Americans were horrified last week to see scenes of empty packages from stolen cargo strewn along miles of railroad tracks in Los Angeles, as if we were a third world country.
Unfortunately, in many ways, American infrastructure is third world. Though our freight rail system is still the envy of the world, reports of derailments and disruptions appear to be increasing. It doesn’t have to be this way. Through private sector efforts to increase transparency in our supply chain, crimes like the one that just took place will be less common, and this critical piece of infrastructure will be more secure.
The response from those involved to those sights of empty packages littering L.A’.s railroad tracks is quite typical and misdiagnoses the problem. Rail companies suggest taking different routes. Others demand more police and security resources. Some suggest technical solutions with alerts when assets are broken into. But, as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When companies know where their cargo is, they are able to make sure it is not stranded in unsafe areas, but is delivered as quickly as possible to American consumers. Unfortunately, our supply chain is not as connected as even the average smartphone.
This is why we have a record 100 container vessels hanging around with hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of cargo on board. Our supply chain is still operating with technology from the past century, which gives little visibility into cargo, and therefore makes it difficult to deliver goods where they are needed, with no margin for error.
The scattered packages on the tracks look dystopian, but it’s not all doom and gloom. As someone who has devoted his life to fixing these problems, I can report that we are on the edge of something spectacular. Imagine a physical internet where on-the-ground data is transformed into actionable business intelligence in real time. This is a world where every container, railcar, truck chassis, box, pallet, barrel and canister are accounted for.
This technology exists, and it’s time we make it more prevalent as a matter of national and domestic security. Federal regulators need to quickly deliver policies that support the innovation efforts of railcar stakeholders, such as the advanced RailPulse collaboration. In fact, every participant in logistics requires reliable data to run lean and agile. In January, President Biden took steps to protect semiconductor supply chains, but he must go further and make it obligatory to digitize all cargo equipment.
Preventing national embarrassments like we just saw in L.A. does not require much. With hardware-equipped railcars, the trains in L.A. will no longer linger exposed to criminal exploitation. They will be flowing smoothly toward their destination, optimized, utilized and integrated into the wider supply chain, which will be running safer, more efficiently, more trusted, creating and retaining more stakeholder value than ever before. And when American rail thrives, so does America.
Daniel MacGregor is Co-Founder of Nexxiot AG, an award-winning, multi-million digital IoT company. He is focused on revolutionizing the supply chain industry through digitization of mobile assetsand processes for smooth operations, sustainability and efficiency. As a pioneer in AI, IoT and Big Data, he loves building multi-disciplinary, international teams to drive positive impact for people and planet.