Connect: Unifying crew and safety management

How to bring together your systems under an integrated platform

Note: This is part of a 3-part series of blog posts around how freight railroads can unify crew and safety management under an integrated, cloud-based platform.

Intro

Picture in your mind a freight railroad with networks in North America. This could be a large, Class I railroad dominating the transportation landscape to a smaller Class III or regional railroad that plays a critical role moving shipments along, often being the final line delivering them to the customer.

The organization is diverse. There is a team to manage crew scheduling, an admin and a couple of testers to manage operational testing, an HR team tracking crew qualifications, or testers ensuring that both new hires and ongoing employees undergo required compliant training.

Behind the scenes, though, this railroad is running into some barriers, bumpy parts of the track. Processes and data are siloed and isolated. Reports are run individually and manually combined. There isn’t much transparency into critical crew-related data within each department or team.

The challenges of today

Disconnected, inflexible systems—these are unlikely to ring any alarm bells in your mind given that it’s not uncommon for railroads to be relying on legacy, aging systems in a changing world where increased agility, prediction, and flexibility is required. A lack of visibility across departments into critical data makes rail crew management (scheduling and allocations), testing, and training reactive rather than proactive. Crew scheduling systems aren’t speaking to certification systems, which means that they aren’t accounting for fluctuations in demand or other parameters like availability, seniority, or qualification status.

A direct result of this is limited reporting. Senior management can’t pull the reports they need to track metrics across operations. There isn’t enough visibility to scale efficiencies, identify room for productivity increases, or align testing programs with safety operations in an environment reliant on Excel spreadsheets or mainframe and ASR400 applications.

Siloed data and processes quickly lead to productivity losses. You’re bogged down by manual, paper-based processes that increase the risk of human-related errors. There is little mobility for real-time submission of various types of testing (such as drug and alcohol tests) or training results, dragging out the training cycle. Unable to import rules libraries or quickly roll out new on-the-job training (OJT) programs, you find changes in FRA regulations time-consuming to adjust to.

How the transportation industry is responding

Human-related fatigue accounts for approximately a third of accidents and incidents in freight railroads, within a 10-year time period of 2008-2019. Time-consuming, paper-based scheduling of crew leads to time losses and the potential for error. Because of this, it’s no surprise that the industry is applying emerging technologies within their enterprises. These technologies and digital tools hold the promise to save lives, maximize productivity, mitigate human errors, and guide effective decision-making, enabling leadership to correlate crew-related initiatives with what the organization’s data is saying.

Recognizing the increased connectivity within an enterprise due to technology adoption, and the amount of data that is generated, the Federal Department of Transportation (DOT), including the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) branch, is continuing its efforts in operational data capture from sensors, mobile devices, and more—using the data to improve safety and mobility across transportation. Large data sets are needed, says the DOT, as the basis for new applications to support mobility, safety, and greater efficiency of transportation assets.

Unifying your crew and safety management systems

The new reality of today is accelerating modernization initiatives across the industry. Railroad companies are continually adopting new technologies to drive increased efficiencies, benefiting from secure and cost-effective platforms. They bring an entrepreneurial spirit and drive to continuously provide the highest level of service excellence to the table.

Several of our Class I and short line customers have taken this unified approach as they modernize IT systems and phase out legacy applications. Driven by a methodology of migrating core operational systems to a secure, cloud-based environment, they’ve been able to weather turbulence in the supply chain and fluctuations in traffic and demand agilely. Today, they’ve deployed cloud-based crew management, operational testing, and qualification tracking systems across their locations.

When you break down this approach to a more granular level, you’ll find that the following technologies are key to taking this digital-first approach in unifying crew and safety management:

  1. Migrate to the cloud
    The only way to get real-time data from across your enterprise. Import rules libraries for quick deployment of test programs, store data in a central repository with real-time insights into qualifications records for each crew member.
  1. Integrate business systems
    Seamlessly integrate with integral business systems like HRMS, CMS, and ERP to ensure organization-wide consistency in data (one source of truth). Also, configuration options to customize the solution to meet the needs of your organization (size, budget, etc.). Everything from test plans to training task lists and checklists as well as inspection frequencies.
  1. Scale as needed
    You can continuously increase the size of your systems as your employee workforce grows and operations expand, as market demand and volume fluctuates. All within a reliant environment.
  1. Take advantage of advanced analytics and business intelligence
    Build a compliance analytics framework. Supports all needed compliance reporting for Hours of Service or 49 CFR Part 243, for example, enhancing your reporting as needed with additional metrics. Interactive, role-based intelligence dashboards are brought to life by Power BI to give your forecasts and trend analysis.
  1. Move to mobile
    Mobile testing, tracking of training progress (even in offline mode), and mobile app for the crew to accept/reject duty call assignments, complete tie-ups, and interface with taxi and lodging vendors.

Outcomes

Within this increasingly new normal, freight railroads continue to move forward, delivering critical goods across the nation while simultaneously increasing workforce productivity and leverage the full potential of their own data. This adaption directly impacts your bottom line—lowering operating costs, enabling cost-effective transportation, and improving operating ratios. Recent, aggressive adoption of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) methodology by Class I railroads is one example of this; technology adoption is pushing the efficiency gains, velocity increases, and better asset utilization that the methodology promise to deliver.

Unifying crew management, operational and efficiency testing, on-the-job training, and qualification tracking systems is the next step forward in this digitalization trajectory. Here are some outcomes of this approach:

  • Teams are empowered to be more productive and focused with the right tools
  • Employees are able to prioritize tasks and checklists, avoid expiries, and more
  • You can more agilely respond to regulatory changes
  • Guarantee a compliant workforce with better qualification management
  • Conduct HoS-compliant duty hours assignments
  • Better utilize your workforce and equipment in tandem to create a fluid, agile network
  • Ensure a better level of service for your customers

Interested in learning more about how to unify your crew and safety management systems? Stay tuned for the next blog post in our 3-part series on unifying crew and safety management. That blog post will cover the role of advanced analytics and business intelligence to conduct intelligent testing, anticipate demand surges and crew shortfalls, and more. Don’t miss it!