Jill WeberCustomer Marketing Manager, FourKites

As the pandemic continues to impact over-the-road freight, rail freight traffic is on the rise in the U.S. Rail and intermodal load volume tracked via FourKites grew 49% in 2020, with supply chain experts forecasting continued growth in 2021 as well.

Two industry trends driving this growth include the increase in consumer demand after shortages at the beginning of the pandemic translated into more intermodal volume, and tight truckload capacity leading organizations to look into other modes for shipping products.

As rail shipping accounts for a larger percentage of organizations’ total volume, the need for visibility is increasing in importance. By implementing an end-to-end rail visibility solution, shippers can better manage operations and ensure timely delivery, which directly impacts customer satisfaction.

Here are the four most common challenges in rail freight transportation and how real-time visibility can alleviate them:

1. Inaccurate ETAs and Manual Updates

Accurate ETAs can be difficult to source and generally require manual and reactive calls to both carriers and railroads in case of disruption. By implementing a real-time transportation visibility platform, organizations can receive ETAs that update automatically as things change, freeing up bandwidth that was previously used for contacting the railroad for updates.

2. Reactive Disruption Management

Not unlike managing ETAs, managing exceptions can be extremely manual, especially for unexpected disruptions such as weather and railroad strikes. More commonplace exceptions include delays, dwell time at origin rail terminals and interchanges, bad orders or holds. Having visibility into rail freight transportation allows companies to quickly identify affected shipments to proactively communicate delays both internally and externally in real time.

3. Empty Railcar Tracking

Tracking empty rail car movements is essential for planning and efficiently utilizing private fleet capacity. FourKites’ new empty railcar tracking functionality allows shippers to track empty railcars back to their origin. Since shippers tend to have a limited number of railcars, this feature enables availability projection in advance of the next loaded shipment.

4. Poor Data Quality & Lack of Analytics

Railroads and intermodal carriers tend to provide tracking data in different formats with varying levels of consistency and standardization. Analytics are typically lacking as well, so reporting on things like cycle time, transit time and future planning needs can be manual or nonexistent. A lack of TMS updates can also lead to significant seasonal variations that can negatively affect transit times.

A supply chain visibility solution allows shippers to standardize data and provide guardrail logic to multiple sources, preventing incorrect railroad and carrier data from surfacing.

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With the increase in rail freight volume, the need for visibility to help manage operations and ensure the timely delivery of shipments is now more important than ever. In the search for a real-time transportation visibility solution, organizations must select a platform that will move them away from reactionary operations, and into proactive supply chain management. FourKites provides a single-pane-of-glass view into all transportation operations and can help organizations identify risks sooner, investigate the root cause of delays, and find new opportunities to improve inbound and outbound operations across all modes.

Interested in learning more about FourKites rail and intermodal tracking solutions? Please reach out to our rail experts here.

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