A Rail Terminal Management Software (RTMS) is a software application that manages the complete rail terminal operation including yard management, railcar inspections, transload management, and reporting to support onsite customers and corporate management. An RTMS application is uniquely different from TMS (Transportation Management System) or RMS (Railcar Management System) applications in so far as it is focused on the specific management of rail terminals rather than movements outside of a rail terminal or railcar fleet management. An RTMS does however integrate and provide and receive key information from both TMS and RMS applications when needed. The problem with most TMS and RMS systems is they are typically designed for operations that are either much larger than a rail terminal would ever require or are in flexible to the unique challenges rail terminals face.
What are the key features to RTMS?
- Railcar Inventory Management/Yard Management – Yard inventory and railcar management are the heart of a RTMS application. The RTMS application should allow for users to update railcar movements and status changes in real time. The ability to make live updates to the system allows for yard masters to make on the spot operational decisions. One of the other key features of a RTMS is the ability to track every user action within the system, specifically who made the changed, what was changed, what the field was that changed from and to, and when the change was made. This information provides the backbone of historical reporting and corporate analytics.
- Automated and Flexible Live and Historical Reporting – Data is key to effectively managing a rail terminal and the ability to deliver this data is invaluable. A RTMS application should provide the ability to generate reports that can be filtered by any data assigned to a railcar, pull historical data, and automatically email excel or pdf reports to key stakeholders on a regular or on-demand basis.
- Demurrage Management – One of the most frustrating expenses for a rail terminal operator is getting a demurrage charge for a railcar that was simply lost in the yard or not processed in a timely manner. A RTMS application is responsible for keeping track of railcar dwell times and producing actionable reports to management to reduce or eliminate demurrage costs. Another benefit of the RTMS is that when there are demurrage charges the management team can review the railcar history and identify the process breakdown or user error that resulted in the charges.
- Customer Portals – Even in this day and age rail terminals and industrial facilities are still running on faxes and phone calls. A RTMS application provides for a customer portal that allows the user to request railcars, process, and release railcars. These status changes are tracked by time and allow for both the terminal and customer to document these changes to hold each other accountable. The RTMS application will also allow the operator to create custom automated reports for each customer to utilize to improve their operation. An additional benefit of the RTMS is that each customer will only have access to their railcars and reports so there is never visibility into other customer’s data.
- Railcar Inspections – Railcar inspections produce more paperwork than just about any process in the rail terminal. In addition to the paperwork, handwritten inspections are hard to read and lend themselves to pencil whipping through them. An RTMS application provides a mobile or tablet based inspection application to document each railcar inspection and provide the ability to add photos to the inspections themselves. Using an RTMS provides accountability to the inspector and offers easy access to readable inspection reports to be quickly emailed or printed.
- Transload management – Paperwork and customer visibility are two of the biggest issues in the transload market today. Many operations use spreadsheets that are updated once or twice daily to keep a client informed on transload transactions and onsite inventories. A RTMS application should allow transload or scale house personal to keep track of each incoming or outgoing transactions and document the scale ticket in the system. By using a RTMS application the customer can have immediate visibility into each transaction and summary of daily/weekly/monthly transactions for easy accounting. The transload management module also eliminates hours of data entry reviewing scale tickets and transaction documentation.
- Automation – Automation can be one of the best tools to improve efficiency and reduce user errors. A RTMS application should be able to automate a rail terminal connecting to AEI tag readers, EDI messaging, or other 3rd party software applications (ERP or Accounting applications).
- AEI Tag Readers are typically utilized in conjunction with a RTMS application for inbounding and outbounding railcars into the facility or updating yard inventory.
- EDI Message handling is the means of communication between railroads and rail terminals. By receiving and sending these files a rail terminal can obtain key information about a railcar prior to arrival, update railcar information upon release, send waybill information, and release requests to the rail carrier.
- 3rd party software applications such as accounting, ERP, or process management applications can provide for incredible increases in efficiencies both for the RTMS or 3rd party software program. The ability to make data connections with 3rd party applications is critical to a successful RTMS application.
- Corporate Analytics and Dashboards – Big data drives big decisions. The ability for a RTMS application to collect historical data means that this data can now be processed to produce countless historical reports. Some of the key reports that provide for actionable information can include departure summaries, rail terminal velocity, and historical yard capacity reports.
How does a RTMS application pay for itself?
The reason that any business uses software is to save time, money, or increase efficiency. With that in mind, a RTMS application accomplishes this by:
- Reducing time to update track maps and status changes
- Reducing the number of lost railcars or mistakes in remembering or documenting yard movements
- Reducing demurrage charges by increasing yard velocity and reducing status change errors
- Eliminating errors in shipping of railcars prior to being processed
- Reducing time in following up on failed inspections
- Increasing efficiency in railcar processing by tracking status changes and maintaining railcar velocity reporting
- Document user and customer actions to correct or report disputed status changes
- Providing customer portals to increase visibility and allow for customers to process railcars in their control
- Offering corporate reporting and analytics to increase yard velocity and ultimately increasing yard capacity
In conclusion, Rail Terminal Management and industrial switching in today’s competitive marketplace demands solutions that can deliver operational ease of use, actionable data, and visibility. A RTMS software application that has the ability to deliver this and more can increase profits and increase customer satisfaction.