Photo courtesy of Port of Long Beach

Maintenance at Rail Terminals – Improving Communication Key

Additional chassis maintenance enhancements will be facilitated by two key steps — focusing on gathering information about the equipment and communicating it to all who need it.

This is the important message for Intermodal Insights readers from the perspective of officials in the railroad and IEP sectors.

"The biggest single thing that can be done to further improve maintenance is to improve communication. All owners and users of equipment need to identify defects to the onsite maintenance provider so repairs can be completed quickly," said Bill Traub, director equipment maintenance and lift systems at CSX.

An official at Union Pacific’s intermodal unit agreed.

"Better reporting and communication with the motor carriers" is a key step, he said.

"Improved reporting at in-gate will better direct the efforts of M&R vendors so that they can address issues before the next motor carrier arrives to pull the unit."

Technology has provided a significant increase into the visibility of what types of repairs are being performed, how often they are being performed and, for off-terminal repairs, where they are being performed," according to UP. "Additionally, technology has provided tools to prevent known issues from leaving the terminal. These insights and improvements allow issues to be addressed earlier and more efficiently."

"We as an industry have made maintenance better over the last few years," said Marty Summers, director of maintenance for Consolidated Chassis Management (CCM). "There are always opportunities to make it even better."

Intense attention continues with regard to making chassis roadable.

"The most important thing from our perspective that can continue advancement in maintenance at rail terminals – and other facilities – is knowing more about equipment condition," said Summers. "That is the key information that enables us to put together a scenario that allows the vendor to address a situation as quickly as possible." Traub expressed the importance of quickness in another way.

"The overall goal of CSX is to get the driver in and out of our facilities as safely and efficiently as possible," Traub said, noting that safety is always the railroad’s top priority.

While no specific statistics are kept on an industrywide basis, indications such as data presented by IANA at the Operations & Maintenance Business Meeting and other events have shown notable declines in metrics such as out of service rates that are connected to equipment status.

One advancement over time that has helped to identify equipment defects is automatic gate systems.

Frank Harder, partner at Tioga Group, said "The best available technological cameras to record the condition of the equipment as it enters the facility.  While not perfect, this is a considerable advance from previous manual inspection methods".

"Automatic gate systems are great," Summers said. "They can take photos that show when there is something wrong with the equipment. Why not have a schematic or feature in the process to identify where the equipment is?"

"There is continued interest in telematics in the chassis industry. Many fleets have outfitted a small portion of their fleet to become familiar with the technology and its benefits. Fleet-wide deployment is necessary to harness the full power of the technology and create operational efficiencies and other added benefits."
Al Tama

Summers added that CCM has asked IANA to facilitate equipment location by adding a feature to the Bad Order Equipment Status application that includes the slot location, where the equipment actually is within a facility. That step would enable maintenance vendors to act more quickly to address issues, benefiting all parties that need and use the chassis, particularly in facilities with numbered spaces or areas.

Traub described a series of steps CSX has taken relating to maintenance.

Implementation of the XGate Application and Self-Service Kiosks enhance the in and out gate interchange transactions to create more efficient equipment inspection reporting, and help to improve drivers’ overall experience.

At grounded CSX facilities, drivers are given the opportunity in many cases to select their own chassis. That gives the driver more options to ensure that they have a suitable piece of equipment. Traffic flows are monitored and evaluated to improve safety and service, as well as maintenance and roadability areas for service partners.

That last point illustrates an important feature - partnership with vendors.

"Working with our maintenance partners, CSX has advanced new technology that more quickly identify equipment defects and obtain equipment owner authorization to repair," Traub said.

There have been a variety of terminal maintenance-related improvements, from the Union Pacific perspective.

"Maintenance providers have been working on staffing levels, leveraging technology to streamline operations, and improving training for mechanics to ensure that work can be accomplished in a timely manner and repairs are made correctly the first time," Union Pacific believes.

Like the other businesses, Union Pacific believes there needs to be intensified attention to driving down the incidence of bad order chassis and the time that equipment spends at terminals, two factors that illustrate why maintenance providers need to act quickly.

"Communication of the telematics data to all of the parties that can benefit from it is really an important part of the decision-making process to invest in these systems."
Cliff Creech
Phillips Connect Technologies

Steps that have been explored by some providers at the railroad’s facilities include creating a dedicated M&R location on the terminal instead of roving trucks, which could help to ensure a safer, more focused operation, according to UP.

"Finally, at UP, we have regular discussions around non-production topics, such as heat stress, summer injury spikes, and cold weather precautions to ensure that maintenance providers remain vigilant during high risk periods," the railroad’s statement to Intermodal Insights said.

"Railroads play a key role in setting the expectation of safe operations with the M&R providers," UP intermodal officials believe.  "Railroads also play a role in providing a safe environment in which to work and in insuring terminal policies support safe operations."

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