source of TruthWritten by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
RAILWAY AGE, SEPTEMBER 2021 ISSUE: Workforce management is evolving from paper-based record-keeping to cloud-based applications that improve efficiency and transparency.
Today’s workforce management systems are helping railroads to boost accuracy and efficiency and to provide record visibility and an enterprise-wide view. They even help reduce train delays. How? With new software—including Software as a Service (SaaS) applications based in the cloud—railroads, large and small, can electronically record HOS (hours of service), keep track of employee qualifications and certifications, automate crew calling, and integrate training, for instance.
Following are among the suppliers providing these systems to Class I’s, short lines (and holding companies), and passenger railroads and transit agencies. They not only address their latest technologies, but also provide Railway Age with a look at what’s next.
CloudMoyo has been working with Kansas City Southern (KCS) since 2017—first building a crew management system for the Class I railroad’s operation in Mexico and then expanding to the U.S., so it now covers roughly 5,500 employees. The project is currently in the final stages of delivery, according to Rajeev Kak, CloudMoyo Vice President, Marketing and Industry Solutions. Moving from a mainframe to a cloud environment, particularly when keeping up with union rules updates, was among the value propositions. No longer would writing code be required for each change, he reports.
CloudMoyo offers workforce management as a cloud-based SaaS solution. It includes crew management, operational testing, on-the-job training (for 49 CFR Part 243), compliance management (Federal Railroad Administration drug and alcohol, Labor Department), and integrated workforce data analytics. On the crew management side, the company provides crew boards (including automated sequencing, crew qualification, seniority, labor laws, fatigue indicators), crew assignments and duty calls (duty schedules with HOS considerations and automated calling using IVR/mobile), yard jobs management (tracking and managing work lists for yard crews with location and timestamps plus job completion tracking), and a self-service mobile app (allowing crews to do tie-ups, accept duties, apply for check duty calendars, apply for leave/vacation).
Crews can not only use their mobile devices to report for duty, but also turn in sick leave requests, for example, Kak says. The CloudMoyo platform captures all data, including HOS work, cutting down on reconciliations between employees and the accounts payable department, he notes. “It creates a transparency for employees, right on their mobile phone.” And no more wading through paperwork, he says. “It’s a single source of truth as everybody is following the same log-in time and date.”
— “It’s a single source of truth as everybody is following the same log-in time and date.” —
The system can also handle qualification testing, so if an employee’s certification is set to expire, it can send out advanced notification, 180-, 90- or 30-days out. That helps railroads ensure that duties are only assigned to people “who are available and able,” Kak says, and trains aren’t delayed.
Among the challenges for railroads moving to such systems is change management, Kak says. That’s why railroads generally implement the technology region by region or terminal by terminal, he notes, to ensure employees are on board. User acceptance testing and training programs help.
Cybersecurity concerns are not uncommon since this is mission-critical software. “If the infrastructure goes down and the cloud servers are not accessible, that could bring a railroad to a stop,” Kak says. “I will tell you that we have used Microsoft Azure as the platform that we have built our applications on, and Microsoft gives you all of the capabilities of building redundancy.” Virtually 100% (99.99999%) uptime is guaranteed, he says, which “is a source of comfort to a lot of people. If any one data center has a problem, it’s an automatic switch-over; copies are maintained at other data centers, so you can activate the same applications running at a different data center.” The KCS system has never gone down, he reports.
CloudMoyo is currently working on system enhancements like operational testing. Now live at KCS, it ensures operating procedures and best practices are being followed. Clipboards and paper questionnaires have been replaced with mobile tablets, Kak says.
Learning is based on three pillars, says Heartwood CEO Raj Raheja: You see it, you do it and you receive feedback. Heartwood takes all three and provides them “at scale,” so hundreds or thousands of railroad employees can learn from anywhere, at any time, he explains—an advantage during the pandemic. “Our interactive simulation and virtual interactive guides are a way for employees to perform procedures in the same manner they would in real life as well as some that they couldn’t,” he says. Simulations can replicate hazards, for instance, removing any safety or personal injury risks. These simulations as well as training records can tie into a railroad’s workforce management system.
The simulations—which are consistent and assess employee knowledge through skill demonstration—do not require haptic feedback like a “big-box” locomotive simulator does. “There’s only a finite set of procedures that need it,” Raheja points out. Through digital software, Heartwood focuses training on maintenance procedures, hazards and defect identification, familiarization, and troubleshooting. This includes brake tests (49 CFR 232, 238), pre-departure inspection (49 CFR 215, 238), locomotive daily inspection (49 CFR 229) and other 49 CFR Part 243 training requirements. “These are among the many things we can take into a virtual, digital environment and do it at scale, so you can practice or learn them on an iPad, web browser or any computer, anywhere in the world,” Raheja says.
— “All of the simulations are recorded in a railroad’s workforce management system so they can ensure that the people they are putting on the job are trained, and so they can track who hasn’t been trained yet and who needs to be trained.” —
Another benefit: “All of the simulations are recorded in a railroad’s workforce management system so they can ensure that the people they are putting on the job are trained, and so they can track who hasn’t been trained yet and who needs to be trained,” says Heartwood Training and Sims Specialist Brian Keller.
Heartwood works hand-in-hand with railroads, constantly updating its simulations. The company is now building simulations for mechanical and maintenance as well as safety, including blue signal inspection, crane safety and roadway worker training.
It is also moving into the passenger rail space, and is slated to complete simulation development by first-quarter 2022. Amtrak has already signed on.
What’s next for training technology? Heartwood is exploring how it can use all the captured data to improve training and railroad safety procedures. “For example, we could look back over three months and say, 60% of conductors are missing this hazard,” Raheja points out. “Why do you think they’re missing it? Is this happening in real life? We can take this to the railroads, and it may mean a change in either protocols or something on the training side. The data has so much potential.”
MaxAccel’s web-based software platform, SafeTrack, offers a core set of crew management functions, including employee certification status, extra board management, employee communications, HOS compliance, job/territory qualification, and payroll with claims and arbitraries.
While SafeTrack is designed for railroads of any size, the company’s “sweet spot” is the medium- to small-sized market as well as holding companies, plus passenger rail, according to Managing Partner Peter Sutcliffe.
“Customers like having the ability to access data in a central database from anywhere instead of having a filing cabinet full of paper records,” Sutcliffe says. And with the web-based system, all the data is “live” as long as there is Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity. It will also operate in “disconnected mode,” as the data is stored locally in a phone, for instance, until connectivity is regained.
— “Customers like having the ability to access data in a central database from anywhere instead of having a filing cabinet full of paper records.” —
SafeTrack HOS encompasses all crafts and a complete range of use cases for both freight and passenger operations. Territory qualifications, seniority, certification status and extra board management assist dispatchers. The system also manages Type 1 and Type 2 tour information.
In addition, railroads can drive payroll through the interface, by capturing details about employee shift activities, job IDs, mileage, equipment and related information, according to MaxAccel. Bulletins, orders and notices can also be delivered to employees.
The HOS application allows employees to log in their activities, creating visibility for management. “They can see how many hours the employee has been working and what the availability may be for additional work that day or upcoming work,” Sutcliffe points out.
The company recently deployed mobile infrastructure plus analytics integration with Microsoft Power BI. “Our interactive SafeTrack analytics really makes the data come alive, making it easy to answer ad hoc questions or spot trends,” Sutcliffe says.
Also recent is its accident/incident reporting application, as well as an integrated LMS (learning management system). MaxAccel is now developing a track inspection application, and a SafeTrack Crew application for more robust crew management functionality. Among its features: job scheduling and staffing, more robust extra board management and territory qualification management, as well as vacation management. “All of those things are important for quality of life planning,” Sutcliffe says. Release is expected in fourth-quarter 2021 or first-quarter 2022.
Navis Rail, powered by Biarri Rail, offers an integrated platform for freight railroads to produce scheduled train, railcar, locomotive, yard and crew plans based on customer demand. The system allows users to see asset interdependencies—for example, being able to identify that there are insufficient locomotives to run a set of trains or that a train plan cannot be crewed based on its dwell locations, the company says. Additionally, users can run “what if” analyses on changes in traffic volume and composition, or changes to asset availability or network constraints.
Navis Rail Ops, powered by Biarri Rail, allows the operating department to manage locomotives; develop, analyze and change train routes; manage crew schedules and rosters as well as crew changeovers; and manage train and other rolling assets in real-time at key locations on the network.
“You can say, ‘I’m going to build this train; I have these locomotives and railcars; and I’m going to run it from A to B to C to D, but if you don’t have the personnel to put on that train, with the right qualifications to drive it, that train isn’t going anywhere,” says Tom Forbes, Vice President of Navis Rail. “In developing our solution, we realized that having this integration, where you can see the interplay between the train, the locomotives, the railcars, the yard and the crew would be highly valuable to the freight railroads.”
— “In developing our solution, we realized that having this integration, where you can see the interplay between the train, the locomotives, the railcars, the yard and the crew would be highly valuable to the freight railroads.” —
For Navis Rail, security is at the forefront. “We’ve seen a rapid change in the amount of questions we get asked about security,” Forbes says. “There was always a security check list through the procurement process, but the diligence and extent has gone up dramatically, as you might expect with the news around various hacks and attacks.” Navis Rail’s N4 solution started as on-prem (on-premises), and the company is now migrating customers to the cloud with its SaaS solutions; the Navis Rail Operations System is SaaS native. Navis Rail uses AWS (Amazon Web Services), and parent company Navis offers the added security of a product security incidence response team.
What’s next for Navis Rail? “We originally focused on longer-term, strategic planning, and we are now moving into the tactical space—planning for tomorrow or next week, or I need to make decisions right now because that train is delayed,” reports Forbes.
PS Technology (PST) offers on-prem and cloud-based crew management solutions. CrewPro manages crews/employees and the work they perform, from job scheduling to work/time reporting; allows for rule configuration; and lets employees take charge of activities via web or mobile. The benefits include automatic honoring of complex union rules; mitigating FRA scheduling violations and potential fines; and reducing manual record-keeping. The short line version includes crew calling as well as weekly and semi-annual assignment bulletin processing; employee vacation and time-off management; and a fully implemented time-to-gross timekeeping process.
Currently, the CrewPro solution for Class I’s is on-prem; shorts lines have the option for on-prem or in the cloud.
“Our crew scheduling solution does everything: automatic processing of who has seniority to get the positions that open up; automatic extra board sizing; and automatic crew calls through IVR or mobile applications to reduce the number of crew callers a railroad needs, all while maintaining a complete record of every transaction,” Senior Marketing Director Mark Bremmer explains. And during an FRA audit, he points out, “you don’t need to be down for three weeks while they go through all sorts of Excel spreadsheets. The information is all right on the system. You can simply print a report.”
PST’s QualPro offers centralized management and test scheduling for rail positions covering work queue, assignments, licensing, field training, and certification and familiarization for conductors, engineers and remote-control operators. Management is alerted about upcoming timelines, and employees have visibility into their own records. In addition, the company offers CrewWatch for drug and alcohol program management.
— “Why don’t we start making [route] familiarization available on a digital platform? Right now, you can only do recertification rides digitally.” —
What’s next in workforce management? Continued automation, says Bremmer, who uses employee retirements as an example. “How do we make sure as Joe walks out the door with his 35 years of rail experience that we don’t lose his insight? How do we see what Joe sees, and how do we take somebody who’s fresh out of college and help them see the same things, with the same level of fidelity and sophistication? We’re building dashboard systems and turning data into intelligence for something actionable,” Bremmer explains.
The biggest trend for workforce management is “platforming,” he adds. “Workforce management is starting to be wired into everything else. Workforce management is well understood. PST has been doing it for more than 30 years. But what’s new to us and to the business is this ‘platform mentality,’ and how it ties into asset management, and how do we start getting our demand balanced with the workforce ahead of time.”
On the QualPro side, Bremmer says, there is interest in using electronics for route familiarization. “If I wanted to go from Denver to Los Angeles, and I’m qualified on everything except 100 miles of track that goes through one section of Utah, I have to physically sit in the train to do that, so that immediately takes me out of the loop,” he explains. “What we’re trying to do with QualPro is to show the map of the route, and show the crew caller where an engineer is qualified and where they’re not. This will take the effort of a couple of railroads and some wheels are already turning, but we have all this cab footage, all of [this data], and we can simulate these routes. Why don’t we start making familiarization available on a digital platform? Right now, you can only do recertification rides digitally.” Such a move would need FRA approval, he notes.
Railroad Software provides terminal management and FRA compliance software. TrackHOS offers web-based and mobile time entry; a horizontal timeline to view all employee hours; user confirmation at the end of each tour; an administrator dashboard to monitor employee service; and an employee dashboard to monitor current hours for each service type.
The benefits, says Sales and Marketing Associate Evan Mitchell, are clear: Employees no longer have to do the calculations in the field, and supervisors and administrators have visibility into all tours of duty at any time—without traditional paperwork.
The system also helps during FRA audits. In the past, many railroads would have to collect paper HOS records, making sure they were correct and up to date (and legible), Mitchell says. With Railroad Software’s system, everything is done electronically, and when FRA comes on site, they can be given a login for report access.
— “We didn’t want to overcomplicate the lives of the railroaders using [our applications]. We just want to provide them visibility into these aspects of their job.” —
The system also includes compliance reporting, covering FRA 49 CFR Part 228 Compliance Engine, which evaluates each time record against FRA regulations; and end-of-month and month-to-date reporting to document any current or past compliance issues for self-reporting requirements. Additional features include payroll integration and non-covered hourly employees support.
Railroad Software’s newest application is TrackWorker, which was designed with a FRA 49 CFR Part 228 compliance engine to assist users with their employee FRA compliance for training, efficiency testing, qualifications and certifications.
The advantage, Mitchell says, is “HR can go into any of their employees’ profiles in the system and see all the certifications they currently have, see when they expire, and set [expiration] reminders.”
Both applications are straightforward. “That was the intention when we built them,” Mitchell explains. “We didn’t want to overcomplicate the lives of the railroaders using them. We just want to provide them visibility into these aspects of their job.”
Railroad Software’s SaaS offerings are hosted by AWS. “For some railroads, knowing they’re not on-prem is attractive because that means railroads don’t have to handle them in-house or put a strain on their IT departments,” Mitchell says.