ZTR, Blackberry Partner on Digital Remote Railcar Monitoring

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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ZTR’s PIVOT utilizes elements of BlackBerry’s Radar® asset tracking technology.

Locomotive modernization solutions and industrial IoT (Internet of Things) technology provider ZTR has partnered with security software and asset tracking provider BlackBerry Limited on what the two companies describe as “an advanced digital railcar remote monitoring solution.”

ZTR’s new offering, which it has named PIVOT, utilizes elements of BlackBerry’s Radar® asset tracking technology. Currently in a customer trial phase, PIVOT is “an end-to-end solution that helps railcar customers achieve increased efficiency,” ZTR says. “Built to withstand the rugged conditions of the railway, it’s available through an intuitive online dashboard. The service includes location, utilization and mileage data for railcars and other non-powered railway assets.”

PIVOT, ZTR says, improves railcar utilization by providing “a clear picture of how railcars are underused, overused or misused.” Its location function enables users to “know where their assets are, understand dwell and cycle times” and reduce incidents involving misrouted (“lost”) railcars. PIVOT “improves maintenance efficiency by reducing issue response time” and “meets the demand for supply chain visibility by securely sharing data at the right time, with the right people and business systems.”

“Recognizing there was an immediate industry need for a remote railcar monitoring solution that could withstand the rugged conditions of the railway, provide greater fleet insights and operate with extended battery life, ZTR and BlackBerry decided to leverage their mutual strengths,” ZTR notes. “The partnership combines ZTR’s decades of railway industry expertise, world-class technical support and Railway IoT experience with BlackBerry’s industry-leading communication technology, battery management, security and hardware capabilities. With solid location information, customers will be able to realize huge efficiency gains through analytics and reporting, and get unparalleled visibility into their operations, allowing them to optimize asset utilization.”

“It was an easy decision for ZTR to work with BlackBerry,” says ZTR President and CEO Sam Hassan. “We’re always looking ahead to anticipate customer needs and improve availability, reliability and efficiency through innovation, so it made sense for two technically-savvy businesses to join together to deliver greater customer value.”

“Known as the railway experts, ZTR was the perfect partner to help expand the reach of our asset monitoring solution in an otherwise underserved market, and one in which visibility and fleet insights can make a major difference in profitability,” says BlackBerry Radar® Senior Vice President and General Manager Christopher Plaat. “With ZTR, we share a vision to bring digital transformation to the railroads so that they can make better, data-driven decisions that lead to greater fleet efficiency.”

ZTR President and CEO Sam Hassan.

Railway Age spoke with Sam Hassan about ZTR’s partnership with BlackBerry:

RAILWAY AGE: What market conditions or factors led to both companies pursuing this offering? Do they see a need in the marketplace?

HASSAN: ZTR has been strategically expanding its Railway IoT offering over the past several years. We started with locomotives and moved to rail yard and maintenance-of-way equipment, recognizing that the railcar market was seeking change—looking for ways to truly improve overall operations and digitize the business. We are constantly exploring railway operations to identify opportunities to provide IoT solutions. Our experience and discussions with railways, railcar lessors and shippers lead us to identifying an opportunity for advanced railcar monitoring. With advancements in hardware, sensors and telecommunications solutions, we believe railways and railcar suppliers are ready for the next evolution in railcar monitoring. 

RA: What exactly is the offering? Is it putting GPS-like devices on rail equipment, or is it something else entirely?

HASSAN: Today, the railways are using different methods for tracking their railcar locations. Seeing a railcar’s GPS location is important, but our offering goes beyond that. We’re looking at all constituents, including the railway, the car lessor and OEM to give them a view that provides a valuable information stream. This includes car logistics, car operations, car health, car leasing models and more. Although we’re starting with basic location and loading information, our development roadmap is active.

RA: How does this partnership fit within ZTR’s current offerings, such as the Railway IoT?

HASSAN: Both BlackBerry and ZTR are strong technology companies with a long heritage within our respective industries.  ZTR is able to leverage BlackBerry’s knowledge and products supplied in complementary trailer and container tracking markets. We have been able to marry this with our technical and business knowledge of the railways. From this marriage, we have been able to jointly design and release a strong railcar monitoring solution, which we have named PIVOT, to the market. Although ZTR has more than 400,000 IoT solutions working in the railway and construction market, tracking railcars pose a significant challenge due to the lack of any real power source. BlackBerry has designed around all these challenges, allowing ZTR to bring PIVOT to the market in record time.   

RA: How does the partnership capitalize on this new offering?

HASSAN: ZTR has the experience and connections within the railway industry. We understand the technical and commercial needs of the different players that can benefit from the offering. The partnership has already been successful in launching the solution in record time. We are already in the customer trial phase, and see great opportunities ahead. Further to this, BlackBerry is also a strong player in the intermodal markets. Although not currently contemplated, the connection of these two markets could provide customers with a more holistic view of their operations. We believe the ZTR / BlackBerry partnership will position us as a strong force within the railcar market for years to come.

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