Tracking cargo: the next step for rail freight operators?
Heralded by many commentators as the fourth industrial revolution, digitalisation has become a buzzword for rail freight operators looking to enhance their services. One particular trend has been a move towards tracking freight, with companies including Deutsche Bahn and SNCF Logistics investing in new monitoring technologies that provide real-time updates on the status of wagons. What are these technologies, and what benefits can they provide to freight operators?
In recent years, a reduced growth in international trade and declines in heavy freight, such as coal and steel, have caused a downward trend in the rail freight industry. Nevertheless, increasing moves towards digitalisation could help turn the tide.
In line with the commuter rail industry, freight operators are striving to boost efficiency and productivity by upgrading locomotives with intelligent systems that increase safety and capacity, enhance reliability and create better connectivity on freight networks.
According to GE Transportation chief digital officer Laurie Tolson, the growing trend of digitalisation in the rail freight industry is linked with a growth in intermodal networks, which itself is largely being driven by consumerism. According to a report from the Association of American Railroads, US railroads posted a 6.5% increase in intermodal traffic in March.
Tolson also claims that service levels for most US freight railways are currently ‘not acceptable’ for many manufacturers, forcing them to opt for more expensive options such as road freight. “They just haven’t been able to do the coordination and kind of information sharing that would allow them to actually perform,” she says.
For years, lessors would rely on manual tracking methods and arduous correspondence with rail operators to locate their containers. However, as solutions driven by big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) continue to permeate commuter rail networks, tracking cargo has become a key driver for digital innovation in the freight industry.