Boosting Rail Transportation’s Sustainability Profile

Boosting Rail Transportation’s Sustainability Profile

A mode of transportation already known for its “green” qualities, rail could make some further sustainability gains if a new bipartisan act becomes a law.

The push to make modes of transportation more environmentally-sustainable has been in full force for several years now. From electric cars to ships that use low-sulfur fuels to vehicles that automatically shut off when idling, the number of “green” initiatives has proliferated right along with the number of consumers who are demanding them. 

The railcar industry is no exception. In August, six U.S. representatives proposed a new tax credit for freight railcar owners that supports the manufacture and refurbishment of safer, greener railcar equipment in the U.S. 

Known as the “Freight Rail Assistance and Investment to Launch Coronavirus-era Activity and Recovery (RAILCAR) Act,” H.R. 8082 offers freight railcar owners a time-limited 50% tax credit for purchasing new freight railcars or refurbishing existing freight railcars that result in improving capacity or fuel by at least 8%, Railway Age reports.

Credits for Modernizing

The act also “provides separate tax credits for scrapping railcars based on their depreciated value and for capital expenditures on equipment or technology enhancements that improve environmental standards or the safety, quality, or efficiency of railcar manufacturing and repair operations,” the publication points out. 

The bill provides a separate tax credit for the scrapping of a railcar based on the depreciated value of that particular asset, and a 50% tax credit for capital expenditures on equipment or technology enhancements in railcar-related manufacturing or repair shops, Railway Age states.  To be eligible for the credit, railcars being replaced must have been in service during the 48 months prior to enactment of the bill and must be permanently taken out of service.

According to Progressive Railroading, the credit encourages freight railcar owners to modernize their fleet to better meet precision scheduled railroading standards, accelerate the industry’s production of new tank cars to meet improved safety standards, and to increase the efficiency of the fleet by use of more energy-efficient rail cars.

Preserving Jobs and Driving Investment

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the freight railcar manufacturing industry directly supported 65,000 U.S. jobs, with average salaries exceeding the national average by 40 percent. The Railway Supply Institute, which worked with the bill’s sponsors and railcar builders and owners to write the legislation, reminded Congress that passing the bill quickly would help overcome some of the impacts of the pandemic and subsequent economic downturn.

“The Freight RAILCAR Act will help incentivize private investment in the freight railcar manufacturing industry to preserve thousands of American jobs, reduce our carbon footprint, and ensure the integrity of our critical rail supply chains,” RSI’s Nicole Brewin said in a press release.

“Railway suppliers are facing increasingly difficult economic circumstances as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and many have been forced to significantly reduce their manufacturing workforces,” Brewin added. “We thank the [representatives] for introducing this bill to help restore and maintain the tens of thousands of jobs that depend on this industry and urge Congress to advance this legislation quickly to help railway suppliers cope with the economic fallout of this pandemic.”

Rail: Sustainable by Nature

By its very nature, rail is one of the most sustainable transportation options available in the U.S. According to the Association of American Railroads, rail is environmentally-friendly due to these factors: 

  • It produces fewer greenhouse gases (GHG). Greenhouse gas emissions are directly related to fuel consumption. Freight railroads account for just 0.6% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to EPA data, and just 2.1% of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, AAR reports. 
  • It’s more fuel efficient than other options. Freight rail is ahead of other land modes of surface transportation when it comes to limiting its carbon footprint. U.S. freight railroads, on average, move one ton of freight more than 470 miles per gallon of fuel, the association notes. 
  • It’s a sustainable choice. If 25% of the truck traffic moving at least 750 miles went by rail instead, annual greenhouse gas emissions would fall by approximately 13.1 million tons, AAR points out. If 50% of the truck traffic moving at least 750 miles went by rail instead, greenhouse gas emissions would fall by approximately 26.2 million tons. 
  • It uses technology to improve efficiency. “From advanced locomotive technology to zero-emission cranes,” AAR states, “freight railroads leverage technology in all aspects of their operations to limit their impact on the environment.” In 2019, for instance, U.S. freight railroads consumed 656 million fewer gallons of fuel and emitted 7.3 million fewer tons of carbon dioxide than they would have if their fuel efficiency had remained constant since 2000. 
  • It helps reduce highway congestion. According to AAR, one freight train can replace several hundred trucks, freeing up space on the highway for other motorists. “Shifting freight from trucks to rail also reduces highway wear and tear and the pressure to build costly new highways,” it adds.

Supporting Sustainable Supply Chains

IntelliTrans’ Global Control Tower provides high levels of supply chain transparency; aggregates, completes, and enhances data from a variety of sources; offers visibility into and execution of different aspects of the supply chain; and generates data-driven alerts and analytics that ask deeper questions and deliver meaningful insights.

By leveraging tracking information, the Global Control Tower provides analytics that measures key performance indicators (KPIs) like fleet cycle time, origin/destination dwell time, lane and hauler performance, back orders, freight spend, load optimization, and more. With their rate, equipment, lease, tracking, and invoice data in a central repository that’s accessible 24/7, companies can position themselves for success in any market conditions.

Gearing Up for the New Hours of Service Rule Changes

Gearing Up for the New Hours of Service Rule Changes

New HOS modifications that go into effect on September 29th expand the short-haul exception, expand the adverse driving conditions exception, require 30-minute breaks, and change the sleeper berth provision.

In June, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced changes to the hours of service (HOS) regulations, which are being revised to provide more flexibility for drivers without adversely affecting safety. The HOS rules regulate the number of hours commercial drivers can drive and work per day and week, and also include other restrictions (i.e., mandatory rest breaks). 

4 Key Changes to Know

Beginning September 29, 2020, these new HOS rule modifications go into effect: 

  1. Short-haul Exception: Expands the short-haul exception to 150 air-miles and allows a 14-hour work shift to take place as part of the exception. 
  1. Adverse Driving Conditions Exception: Expands the driving window during adverse driving conditions by up to an additional two hours. 
  1. 30-Minute Break Requirement: Requires a 30-minute break after 8 hours of driving time (instead of on-duty time) and allows an on-duty/not driving period to qualify as the required break. 
  1. Sleeper Berth Provision: Modifies the sleeper berth exception to allow a driver to meet the 10-hour minimum off-duty requirement by spending at least 7, rather than at least 8 hours of that period in the berth and a minimum off-duty period of at least two hours spent inside or outside the berth, provided the two periods total at least 10 hours, and that neither qualify period counts against the 14-hour driving window. 

All impacted motor carriers are required to comply with the new HOS regulations by the stated deadline. “All of those were provisions that we have heard about and had lots of discussions with the industry,” FMCSA’s Joseph DeLorenzo said at a recent industry meeting. “So this rule was really focused on the input that we received from everyone that’s been involved in the process from the drivers to the carriers, (agricultural) groups, and others.”

Getting ELDs Ready

In ELD Providers Prep for Upcoming HOS Changes, TruckingInfo details what electronic logging device (ELD) providers are doing to help carriers and drivers get ready for the new HOS changes. It says the new requirement that operators take a 30-minute break after no more than eight hours of consecutive driving will be the most impactful on the ELD front. That’s because the requirement can now be satisfied by the on-duty/not driving status (rather than off-duty status), or by simply stopping to fuel a vehicle at a gas station. 

Currently, drivers must take a 30-minute break after eight hours on-duty. The new rule says that the break must come after eight hours of driving time (not necessarily consecutive) without a 30-minute break. The break time itself can be now satisfied during on-duty, non-driving time. 

ELD providers are helping carriers work through these new requirements and ensure compliance. “To assist our customers with compliance with the changes in the federal hours of service regulations, we are updating codes on our various HOS compliance tools to allow drivers using Omnitracs ELDs to take advantage of this change in the rest break requirement,” Omnitracs’ Mike Ahart told TruckingInfo. 

Eroad, another ELD provider, approached the update in stages, first researching the attitudes and impacts of the changes with customers and the market, then designing and implementing changes, and finally communicating the changes and enabling customers to make the switch. 

“We conduct rigorous testing on behalf of our customers so that on Sept. 29, drivers aren’t facing bugs and issues, and carrier compliance managers aren’t looking at data they don’t understand,” Eroad’s Soona Lee told TruckingInfo. “We test complex scenarios in a driver’s day to trigger violations, check HOS counters, and make sure that the driver’s log data before the switchover is correct as much as it will be after that date.”

How it Impacts Driver and Carriers

The looming HOS changes will have a direct impact on carriers and individual drivers. According to Trucker,the motor carrier must record the driver’s time in, time out, and total hours per day, which must also include how many hours the driver has worked for the previous seven days. Those records are required to be kept by the carrier for six months. 

The records don’t have to be held on the vehicle, but law enforcement can request a copy of the records from the carrier if a driver is pulled over. Drivers who exceed these exceptions (i.e., driving too far or too many hours) must complete a regular log (if it only happens eight or fewer days within the last 30 days) or use an ELD (if the exceptions are not met more than eight days within the past 30). 

“The updated rule really tries to put it in the hands of the driver and tries to focus on the fact that the driver has to make this assessment after the last qualifying break,” DeLorenzo explained, “as opposed to the beginning of the trip, which the earlier definition had set.” 

To learn more about the upcoming changes to the HOS rules, visit the FCMSA’s website here.

Managing Transportation Effortlessly

IntelliTrans’ Global Control Tower provides high levels of supply chain transparency; aggregates, completes, and enhances data from a variety of sources; offers visibility into and execution of different aspects of the supply chain; and generates data-driven alerts and analytics that ask deeper questions and deliver meaningful insights. 

By leveraging tracking information, the Global Control Tower provides analytics that measures key performance indicators (KPIs) like fleet cycle time, origin/destination dwell time, lane and hauler performance, back orders, freight spend, load optimization, and more. With their rate, equipment, lease, tracking, and invoice data in a central repository that’s accessible 24/7, companies can position themselves for success in any market conditions.       

Coming Soon to a Highway Near You: Autonomous Trucks

Coming Soon to a Highway Near You: Autonomous Trucks

Automakers, tech startups, logistics providers, and carriers are coming together to help make the driverless truck a reality.

Call them driverless trucks, autonomous trucks, or robot trucks—by whatever name, these advanced delivery vehicles are making a splash in the transportation world right now. With existing driver shortages now being compounded by a global pandemic and a big uptick in ecommerce sales (which, in turn, is creating capacity crunches in some regions), the push to bring driverless trucks to reality is on.  

“As autonomous trucking edges closer to market, technology providers and their potential customers are testing competing strategies for how driverless big rigs could help them make money in the real world,” WSJ’s Jennifer Smith reports.  

“Several startups are building out prototype fleets and hauling freight for big shippers that hope autonomous trucks could help cut transportation costs and speed up deliveries,” she continues. “Other companies with self-driving trucking technology are trying to plug into existing operations, striking agreements with truck makers and large trucking fleets that they believe could eventually buy thousands of autonomous tractors.”

Key Progress Points

In 2016, Volvo became one of the first companies to demonstrate how its autonomous trucks platoon to improve both safety and efficiency. According to GearBrain, the demonstration showed how the lead truck controls the accelerator and brakes of the two following trucks, meaning they all speed up and slow down together, thus removing the delays caused by driver reaction time.

Through its Volvo Autonomous Solutions division, the auto maker is now developing the Vera, a prototype truly driverless truck with no cab. It is currently being tested towing containers from a logistics center in Gothenburg, Sweden, to a nearby port terminal, at up to 25mph.

Since then, companies have been making real progress on their other autonomous trucking initiatives. Here are some of the latest developments:

  • Transport operators Ryder System Inc., NFI Industries Inc., and Deutsche Post AG are working with Ike Robotics Inc., to offer the latter’s automated trucking technology through a software subscription model. 
  • Port trucking and intermodal provider NFI is assessing how autonomous trucks would integrate with its dedicated trucking operations moving freight from customers’ warehouses to retail stores. “Self-driving big rigs could handle longer highway portions of those regional runs, such as the 250-mile trip between the Dallas-Fort Worth area and Houston,” NFI’s Ike Brown told. 
  • Waymo Via has begun testing autonomous trucks in Texas, using two of the country’s biggest freight hubs as testing grounds. The Class 8, Peterbilt 579 trucks are being tested out of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, running to El Paso via Interstates 20 and 10, and to Houston via Interstate 45, CDLLife Each truck is equipped with Waymo Driver sensors and cameras, but is manned by a real, human truck driver, who will manually drive the routes first before allowing the autonomous software to attempt the route without human intervention.    
  • Locomation recently completed its first on-road pilot transporting commercial freight, VentureBeat In partnership with risk management consultancy Aon and Wilson Logistics, Locomation deployed two trucks hauling trailers in a driverless convoy on a 420-mile-long route. Its retrofitted trucks covered approximately 3,400 miles and operated autonomously roughly half of the time, delivering 14 commercial loads (Locomation’s system requires at least one driver to be alert and in control at all times).

The Next Logical Leap

Viewed as the next logical leap to overcoming existing bottlenecks and keeping pace with the rapidly evolving ecosystem, autonomous trucks are gaining momentum right now, ResearchAndMarkets reports. The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the need for autonomous trucks and their effectiveness during emergencies.

“With this pandemic, the industry faces issues such as driver shortage and severe commodity demand triggered by panic shopping,” the research firm adds. “Autonomous vehicles (AVs) offer a solution to both the aforementioned with the capability of driving longer hours and safely.”

Logistics and shipping operators alike have been given a strong case for including self-driving trucks in their fleets, with safety rising to the top in most of those conversations. According to ResearchAndMarkets, North America and Europe are leading the global autonomous truck transition, with many industry stakeholders based out of or testing vehicles in these regions. 

“Cross-brand platooning trials were conducted in European test beds to understand the applicability scope of the technology. Many cities are upgrading their underlying infrastructure to enable V2V and V2X transmissions needed for trucks to operate autonomously. Government-funded initiatives with collaborative efforts from multiple and diverse industry participants are being done to fast-track the development of autonomous trucks.” 

Because autonomous trucks wouldn’t be bound by rules that limit most commercial drivers to 11 hours behind the wheel, they can also help lower the costs, making over-the-road (OTR) service more competitive with intermodal rail-truck service. “I think automated trucking is going to bite into the intermodal market,” Brown told WSJ.

Supporting the Autonomous Supply Chain

IntelliTrans’ Global Control Tower provides high levels of supply chain transparency; aggregates, completes, and enhances data from a variety of sources; offers visibility into and execution of different aspects of the supply chain; and generates data-driven alerts and analytics that ask deeper questions and deliver meaningful insights.

By leveraging tracking information, the Global Control Tower provides analytics that measures key performance indicators (KPIs) like fleet cycle time, origin/destination dwell time, lane and hauler performance, back orders, freight spend, load optimization, and more. With their rate, equipment, lease, tracking, and invoice data in a central repository that’s accessible 24/7, companies can position themselves for success in any market conditions.

Using Data to Minimize Supply Chain Disruptions

Using Data to Minimize Supply Chain Disruptions

It doesn’t take a black swan event to disrupt a supply chain. Here’s how companies can use data to minimize disruptions and keep their supply chains running.

A black swan event, COVID-19 took the world by surprise when it first emerged in central China’s Hubei province in December. By March, nearly 75% of companies were reporting pandemic-related supply disruptions, according to the Institute for Supply Management (ISM). As of July, 73% of organizations had encountered “some” or “significant” detrimental effects on the supply side. 

The full impact of the global pandemic on the world’s supply chains remains unknown, but Deloitte says at least one thing is for certain: “It will have global economic and financial ramifications that will be felt through global supply chains, from raw materials to finished products.”

Of course, COVID-19 isn’t the first—and it won’t be the last—supply chain disruption that organizations will have to face. Long before the word “coronavirus” became a part of our everyday conversations, natural disasters, cybersecurity breaches, international trade wars, and geopolitical turmoil were all creating supply chain interruptions. 

Last year, for example, Resilience360 identified thousands of major events that resulted in significant supply chain disruptions, including industrial fires and explosions, industrial action, civil unrest and protests, port disruptions, cargo and border delays, trade disputes, production halts, and natural disasters. “2019 proved once again that the supply chain risk environment is continually changing and evolving.” (Little did Resilience360 know at the time, but 2020 would prove to be a blockbuster on the supply chain disruption front.)

“COVID-19’s impact revealed that supply chain business continuity plans had both the wrong data and the data wrong,” MIT adds. “Top management literally couldn’t see what was happening — or needed to happen — to ensure safe and reliable deliveries under duress. This came as a shock.”

Disruption isn’t a New Problem

The pandemic may have made supply disruption a more visible problem, but it’s definitely not a new problem. While Ken Sherman, President of IntelliTrans, was working as head of supply chain for a major manufacturer 20 years ago, they encountered some missed delivery deadlines with a high-value customer that was launching a new product. “Our manufacturing run was scheduled, we had the raw materials to make our product on hand, and technically should have been able to deliver as promised. 

The problem was that our material required specialized packaging and labeling that our system said we had in stock. The system turned out to be wrong; none of the packaging material was in stock. This meant we had to go back to the customer once again and revise our delivery date— solely due to inaccurate data within our system. Had we known about the lack of packaging in advance, we could have ordered it and been ready to package, label, and ship our customer’s products on time.” 

This is just one example of how painful data gaps can be for manufacturing, production, distribution, and customer service. Fast-forward to 2020 and even with advanced technology at their avail, many companies continue to wrestle with data-centric disruption issues. The bottom line is that inaccurate, untimely data has real-world consequences in terms of higher operational costs and lower customer satisfaction.

3 Steps to Take Right Now

Any organization that wants to reduce the impacts of supply chain disruptions on its operations should start by looking at its data. Here are three good first steps to take: 

  • Get a full view of your carrier system. You can’t effectively manage your carrier base if you don’t have a complete data set for those carriers. For example, if IntelliTrans went out to its customers and said, “Hey, we can give you railroad visibility, but we only interact with 50% of them, so we can only give you half of your fleet visibility,” it wouldn’t go over very well. Only with a complete, timely, and accurate view of your carrier network can you generate the right data to avoid supply chain disruption.   
  • Always put the customer first. Right now, all organizations have a great opportunity to proactively set accurate expectations for their customers. They also have a wide range of data points available to not only set those expectations, but also to meet them on every order. The problem is, if you don’t have that data available in an accessible control tower, you won’t be able to fully leverage it to create great experiences for your customers. 
  • Use data to reduce inventories and cut costs. In a business world where all companies are focused on their bottom lines, data is a great tool for driving cost out of the supply chain. With the right inventory management data, for example, companies can avoid having to “overstock” in order to avoid potential outages. In the absence of visibility and confidence, companies are forced to increase safety stock (i.e., products, people, fleets, etc.) to make up for that lack of confidence in the data. These moves directly impact the balance sheet and can prevent companies from successfully riding out any disruptions that might be lurking in the shadows.

Data is the New Oil

IntelliTrans’ Global Control Tower provides high levels of supply chain transparency; aggregates, completes, and enhances data from a variety of sources; offers visibility into and execution of different aspects of the supply chain; and generates data-driven alerts and analytics that ask deeper questions and deliver meaningful insights. 

By leveraging tracking information, the Global Control Tower provides analytics that measures key performance indicators (KPIs) like fleet cycle time, origin/destination dwell time, lane and hauler performance, back orders, freight spend, load optimization, and more. With their rate, equipment, lease, tracking, and invoice data in a central repository that’s accessible 24/7, companies can position themselves for success in any market conditions.      

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