Rail industry may be resistant to change, but automation is now trending

Image: TideworksTideworks

The rail industry faces a long way ahead before we can speak of a digital revolution, but there are steps taken. Gradually, terminals are implementing automation, and data sharing is a trending topic among industry players, says Tideworks, a US-based terminal operating system (TOS) provider. Mark Bromley, vice president Rail at the company spoke with RailFreight.com about the current developments.

Fully and semi-automated terminals around the world are still few and far between, he says. “Terminals are implementing automation in an incremental fashion to derive the most benefit and best return on their technology investment. This incremental approach may involve automating data capture at the gate, deploying position-detection systems for equipment, or implementing automated stacking cranes in the yard, etc.

Why this incremental approach?

“The key reason is that upgrading to an automated terminal is significant in scope, can be expensive and takes time to deploy, which makes it difficult to assess the long-term return on investment (ROI). Implementing any technology should involve careful planning and execution. Terminal operators who take the time to understand what needs to be improved through technology and how it fits within their current business processes see the most significant ROI.”

Who are usually the first to jump onboard?

“Larger operators, given they typically have the capital to invest. Cargo volume and throughput at the terminal can also be determining factors. Terminals with larger volumes are more willing to invest in technology as they are likely to see a more immediate return on investment. As mentioned above, many terminals begin with automation incrementally, starting with automating pieces of their operation.”

What kind of terminals or operators are less likely to follow suit?

“Historically, the rail industry has been resistant to change, making it slower to adopt automation technology. To move toward automation, you must consider adopting new processes and understand the associated changes. Technology is a piece of that change but not the whole solution. Rail terminal operators often look to marine terminal operators to conceptualise the benefits and successes of integrating automation solutions before moving forward to incorporate new technology.”

Which big challenges of today can be solved by terminal automation?

“Congestion is one of the biggest challenges terminal operators are currently facing around the world. Our integration with Genesee & Wyoming (G&W) in the U.K. is an excellent example of how a rail provider and its intermodal container terminals solved its congestion problem by implementing automation technology. Tideworks partnered with G&W to deploy its TOS solutions across two of G&W’s U.K. subsidiaries, Freightliner and Pentalver.

“G&W launched a modernisation program to automate operational processes and scale growth throughout the brand’s U.K. terminals. This implementation focused significantly on operational optimization and integration efforts. G&W selected Tideworks as its TOS provider across its entire U.K. rail network. Tideworks also integrated with Advent eModal’s vehicle booking and appointment scheduling system and CAMCO’s gate operating system as part of the deployment.

“One of the integration’s most notable and immediate improvements has been decreased congestion at the terminals. G&W increased the efficiency of gate check-ins and turn times by nearly 80 per cent.

Do you see changes in the cost of terminal automation as it is becoming more widespread?

“This remains to be seen, which is why many terminal operators take a measured and incremental approach to modernising their operations. Tideworks partners with customers to understand the goals they are trying to achieve and assist in analysing possible solutions.

“Aside from the cost, the more significant challenge, as automation becomes more widespread, is the effective integration between the various technologies that must interoperate. Technology providers must plan for and incorporate integration strategies into overall product offerings. Through additional automation, TOS solutions are becoming even better equipped with sophisticated integrations and data capabilities. Tideworks continues to work towards offering a set of standardized APIs that facilitate the integration between the Tideworks TOS and third-party automation technologies.”

How long do you think it will take until we can speak of a digital revolution in rail in Europe?

“The rail sector still has a long way to go before it has embraced the “digital revolution.” If the sector wants to become more efficient and competitive and reduce emissions, it must embrace new technologies to meet those goals. The European Union has significantly invested in funding projects to reduce carbon emissions at ports and terminals, which could lead to an increase in the adoption of technologies.”

Which other trends do you see in rail digitalisation?

Automation is certainly a trending topic in the rail industry. There are a lot of discussions about data sharing and improved collaboration within the supply chain. Integrating with other terminal operating technologies will create opportunities for broader data sharing, increase proactive and data-backed decision-making across terminals, and provide greater transparency to increase operations’ efficiency, safety and productivity.”

Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is the editor-in-chief of RailFreight.com, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

1 comment op “Rail industry may be resistant to change, but automation is now trending”

bönström bönström|20.12.22|12:13

Clients, buyers of service rendered, however, since long, fully benefits of “Digital Revolution”! Change is the new normal!
(For majority, accordingly, the on road trucks, now is single alternative!…)
Resiliency and redundancy, urgently are needed, at all vitals of society – thus as well at railway (infrastructure) basics…!
A shift is needed!
Electrification, yes, but a redundant!
At infrastructure of tracks, resiliency has to be ensured, etc.!
An optimal, a New Old Railway is needed!

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